After-Action Report – Montana GOP Convention

Montana Flag NRA-ILA
After-Action Report – Montana GOP Convention

Missoula, MT –-( The net result is that the Montana GOP may have won a battle and lost a war.  Please stick with me while I explain.

First, let me get some facts and conditions on the record.

1)  The Delegate Convention was all about selecting delegates to support presidential candidates at the National GOP nomination convention in Tampa, Florida, this coming August.  There are only two candidates left in this race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

2)  The credentialed delegates to the Montana Convention were divided generally into two camps, those supporting Mitt Romney (delegates spoken of here as the GOP “Old Guard”), and those supporting Ron Paul.

3)  The delegates supporting Ron Paul had about 47% of the voting strength at the convention.

4)  The important part of the process was the election of 20 “at-large” (not alternate) delegates to Tampa.

5)  The state GOP Nomination Committee received 70 applications for nomination as Tampa delegates and selected 20 of those.  According to GOP rules, nominations were also open from the floor of the convention.

6)  The state Chairman of the GOP, Will Deschamps, had promised that the Nominations Committee would make nominations at the Convention of presidential candidate supporters in proportion to how the two candidates fared in the Montana Primary Election.  Ron Paul won 17% of the total of Primary votes cast for Romney and Paul.  As a result, those of us supporting Paul were told that the Nominations Committee would nominate five Paul supporters to go to Tampa.

7)  The state GOP Chairman appointed ONLY Old Guard GOP personnel (Romney supporters) to the Nominations Committee.

8)  The Nominations Committee actually put the names of ZERO Paul supporters into nomination to be Tampa delegates at the Convention.  All 20 Nomination Committee nominees were Romney supporters, including many so disinterested that about half of them didn’t even bother to show up at the convention to introduce themselves to delegates or speak for themselves.

9)  At the convention, the Old Guard imposed a process to use ballots that had the nominees of the Nomination Committee that was clearly skewed to favor the nominees of the Committee (* see below for a description of the ballots and ballot rules asserted).

10)  From the floor of the convention, 23 persons were nominated, mostly Paul supporters.

11)  The GOP Bylaws would have allowed the names of all nominees to be printed alphabetically on the ballot, and such a motion was offered, but the Old Guard prevailed in maintaining the separation and enhanced status of the nominees nominated by the Nomination Committee.

12)  ZERO supporters of Congressman Paul were elected through this unbalanced process to be delegates to Tampa.

So, what actually happened and what does it mean?

Political gurus explain that while the number of people supporting a candidate is important, the energy of a candidate’s supporters is even more important.  The Paul supporters were highly energized, exactly the type of people the GOP desperately needs to carry GOP candidates in important upcoming GOP races.  There was Zero organized effort in support of Romney at the Convention.  No Romney booth.  No Romney signs.  No Romney stickers.  However, there were two Paul booths and scores of Paul signs.  The energy and effort of the Paul supporters were high.  The energy of the Romney supporters was absent.

Had the Nominations Committee done what Chairman Deschamps promised and put five Paul supporters on the Nomination Committee slate, the Paul supporters would not have been excited, but would have been satisfied.  Had the Old Guard-controlled GOP insiders printed the ballots in the fair way that all other ballots are printed, in some randomized order, the Paul supporters would have been satisfied, even if not elated.

However, the Old Guard leaned heavily on the scales in two critical ways to force an outcome that deliberately and completely shut out Paul supporters.  Was this done “legally”?  Yes.  What was done was within the GOP rules.

Was the conduct by the Old Guard smart.  Decidedly not.  In fact, it was stunningly shortsighted.  Why?

In its greed and lust for power and control, the Old Guard was dishonest (Deschamps’ failed promise that the Nominations Committee would include Paul supporters on its slate).  This said to the most highly energized faction of the Republican Party, “We don’t want you.  We have the power to shut you out, and we do.”  Whether or not this was intended is immaterial.  In politics, perception is reality.  This is how the Paul supporters invariably perceived the heavy-handed Old Guard sweep of all delegates.

Why is this important?  The GOP has candidates running for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and other important races.  Most of these races will be won or lost by narrow margins.  By treating its most energized faction in such a disrespectful and dismissive way, the Old Guard has certainly cost every one of these candidates some percent of the pro-GOP election effort available, and thereby some percent, even if small, of the November vote.

Most of these candidates simply cannot afford for the Old Guard to thoughtlessly squander 1%, 3% or 5% of the candidates’ November vote.  Any of these candidates who lose their races in November by 1% or 3% have the GOP Old Guard to thank for having been so shortsighted as to run off critical Republican support in the Old Guard’s lust for power and control.

The Montana Republican Old Guard had the opportunity to be inclusive and to live their unity rhetoric within the Party.  Instead, it chose to play poorly-considered power games.  The real losers (more so than those energized, Paul-supporting Republicans who sought inclusiveness and fairness, but who were rebuffed) will be Montana Republican candidates, especially those for major office.  And, the people of Montana may lose.  This is why the overall conduct of the Montana GOP Old Guard was stunningly shortsighted and far worse than simply inept.

One may hope that the major Montana Republican candidates will be successful in November.  But, if they are to win their elections, they must now do so without the active involvement of a whole lot of Paul-supporting of Republicans who have been most highly energized among the GOP, until they were so summarily excluded by the entrenched Montana Republican Old Guard.  To win, these major candidates will need rely solely on the active support of those whose nominees at the convention demonstrated their level of commitment when roughly half of them couldn’t even be bothered to show up to introduce themselves.

Let me be clear about one point.  Although a few of the rejected, Paul-supporting people will now vote for third-party candidates or stay home on election day, the majority will go to the polls and probably cast votes for Republican candidates in November.  However, they will almost certainly not work with candidates putting up signs, stuffing mailers, making phone calls, and all the other myriad of volunteer things essential to a winning campaign.  It is the loss of these highly energized Republicans, people who could have been kept at the oars of the Republican ship, that will make winning the November election incrementally more difficult for many Montana Republican candidates.

This is why the Montana GOP Old Guard may have commanded a petty win of a single battle, but may well have lost a war.  Best of luck to the affected candidates.

Note to candidates (Rehberg, Daines, Hill, Fox, Johnson, Welch, Skees, and others):  If five (or even all 20) of the Montana delegates to Tampa had been Paul supporters, it would have made no difference in the outcome of the national GOP convention in Tampa.  None.  So, the divisive, destructive, and expensive (to you) antics of the Montana Republican Old Guard were done for no valid strategic reason.  The MT GOP Nominations Committee was comprised of Will Deschamps, Debby Barrett, Jean Johnson, Jon Bennion, and Cory Swanson (according to Deschamps).

Reported and submitted by:
Gary Marbut
Republican Candidate

Montana House of Representatives District 99

* The ballots.  Printed on what was designated as the “front side” of a standard sheet of paper was a large black border box that took up much of the front page.  Printed center-justified inside this box was the list of 20 Romney-supporting nominees recommended by the Nominating Committee.  In the upper left corner of this large box was a small check box a state convention delegate could check in order to vote for the entire slate of Romney-supporting, would-be Tampa delegates offered by the Nominating Committee.  One check mark would cause a vote for 20 candidates.

In a similar 2008 contest, a similar ballot was used where those nominees nominated from the floor of the convention were printed on the designated “back side” of the ballot.  There were complaints about that unfairness then.

Ostensibly to correct complaints of unfairness in 2008, the 2012 ballot had the 20 names of the Nominating Committee nominations printed AGAIN on the back side of the ballot, on the top half of the paper.  On this designated back side, the nominees’ names were left-justified, with a short underscore to the left of each name that could be checked to vote for the Nominating Committee nominees individually.

On the bottom of the back side, the last space on the ballot, were printed the names of the 23 nominees nominated from the floor of the convention (mostly Paul-supporting nominees).  These were also left-justified, with a short underscore to the left of each name so the nominees could be voted individually.

There was no way offered on the ballot for state convention delegates to vote for a full slate of Paul nominees with one check mark, as was done with the Nominations Committee’s Romney-exclusive slate on the front of the ballot.

Then there were the instructions.  The instructions from the conference chairman AND printed on the ballot declared that if a person checked the full slate box on the front and ANY candidate or candidates on the back, the ballot would not be considered a spoiled and invalid ballot because of more than 20 votes, BUT it would be construed simply as a vote for the entire Nominating Committee’s slate on the front.  Conversely, it was declared, that if a person mistakenly voted for more than 20 nominees on the back of the ballot (without a slate check on the front), the ballot would be considered spoiled and invalid.  There was a bitterly-fought but successful motion (opposed mostly by Romney supporters) to make the back side of the ballot the default side, rather than the front if there were marks on both front and back.

A motion to print all nominees (both Nominating Committee and floor) in one alphabetized list, a motion made and supported by Paul supporters, was defeated by Romney supporters.

Because of the way it was printed, and the instructions for voting, the ballot was clearly rigged to favor the nominees (all Romney supporters) of the Nominations Committee.

Gary Marbut, president
Montana Shooting Sports Association
author, Gun Laws of Montana

About Montana Shooting Sports Association

MSSA is the primary political advocate for Montana gun owners. Visit:

Montana Shooting Sports Association