Posted on 12 February 2012.
Attending my first GOP caucus as a participant was an exciting experience. I had some butterflies going in because I wouldn’t know anyone there and it was something new. The experience was quite different from what I had expected. I’d like to flesh out my overall impressions a little more fully. For those who are old hands at caucuses, this may seem to be a pointless exercise. I disagree. I do think there is something to be learned from a novice. Wearing my sociology hat, I hope to bring a play by play of the experience so new ideas can be gleaned from my observations.
I live in south Minneapolis and expected our caucus to be held in a small room with about twenty people. Minneapolis is such a one-party area, of course Democratic, so I thought a smattering of people would come. I was wrong. The caucus was held in a small gym with several tables for the precincts to gather around. Around each table were four chairs. I presumed that meant the groups would be especially intimate. They were, but my precinct had ten people and an observer. Certainly appeared to b a much bigger turnout than they initially planned.
Our convener was a pleasant young guy who is active in the city party. He had attended four years ago as a Ron Paul supporter and has been with the GOP ever since. One other man had attended the GOP caucus previously. Otherwise, the remaining eight of us were first-timers. That was quite apparent when we got started. None of us knew how the thing was supposed to be run, but we were all in good spirits about our foibles.
Before we got started, I watched as the people trickled into the room. It was hardly a monochromatic, male dominated scene. There were two conveners who were Somali, as well as a few Somali caucus-goers. There were people of Middle Eastern descent. There were a couple of African Americans. There were East and Southern Asians too. It wasn’t a group that could be considered stereotypical Republican at all, at least according to the media’s narrative. About 40% of the group was female.
There wasn’t a single white male dressed in a business suit, certainly no one wore tails. I didn’t see a Rich Uncle Moneybags’ top hat in the room. There was not one person wearing Mr. Peanut monocles in the crowd. Most of the people looked like they had just gotten off work and hurriedly dressed down for comfort. What’s more, the crowd was also surprisingly young. According to the Star Tribune editorial writers, Republicans are supposed to all be old white people with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
That wasn’t the demographic I was witnessing, at all.
Many of the twenty and thirty-somethings were attired in post-Punk/former rock musician/hipster Uptown outfits. These young people were just as heated and adamant as anyone else at the gathering. I saw several people who I believe were gay. In fact, I’d say at least ten percent of those attending were gay like me. (By the way, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, none of us were attacked by roving gangs of homophobic Christian thugs as you have previously suggested) The room had an electric charge to it as the caucus was about to convene.
Our little band of ten was unique perhaps. We had only two people who had previously caucused with the GOP. The other eight caucus-goers were driven by some motivation to travel to this alien space, gather with people they didn’t know, and assert themselves as part of a political party. Some of the members of our group referred to the Republican Party as though it were an entity outside of them. They were at a Republican caucus but not yet comfortable as identifying as Republican. I felt a little that way myself, even though I’ve been working for conservative causes for some time. It was rather telling.
It would be natural for me to comment on our discussions at this point, but I will refrain. This is an examination of what group dynamic existed and not a discourse on policy. The group was quite informed on issues and our conversations were at times heated. Unfortunately, much of what we talked about was those things we didn’t agree on. Little was said about what we shared ideologically. But, it was clear this group was motivated to oust those Democrats currently in power and to replace them with someone more conservative. That was obvious.
Since this was such an unfamiliar group who hadn’t done this before, I believe our process wasn’t as clean and straight forward as it could have been. It was very refreshing for a group of people who were new to the process to get their views heard without censor. Knowing we could openly discuss conservative beliefs without some leftist caterwauling was a nice change. We voted on party platform suggestions without rancor or deep dispute. In spite of being strangers in a strange land, it was a productive and enlightening evening.
Upon reflection, there are a couple of things the caucus experience taught me. First, the common narrative of Republicans being old, white, male, and rich is downright absurd. Of all the things our entire group was, that caricature certainly wasn’t present. This is important to understand because for a political party to grow, it must be something people can identify with. Human beings tend to congregate among those with whom they feel most comfortable. We are usually most comfortable with others like us. The tired, false narrative of Republicans as fat cat, cigar-chomping bosses or hayseed hick troglodytes is simply a smear job by the left and the political elite. We were a very mixed group with one driving desire; to save our country from the policies that are hurting it.
The second thing I got from the caucus is this party is deeply fractured. Not fractured by those supporting Santorum or Paul. It is not split by the libertarians or social conservatives. The Republican Party is alienated within itself. Between the lies and mischaracterizations by the media about conservatives and the social void of a cohesive party structure in the city, Republicans are divided from each other. Democrats have become very good at creating a socio-political cohesion of their members and allies. Republicans, at least in the city, have not.
That is not to suggest this is anyone’s fault. Blame isn’t what we need going forward; it is ideas.
To create socio-political cohesion, Republicans must think about a couple of things. How do we ‘fix’ the brand name? How do we connect our supporters together into a kind of network that supports our ideas and spreads our message? Now, I know many party regulars at this point are ready to throw me into the lake. They have built networks of people in their area. They have brand identification that isn’t sullied. That is great and I applaud those who have done so. But, we need to build up our membership and network all over, in the city, in the country, in all suburban areas.
So, I propose two things to get started. First, we should take advantage of newcomers to things like caucuses to revitalize membership. We never really talked about the things the group agreed with as Republicans, or neophyte party supporters. Part of the discussion should be those political ideas that unite us. Starting the caucus with saying the Pledge of Allegiance was a good thing. I found it quite heartwarming. But, then when our group convened it was a discussion about delegates, candidates, party planks, and our differences on those things. We never got to talk about why we were there which was ostensibly to kick out Obama and as many progressive/socialists as we can. We never really created any social cohesion and at the end, we shook hands and drifted out into the night back to our own lives.
I understand the caucuses are not designed to be party rallies and social gatherings. But, I believe injecting a bit of that into the mix could help create some connections. Those connections would become networks along which human interaction would grow and thrive. Developing rapport among one another is crucial for building relationships that will support our cause and spread our message.
I think we should also consider other kinds of activities for party members. I don’t know enough election law to determine what these could be, but the Democrats have us all out-gunned on creating socio-political support groups. We have groups which support conservative causes but there isn’t enough interaction or coordination. Is there a way we could do more outreach into communities? Can we make more forays into community events, not just as a political entity but as charitable arms identified with the party? Republicans and conservatives believe deeply in volunteerism and helping others without using the government. Perhaps there are ways we could openly practice that ideal more in the public eye.
I have to say I was deeply moved by the experience. I will continue working with and in the Republican Party, hopefully making it a more vital part of the state. My impressions of the caucuses were overall very positive. I do like to learn from any situation I find myself in. Perhaps my little navel-gazing exercise may have some ideas we can use as a group. I came away from this meeting with the two impressions I had of the caucuses. I am extremely proud to be affiliated with a group that is interesting and informed. I found the party to be an incredibly diverse group of people with great ideas, interests, and hopes for this nation. We just need to make sure everybody knows what we’re really like, and not what the common narrative makes us out to be.
Crossposted at Looktruenorth.com