The Young Republican Plight
The overwhelming victory of Goldwaterites at last month's Young Republican Convention in Omaha has led to a widespread misconception that the YR National Federation was the scene of ideological struggles. A brief talk with any state delegate of reasonable political acumen, however, will reveal that the basic issue was an intra-party factionalism that had little to do with ideology.
It is true that the YRs adopted a right-wing platform full of hostility towards the Soviet Consular Treaty and civil rights legislation. And all the arch-conservative candidates for the national offices--including former Birchite Dottee Francher of Arizona, the new co-chairman--scored easy victories over more moderate opponents. But the fact that new chairman Jack McDonald represents ultra-conservatism is not half so significant as the fact that he represents a small faction, known almost mystically as "the Syndicate."
There is no doubt that the Syndicate exists and that it exerts virtually total control over the Federation. It is a tightly organized, extremely pragmatic group within and outside the YRNF. The smooth-flowing procedures (in contrast to rowdyism at previous conventions), the separation of delegation headquarters by as much as ten miles, and the failure to circulate proposed resolutions indicate how efficiently the Syndicate has consolidated its power since 1963.
In that year, its campaign management used parliamentary disputes and unruly behavior to discredit the anti-Syndicate candidate and to promote Donald C. Lukens, now a U.S. Representative from Ohio. The real issue--how the chairman can make the YRNF a more effective instrument for attracting young people and for electing GOP candidates--disappeared as the Syndicate forwarded a new issue: who was the most conservative candidate and who was the most devout Goldwater backer. Lukens won, as did Syndicate candidate Tom Van Sickle in 1965 and McDonald this year. Their opponents were sometimes conservatives too, but the Syndicate latched to the Goldwater philosophy as an instrument to forward its own power. Never, however, has ideology or programs been the central basis for the Syndicate organization, even though their most zealous backers were reactionaries.
The Syndicate's opportunism is best demonstrated by its de facto leader, F. Clifton White. White, according to reporter Fredirck S. Groshen's Old Friends, has stated that he has been "the official or unofficial campaign manager for Young Republican national chairman from 1949 through 1957." White is a former government professor at Cornell and currently a lawyer and public relations expert in New York. His philosophy is to control the national party by the only means possible--by nominating a candidate for President.
In the intra-party battles for the GOP nomination, this dealer, with a careful eye and a million contacts, has always been a winner, switching over the ideological fence from time to time: through the middle 1950's he worked for the Dewey-Eisen-hower contingents (instead of for Taft, the conservative) and then he shifted to Nixon in 1960 and Goldwater in 1964.
White's manipulation of YRNF conventions followed the same pattern. About 1955 he turned abruptly to the conservative camp; and until 1961 when Leonard Nadasdy won on a "no facitionalism" ticket, White's conservative candidates swept into the YR national chairmanship just as easily as had his earlier liberal candidates. "The Syndicate has never had a political philosophy," says Groshen. "Its tactic is to embrace the popular philosophy of the moment. The conservative Young Republicans chose to ignore this truism; he saw something that seemed headed in the same direction he was traveling; that was all that was important."
When the YRNF is in the skillful hands of White and the Syndicate, its importance in pushing a candidate forward in the senior Republican Party cannot be underestimated. Once it re-gained control of the YRNF in 1963, the Syndicate had a ready-made organization which helped immeasurably in pushing forward Goldwater, who was chosen by the White Machine in a secret decision back in 1961.
The suspectibility of the YRNF to factionalism is the result of a basic constitutional weakness in the structure of the Federation. All authority lies with the national chairman. He appoints 34 (an absolute majority) of the 67-member executive committee. He chooses all members to the convention's committees of resolutions. The number of delegates per state is disproportionate to either population or YR membership. And most important, no one can clamp restraints upon the national chairman and his executive committees during the two years between conventions. In other words, now that the 1961 convention is over, there is no way for YR delegates to prohibit McDonald from using the National Federation, its name, contacts, funds, in order to further his own personal interests or those of a particular GOP presidential candidate within the senior party.
The Syndicate's alliance with the right has had its major impact on the state and local level. Moderate and liberal members of state YR organizations--probably a majority of the membership--have been primarily interested in broadening the Republican base among youth. Reactionary zealots, in effect tools of the YRNF leadership, care only for intra-party warfare; they seek to control the local organizations and turn them into exclusive factions. If unsuccessful, they at least try to disrupt the YR group.
Such divisive tactics lead to the alienation, if not resignation, of many energetic moderates and liberals. Even arch-conservatives, such as the California and Texas delegations, several times voted against the YRNF convention leadership in protest against their intemperate tactics. What irks moderates most about the YR conservatives is their lack of energy and constructive programs. "They simply are not interested in work at all, except for political maneuvering before convention time," says John Brandt, Massachusetts YR delegate. "Their horse-nonsense drives workers out of the organization on the state level, and then the conservatives can win by default."
Brandt went to the national convention with the endorsement of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont for the regional vice-chairmanship. Shepherd Spunt of Brookline received the recommendation of two states recently captured by the conservative politicos--Rhode Island and Connecticut. The YRNF had appointed Spunt "regional director" for New England three years ago, but he had performed so badly that Massachusetts YR's refused to elect him a delegate to either of the last two conventions. Nevertheless, with the national chairman's backing, he won the convention over Brandt, who was tagged as an associate of the liberal Ripon Society, 350-250.
In Rhode Island the right-wing took over the state YR organization in typical fashion. When senior State GOP chairman Howard Russell repudiated the state's YR delegation, it was not because of his anti-conservatism. He was simply fed up with the convention-oriented group which did no other work. In spite of the senior state party's repudiation, the YR convention nevertheless voted to accept the delegation.
Another show of independence, and by far the most far-reaching rebug to the senior party, was the convention's decision not to seat the New Jersey delegation. The state's senior party, led by its chairman Webster Todd, had selected the delegation after ousting YR chairman Richard F. Plechner last year. Plechner was the leader of the far-right Rat Finks, an anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Negro faction of the YR's, numbering about 100, who managed to capture the leadership of New Jersey's 6000-member YR organization.
At the convention, Plechner led the successful drive against seating his own state's delegation. The move was a deliberate slap at the senior Party, which had condemned the Rat Finks against Van Sickle's bitter objection, and which had subsequently called for Plechner's resignation as national YR vice-chairman. The pro-Plechner militants condemned the GOP National Committee for interference in YR affairs. They also passed a YR resolution extending "our thanks and appreciation to Richard Plechner for his effort on behalf of the YRNF and to this country." The YR convention proceedings helped increase the group's autonomy and its independence of senior Party officials.
Bliss's attempts to give the senior Party greater control over YR activities were completely rejected by the convention except for one allowing two non-voting GOP National Committee representatives to sit on the YR executive board. And even Bliss's proposals were compromises with Van Sickle on stronger recommendations of the Alcorn Report, which had been unanimously adopted by the senior GOP National Committee.
The YR's have made every attempt to flout their independence. They have replaced the Baby Elephant with a star as their symbol McDonald campaigned against "the servant-boss relationship with the National Committee" and asked for fund-raisers as part of his staff. McDonald is not the only one who wishes the Federation to "go it alone."
Todd of New Jersey and the Ripon Society (a liberal, research-oriented group centering in Cambridge) have both called on Bliss to cut off the GOP's $91,000 a year financial aid to YRNF. The Ripon Society has recommended a policy of disassociation with the YR's until the YR's condemn the Rat Finks, apologize to Todd, pledge not to use funds on behalf of a Presidential candidate before the GOP Convention, set its age limit at 35 (now many members are over 40), and be accountable for its use of Party funds.
But the flaws go much deeper. Until the Federation's structure is changed to provide checks on the national chairman, and until convention procedures and state representation are reformed, it will undoubtedly serve merely as the instrument of would be kingmakers in pushing its man. (From all indications at the convention, Ronald Reagan is this year's man, though Richard Nixon still has a dwindling influence among the YR Syndicate.)
The growth of the Ripon Society and other young GOP societies indicate the failure of the YRNF--a failure which is not likely to find correction. Ray Bliss is a unity-at-any-cost man, but that cost is getting higher with each un-rebuked YR outrage.