Elite Behavior Matters

The College Republican National Committee Chairman elections shows the lessons taught by the national party.

The behavior of party elites (i.e., persons in positions of power, both elected and otherwise) clearly influences those further down the chain. Elite messaging directly affect rank-and-file voters and those messages, along with behavior, can either elevate or corrupt an organization. A set of stories in the National Review underscore that the lessons of Trumpian rhetoric in 2020 and into 2021 have been corrosive.

Specifically, the NR reported a few days ago on the machinations within the College Republican National Committee to deny the vote to many state organizations so as to engineer an outcome for the chosen candidate of the outgoing Chair: The Kids Are Not Alright: Chaos at the College Republican National Committee.

The basics are pretty simple: the vote to select the national chair is a state-by-state affair with states being assigned variable numbers of votes based on various criteria.

The CRNC allocates votes to states based on chapter membership rolls submitted to it in February, which are then reviewed by an outside auditing firm. After this initial round of credentialing, 22 states were not allocated any votes — an unusual and “alarming” occurrence, according to CRNC treasurer Ty Seymour.

States are then permitted to appeal by asking for votes if they did not receive any, or asking for more if they believe themselves to be so deserving based on the numbers. The credentialing appeals meeting was held this past Sunday, July 11 and was presided over by an outside arbitrator, Jay Goldstein, who was hired by Thornton.

Chandler Thornton is the outgoing Chair who supported the elevation of Southern Regional Vice Chair Courtney Britt to the national leadership position. Britt’s competition was Western Regional Vice Chair Judah Waxelbaum.

Thornton scheduled the meeting for 3 a.m. Pacific Time, which many involved saw as a way of making things difficult on Waxelbaum — who is from Arizona — and the coalition of states supporting him.

No doubt Thornton is just an early riser.


“Every single state that has endorsed me was denied their appeal, and every single state that my opponent was granted their appeal,” Waxelbaum explained to National Review. “My opponent’s home state of Virginia was increased from 4 votes to 7. So, for context, Virginia currently has more votes than California, New York, and Florida combined.”

The main basis for most denials had to do with documentation from universities, which is apparently required in the CRNC constitution, but some dispute exists as to how the rule was applied in the past (and was not uniformly applied in the present).

Seymour, who has attended three prior conventions, says that in the past, this rule was interpreted to mean that you had to produce the letters only if you submitted nothing by the initial, February 1 deadline. This year, it was required of every school that did not receive approval. He told National Review, “I actually don’t think there’s ever been a case where a state has been denied their voting rights so long as they were there and present to appeal for themselves … So this is all unprecedented.”

Additional maneuvers were engaged in, including shifting, entirely, how the state of Louisiana was represented (note, also, the lack of application of the two-letter rule):

Thornton had more success in Louisiana, where he unilaterally stripped the Louisiana Federation of College Republicans — the longstanding state CRNC affiliate — of its membership, admitting the Louisiana Association of College Republicans in its stead. His casus belli? A complaint, the details of which are unclear, from a student who was at the time a member of neither the federation nor the CRNC.

At the time of the association’s elevation, it was composed of chapters at his Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University, and the University of Louisiana Monroe. Neither of the latter two institutions recognized a College Republicans chapter at the time of the association’s recognition, according to correspondence from school officials obtained by National Review. University recognition, so important in the case of the two-letter requirement, was apparently an afterthought in this case.

And then yesterday National Review reported College Republicans Poised for Splinter after ‘Stolen’ Election (and it should be clear from the get-go that based on NR‘s own reporting that the word stolen does not belong in scare quotes).

Courtney Britt, the candidate who incumbent College Republican National Committee Chairman Chandler Thornton hoped would succeed him, triumphed today over Judah Waxelbaum. Only about 60 percent of CRNC affiliates cast ballots, though: A consequence of the maneuvering detailed earlier this week by National Review.


She spent much of the day, however, voting not to allow numerous states — which had been sidelined over disputed credentialing issues — representation in the chairman’s race. It is widely believed that Waxelbaum would have had a sizable majority had all 52 eligible federations cast ballots. Just over 30 were actually allowed to.

So, we have here a federalized election process to select a leader wherein a candidate who likely would not have won a majority of the vote manipulated the process to disenfranchise voters in many states and to use flimsy legal interpretations backed by cronies and supporters to steal the elect. Where, oh where, could they have gotten such an idea?

And as if all of that isn’t zeitgeisty enough for you, try this one for size (emphasis mine):

At one point, a debate broke out over Arkansas being stripped of its votes last Sunday under allegations of voter fraud in its state chairman election; the state’s actual party chairman has weighed in on the matter, assuring the CRNC that everything was on the up and up. Nevertheless, Britt — a graduate of Richmond Law School — argued that the state should remain disenfranchised since it hadn’t presented evidence that fraud had not occurred.

That’s right: accusations of fraud should be enough to disenfranchise and only proof of a negative (!) will suffice to win the argument.

If I am being too glib, let me spell out the parallels. The US president is elected in a system wherein each state is assigned a specific number of votes. Those votes have to be certified by the Congress. There was an attempt on January 6, 2021 by a large number of Republican members of the Congress (138 in the House and 7 in Senate) to deny certain states’ electoral votes. Often on the logic (so to speak) that negatives had not been proven.

The parallels to what Britt and her allies pulled off her are pretty stunning and demonstrate that the current leadership of the organization does not value democratic outcomes. This is a disturbing observation about an organization that is linked directly to one of two national political parties.

Many of the state-level federations within the CRNC are now considering leaving the national organization.

I would note that I have no idea, in the abstract, as to whether Britt or Waxelbaum is the better candidate, nor do I have much of an idea as to what their goals are for the organization. But I do know that a group linked to a national political party that cannot conduct its own internal affairs in an above-board, fair, and democratic fashion is yet another blinking red light on the dashboard of American democracy.

This group is one possible sources of Republican operatives and candidates (for example, Karl Rove got his start in the CRNC and heck, Hillary Clinton was the President of the Wellesley College CRNC chapter before she switched parties). If it cannot support very basic principles of democratic fairness, what kinds of future elites will it produce?

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Democratic Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. reid says:

    Ah, a shining new generation of GOP: corrupt, win-at-all-costs, and unethical. What could go wrong, indeed. I hope some of them are learning some valuable lessons and getting out.

    As an aside, can you imagine how uncool these kids must be?

  2. gVOR08 says:

    This is a disturbing observation about an organization that is linked directly to one of two national political parties.

    Disturbing, but given that the national party in question is the Republicans, hardly surprising. How they gonna learn to lie, cheat, and steal if you don’t start them early?

  3. Gustopher says:

    I blame gay marriage.

    I don’t know how or why, but we were assured that if same sex marriage was legalized, it would lead to the moral decline of America, and here we are — the predictions were accurate.

  4. Scott F. says:

    The parallels to what Britt and her allies pulled off her are pretty stunning and demonstrate that the current leadership of the organization does not value democratic outcomes. This is a disturbing observation about an organization that is linked directly to one of two national political parties.

    A disturbing observation apparently lost on the readership of NRO.

    Just for giggles, I followed your link regarding the Splinter and used my last free look to read the full article and check the comments. Hoo, Daddy! 20 comments in and it’s already Exhibit A for an epic lack of political self-awareness.

    Hillary and the Democrats are blamed for the learned behaviors as much as any GOP examples. The disenfranchised are accused of being poor sports. Kids are just being kids, they say. All without irony.

    The GOP really has to be destroyed. The current constituency doesn’t have a problem with the death of democracy – they don’t even see a problem. And now it is clear that the next generation isn’t going to redeem them. In fact, the CRNC appears to be beta testing tomorrow’s techniques for voter suppression and gaming the system.

  5. Teve says:

    @Scott F.: given Fox, the senate, scotus, i think it’s more likely our political system will enter a crisis before republicans do.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    I would note that I have no idea, in the abstract, as to whether Britt or Waxelbaum is the better candidate

    They’re Young Republicans. What could “better” possibly mean here?

    (And no, this is not mere dismissible partisanship — we have seen what these people “stand for”. Leonard Leo was a YR when I first met him, and he was utterly typical of the breed.)

  7. Scott F. says:

    To your point, I’d say our political system is already in a crisis. (see: January 6th, but also pandemic response, climate non-response, shootings at MLB games, etc.) The country can’t recover until the Republicans open their eyes – and that will take the crisis becoming an existential threat for the GOP.

    The Republicans have to be pushed relentlessly at every pressure point – ballot box, fundraising, public shaming – until they have the incentives to solve the problems in their own house.

  8. wr says:

    What I find really amazing here is that the team stealing the election seems to have given no thought to what happens the day after. Do they really expect this organization will stay together when a majority of the states were crudely disenfranchised? It will be hard for California to secede from the US in 2024 in Republicans steal the election — but it can’t be all that difficult to start a new group called The Real Campus Republicans and simply leave the old one.

  9. @wr: Those who place their immediate power over everything else are normally quite short-sighted.

  10. Kathy says:


    They’re Young Republicans. What could “better” possibly mean here?

    One who at least balks at suppressing voters on their own party?

    I managed to type that without laughing.

  11. JohnSF says:

    I blame it on the boogie.

  12. Gavin says:

    Surely immigrants are the root cause of this kerfluffle, and building a wall will unite the Real Americans against all external interlopers.

  13. flat earth luddite says:

    @Scott F.:

    The country can’t recover until the Republicans open their eyes – and that will take the crisis becoming an existential threat for the GOP.

    I’m afraid that recognizing that threat will come too late for them. When the mob kicks in your door, it’s too late to leave town.

  14. becca says:

    @reid: I’ve always suspected that the self-awareness of being fundamentally uncool is the source of the right’s victimhood.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher: @JohnSF: I blame Obama.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: On the other hand, if all your goals are achievable in the near term, why does being able to see the big picture/long range outlook matter? As a friend noted once, “I’ll be gone by then, why would I care?”

  17. Jay L Gischer says:

    I did a lot of camping in my youth, both with my family and with the Scouts. The ethos of camping was “leave your campsite better than you found it”. This seems counter to “I’ll be gone by then, why should I care?” I can’t be the only person left in America with that value, can I? I knew lots of people then who were Republicans, and held that ethos dear. We need them now.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Look on the bright side, there was no voter fraud in this election.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I knew lots of people then who were Republicans, and held that ethos dear. We need them now.

    Yeah, but my father and mother* are dead.

    *Ma actually was “not a Republican” when she died, W cured her of it. the old man… Alzheimers got him first.

  20. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Its quite easy to go straight to Republicans being a problem. I’d agree–but that’s low hanging fruit. Republican behavior is part of a larger system problem of Party Politics. Lets not gloss over the times Team Blue held the trifecta and only delivered a bland fix for health care. They have the trifecta again–and we got some bland infrastructure deal. I suppose that’s better than the Republican trifecta performances of *nothing*–but not much better.

    This is the bottom line: Both Team Red & Blue are mostly fund raising organizations. Team Blue has a slight interest in governance because its part of their branding. Team Red branding is about stopping Team Blue so they don’t have to deliver anything in support of their governance branding.

    To go further–cable news outlets are 20% news but 80% media arms of their supported Team to drive fundraising. What better way to get libs to send money than to show kids in cages? To get in the conservative wallet–you need to show footage of brown people running across the border, n!&&3rs looting and rioting, and libs indoctrinating white children than they are responsible for racism.

    Why did the Republican Party side with Trump? He was a once-in-a-lifetime candidate for their core mission–RAISING MONEY. No Republican holds a candle to Trump in getting people to mail in cash–he’s the white Reverend Ike. The day his fundraising prowess becomes normal–is the day the Party throws Trump over the railing. Until then–he is irreplaceable.

    This is the dirty little secret that goes unreported year after year. That “policy wonk” Congress critter you think is an expert? They spend 90% of their time dialing and shaking hands for campaign dollars. They aren’t the expert they pass themselves off as–because they don’t have the time. Sure, they sound knowledgeable but its mostly surface deep and they could be exposed if every in an unscripted situation with an actual expert.

    Governance in this country will never be normal again until this negative incentive is addressed from a systemic perspective. Governance will continue to take a back seat to fundraising and cable news will continue to select stories and shape narratives that support fundraising objectives vise voter education and information.

    The Republican party is the result of a larger problem…that frankly will eventually consume the Democratic Party–currently “allowing” 1 Hillbilly Senator to thwart the entire Biden Administration agenda. You think Manchin doesn’t have any leverage points? Of course he does–the pain just isn’t being applied because the Dems need tension and frustration to maintain fundraising.

  21. flat earth luddite says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Besides, anyone who holds that ethos CAN’T be a Republican, they’re a RINO!.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I must travel in lower circles than you do. The campground is the only place where the people I’ve known apply that ethos. It certainly isn’t a business or political ethos that I’m familiar with.

  23. Barry says:

    I don’t have the references, but this is standard among College Republicans.
    The A-holes in politics in the 1980’s were a-hole College Republicans in the 1970’s,
    and so on for the 1990’s.

  24. Barry says:

    @Jim Brown 32: ” Lets not gloss over the times Team Blue held the trifecta and only delivered a bland fix for health care. ”

    Well, wrong, but thanks for playing!

    You win…………….a LIFETIME SUPPLY of TURTLE WAX!