In the rearview mirror: Missoula’s GOP caucus

by Pete Talbot

I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Actually my predictions yesterday for Missoula County’s GOP caucus were pretty close to how the rest of Montana Republicans voted but I was way off for Missoula.

The two biggest surprises: McCain gets spanked and Ron Paul surges. (Jay has some good analysis here.)

Some comments of late at 4&20 hint at the fact that Sen. McCain misread Montana horribly – that by initially allowing Lt. Gov. Bohlinger to head up his campaign, he lost any hope of getting the conservative vote – and Montana Republicans tend to be a conservative bunch.

McCain’s last minute switch to Conrad Burns as campaign chair was too little, too late.

I thought Ron Paul would do well in Montana. I just didn’t think he’d do that well: first place in Missoula and second place statewide.

Lots of fresh-faced youths at the Doubletree last night waving Ron Paul signs. Is this the future of the Montana GOP?

4&20 co-contributor Rebecca, who is braver than I am, accepted a drink invitation with Missoula’s Republican leadership after the caucus was over. She convinced me to tag along. Our hosts (Carol from over at Missoulapolis was one of them) were gracious but guarded. We were offered some dandy, well-aged, single-malt Scotch, which helped put everyone at ease.

These local Republican leaders were celebrating a well-organized caucus where most everything ran smoothly. There seemed to be a mix of emotions, however. They were happy that so many young people showed up but concerned about the direction these youths were taking.

Let’s face it, Ron Paul is not going to get the Republican nomination at this summer’s convention in the Twin Cities. Will he then switch parties and run on a separate ballot line or will he ask his supporters to back another Republican candidate? And even if Paul throws his support to … Huckabee, Romney, McCain? … will the fresh-faced youths follow his lead? Will they stay with the party? Will they maintain their enthusiasm?

Time will tell, but there are cracks in the Republican Party’s façade. Is it the party of anti-government Libertarians, Christian evangelicals, business entrepreneurs or Iraq War hawks? I imagine that Republican Party leadership will trot out the old Democratic Party maxim: “It’s a big tent.” We shall see if it’s big enough to hold this four-ring circus.

Lord knows, I’ve seen the Democratic Party wrestle with its identity over the years. For me, as an observer, it’s fun to watch the other side of the aisle try to deal with its identity crisis, and also figure out what the hell to do about Ron Paul.

Update: Cece over at Montana Netroots has a good take on the possibilities facing the Montana Republican delegation when they show up at the convention this summer.  

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  1. We shall see if it’s big enough to hold this four-ring circus.

    Excellent line! Mind if I steal it, Pete?

  2. goof houlihan

    Here’s the thing. If Ron Paul takes off on a third party quest, a bunch of well known names will go with him and repudiate the Republican party.

    Can other republicans win their seats once they’ve turn coated against the party?

  3. goof houlihan

    Democrats were the rainbow coalition and it was Ronald Reagan who had the big tent. “Reagan democrats”… I think I read that here, somewhere…

  4. goof houlihan

    BTW, four words save Republicans this election year:

    “Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton”.

  5. minnowspeaks

    Reality check–the GOP caucus in Montana denied most republican voters their constitutional right to vote. It limited the votes to under 2000 people. Many people don’t even understand that the primary in June has absolutely no value because it’s the caucus that controls the delegates. A couple campaigns realized what was happening and encouraged their supporters to sign up for the limited precinct positions thereby stacking the deck for their candidates. Can you guess which two those were? Last I heard Mr. Bollinger was not even going to be allowed to vote despite being an elected republican. You already know who he was supporting. I’m betting the June primary won’t look much like the caucus last night did. But them what’s that to the powers that be.

  6. petetalbot

    You could be right, Goof, about Ronald Reagan coining “the big tent.” All I know is that I’ve heard the phrase bandied about at nearly every Democratic event I’ve attended — going on almost 20 years.

  7. I strongly suspect a 3rd-party run by Paul, despite having heard him deny it. He said it would be way too hard to get on the ballot in all 50 states but I’m sure his supporters could pull it off.

  8. They’re certainly well-organized, and they have (judging by the crowd at the Doubletree Tuesday night) youth and enthusiasm on their side.

  9. Lotta old hippies in that group too.

  1. 1 Montana means nothing to McCain « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] the Republican caucuses in February, McCain came in third, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. This year, he has yet to visit the […]




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