The race for the Guilford County GOP Chairmanship has taken a rather bizarre twist in the past seven days as accusations are shooting back and forth between various factions. Meanwhile, many of those commenting on the situation are simply misinformed either by accident or choice and are attempting to mischaracterize the parties to advance their own agenda.
So what happened? First former N.C. Senate candidate Jeff Hyde announced that he was running for the county GOP Chairmanship. Also running for the position is former N.C. House candidate Teresa Yon.
Hyde considers himself the de facto leader of Conservatives For Guilford County, or C4GC, a recently organized group that has been instrumental in forcing local government to confront spending excesses. Upon information and belief, C4GC was founded by a group of conservatives from Lawndale Baptist Church. However, the focus of the group has clearly been on fiscal matters.
Hyde was also involved in a controversy during the 2010 campaign that involved a fundraising raffle where the winner was a relative of Hyde’s and chose not to accept the prize, thus leaving the money in Hyde’s coffers. Hyde says that the Board of Elections investigated this and found no wrongdoing.
Back to the present. A few days ago, there was a post on C4GC’s Facebook page from Jodi Riddleberger regarding Hyde’s announcement:
“Unfortunately the good news was followed by bad. It has been made clear that unless Jeff drops out of the race "dirt" that was "dug up" on the Riddleberger family will be leaked to the media. Nancy Vaughan spent time at the courthouse during the election cycle trying to find dirt on Jeff's associations and she ran across an incident involving my husband from almost 20 years ago. Her info has been passed on to her GOP establishment friends in order to deter Jeff from continuing on in his bid for Chairman.”
The comment was later deleted.
The “dirt” on the Riddleberger family involves a 1995 conviction for indecent liberties with a minor recorded against Barrett Riddleberger. Mr. Riddleberger has been a very active voice in C4GC.
Nancy Vaughan denied the allegations when she told liberal blogger Ed Cone:
“I just read Jodi Riddleberger's statement on the C4gc facebook page and she is 100% incorrect. I never went to the courthouse looking for information to discredit Jeff Hyde (he was doing such a good job of it himself) or ANY of his friends. I am NOT the person who uncovered the information in question. Her statement is scurrilous. I believe in compassion and redemption and I also believe that if you want compassion you should show compassion.”
The issue of “redemption” became a hot topic on Cone’s blog as he and others seemed to relish in mocking the religious beliefs of Hyde, Riddleberger, and others involved in the controversy.
Subsequently, outgoing GOP Executive Director Tony Wilkins spoke with YES! Weekly and made it clear that he did not support Hyde. Wilkins then issued a challenge to Hyde on Wilkins’ blog about whether Hyde had previously lied to him during a conversation about Hyde’s campaign finances last summer.
Hyde hasn’t responded.
It needs to be made clear that Teresa Yon has not been accused of anything in this controversy and in fact has smartly remained silent.
So there are many angles to this story that should be dealt with topically rather than sequentially.
First, let’s discuss Jodi Riddleberger’s accusation against Nancy Vaughan and the GOP “establishment”.
Riddleberger and Hyde by proxy later backed off this accusation against Vaughan directly and now tell the News and Record:
"I was told this information by dear friends who had a meeting with a couple of people and they were blind-sided with this information. We're talking Republicans — not only Republicans but political establishment folks."
Here’s my take. I have met Jodi once or twice. She seems like a very nice person to me, but she has to name names. It is that simple.
Similarly Hyde must name names to support his modified allegation:
"The Vaughan camp is not responsible for this recent release, however, they did spread it around the first time. It is Ruling Class Republicans, elitists, paranoid party people that have gotten their hands on this info and now, somehow, hope to use it to discredit a Constitutional, Conservative movement."
Outgoing GOP Chairman Bill Wright is correct when he writes:
"This entire episode has been one void of facts, but full of allegations and finger pointing at the local GOP."
The truth is that many people, myself included, were aware that certain threats were being made during the campaign regarding a revelation of Barrett Riddleberger’s record. However, what I heard came from another local blogger who was concerned that Riddleberger’s record would be used by other bloggers or the local media to discredit C4GC and Mr. Riddleberger’s political activities. I never got the impression that this was being orchestrated by anyone inside the GOP “establishment”. Instead, the logical culprit would have been someone on the Left out for blood against high profile people aligned with the Tea Party movement- or someone associated with the Riddleberger case out to get him.
So this kind of gets to the heart of the matter. Is this really a controversy at all?
Barrett Riddleberger’s past has nothing to do with Jeff Hyde’s future. Why would anyone believe that Hyde is in any way accountable for what Riddleberger did? Why would the Hyde camp even bring these accusations to the public view? The smarter move would have been the basic and honest response should the attempted smear come out, and that is to simply say “Barrett Riddleberger is not running for Chair. I believe he has made amends with his past and has been a strong ally in advancing our goals, but I am the one running for Chairman, not him and this attempt to blackmail me by forcing me to choose between my political goals and the privacy of one of my friends is despicable”.
That would have likely ended it.
On the other side of the spectrum, if there is a cabal who did plan on using Riddleberger’s past to tar Hyde, how did they expect it to work? Recall that Barack Obama was friends with Bill Ayers but that association never really caught on with the public as a voting issue. Those who would have used this against Hyde appear to be just as confused as Hyde’s response. In fact, there are only two motivating factors that could logically explain the attempted linkage between Riddleberger’s conviction and Hyde.
The first is as I alluded to before- and that is simply an attempt to blackmail Hyde by forcing him to choose between his goals and his friendship. Clearly if this was the goal, only someone in the GOP would be behind it. Democrats or those on the Left with this “ammunition” would be far wiser to sit on this until after Hyde became Chairman to gain the maximum political mileage (to the extent there really is any at all) against the GOP.
Hyde obviously believes this first option is the accurate one and described the play to Joe Killian at the News and Record:
"Their reasoning was that this would, by association, hurt me," Hyde said. "You have to understand the body of delegates who volunteer for the Republican party. There are retirees, there are a lot of people who would be appalled to know someone with a past."
Again - if Hyde believes this, he must name names. Why publicize Riddleberger's conviction, but shy away from naming names of those behind the attempted smear? What Hyde has done if his accusation is correct is to give his opponents what they want free of charge.
The second possibility refers to the second group. The less political savvy on the Left could have been behind the linkage for the sole purpose of discrediting C4GC as a whole and as an opportunity to mock their beliefs. Local Democrats and liberals have been frothing at the mouth to discredit C4GC, an organization that they erroneously refer to as the local “Tea Party” (more about this later). The most visible members of the organization consist of an outspoken troika of attractive women that clearly aggravate the Left because well, they are outspoken, attractive and conservative. See e.g., Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann.
However, some wounds are self-inflicted, and by putting this out there offensively Hyde & Co. have given all of their detractors the gun to shoot them with (oh no! there goes my hate speech! I used a gun metaphor!).
As political theater, it is a story but from a substantive standpoint it is not. Regardless of how the politics plays out, Hyde is not Barrett Riddleberger nor is he accountable for Riddleberger’s past. It is unfair to imply guilt by association in a situation like this when the wrongdoing does not reflect any ideological conformity. To his credit, Hyde has stood up for Riddleberger for better or worse.
But that leads to another facet of this story, the “redemption” theme.
Jeff Hyde and Barrett Riddleberger both invoked their belief in religious redemption and forgiveness to explain the relationship and why Riddleberger is a changed man. Riddleberger did so only after being contacted about the story. He did not go out of his way to make this an issue. This was quickly mocked by liberal blogger Ed Cone and others on his blog. Cone went on to sarcastically refer to a quote from Riddleberger “saying God wanted him and his wife to get involved in politics.” I think God also called on Moses to do a few things, but I suppose that’s just not as funny or worthy of ridicule to some because you know, that was before Jesus.
But some of the religious discussion has been overboard. One person commenting on Cone’s site stated that what Riddleberger did was “between him and God”. If you are a religious person, then all things are between you and God, however that isn’t really the specific issue in play here.
Riddleberger’s past is actually between him and the law, not God for purposes of this story. There is no age of consent in the Bible that I am aware of and as I have pointed out before, the age of consent varies from state to state, and indeed from nation to nation. I certainly can’t speak for Him, but I think it is rational to say that what God considers sinful regarding such matters is not relative to the laws of the state or country where the act occurs. For example, if the age of consent is 15 in France, I can’t imagine God saying “Mr. Riddleberger has sinned- but only because he did it in North Carolina where it is against the law.” In short, Riddleberger's transgression is best understood as a legal one- a violation of contemporary public morality, but not a religious one.
If Riddleberger is redeemed from a religious standpoint, it must involve absolution for acts beyond his criminal conviction. Perhaps that is what he and his supporters meant and that the detractors are missing. Of course, none of this will matter because all parties will attempt to get as much mileage out of it to advance their cause regardless of the logic involved. There are some who are put off that religion was invoked to explain the status quo; others are put off that invoking religion was so easily dismissed and ridiculed. I can point fingers in both directions.
The observations and commentary from those outside the GOP looking in has revealed a certain glee and effort to hype the story way beyond its significance. Theirs is clearly an attempt to discredit the Right and to attack a group of conservatives who have been garnering a lot of attention. These people think all conservatives are “religious nuts” and they absolutely hate the Tea Party movement because it has so damaged the Left and reframed the debate. The fact that C4GC does NOT speak for the Tea Party movement doesn’t really matter, blurring the lines and the reality is all part of the game. That said, these people on the Left were handed a loaded gun and only a fool would expect them not to use it. (There I go again with the gun metaphors- coming up next will be a precinct map with targets on it- we can start with Linda Shaw's district).
Left wing blogger Ed Cone is having a field day with this story, having posted more on this topic than any other since the library porn debates. This is for obvious reasons. It allows him to mock conservatives in his usual snarky and sarcastic way, and religious conservatives in particular. His contempt for them isn't hidden well just below the surface and the volume of his posts is telling.
This leads to the next related topic. C4GC is NOT the Tea Party. There is no official Tea Party in Guilford County. C4GC is but one group, albeit the most active, that affiliates with many of the goals of the Tea Party movement. But the Tea Party is just that- a movement. It is also a movement that is driven by fiscal matters, not social ones. I expect that in that regard, there may be some variance between C4GC and what is broadly considered the Tea Party movement although it must be acknowledged that so far, C4GC has focused on fiscal issues.
Still, Jeff Hyde is not the official leader of the local Tea Party. That’s because there isn’t an official Tea Party. I could declare myself the leader of the Tea Party right now and present my own list of candidates that I think represent the Tea Party ideals and it could be completely at odds with C4GC. Tony Wilkins got it right yesterday when he wrote “One does not have to be around a self appointed leader long to understand why they are self appointed.”
This leads to the final analysis of this story, and that is the “Establishment vs. The Insurgents”.
I do not fit the stereotypical mode of a Republican that liberals and some of my counterparts on the Right advance. I have a libertarian streak that doesn't always appeal to some who consider themselves more "traditional" conservatives, and that also frustrates many liberals who fail in their attempt to fit me neatly into their little box of who they think conservatives really are. I think my positions are actually more "conservative" because I am an opponent of big government in nearly all of its forms. Yes, I do listen to Howard Stern. Yes, I have been known to drop a curse word or two. And yes, I did vote for Ron Paul. It must be the Tiger Blood and Adonis DNA (gratutious pop culture reference to Charlie Sheen's latest troubles injected for comic relief. WINNING!). But I have acquired the reputation of being one of the most hardcore conservatives in the public sphere locally. I gladly accept that reputation, but I also believe it gives me a certain unique cache when it comes to opining on the matters at hand without being accused of being anyone's shill.
I have written many items on this blog about the problems facing the GOP and the reasons for the growth of the Tea Party movement. Real conservatives don’t favor big government Republicans any more than they do big government Democrats.
The losses sustained by the GOP in 2006 and 2008 were simply a manifestation of frustration with big government Republicans. Many conservatives were disillusioned with the GOP leadership and with John McCain as the nominee in 2008. The government bailouts of Wall Street were the last straw. Out of this frustration grew the Tea Party movement. It was not an astroturf movement as claimed by liberal blogger Ed Cone. It was not a result of some kind of racist reaction to Barack Obama as Brad Krantz and others on the Left imply in their effort to discredit it.
It was a reaction more to the GOP itself than to Democrats or Barack Obama. That is a simple reality. The Tea Party believed that the GOP no longer represented the true conservative viewpoint on the size of government.
This has created a rift between business as usual, go along to get along, tax and spend Republican’s. We have such Republican’s here locally (I ran against one of them, Linda Shaw, in the primary). But it would be a mistake to assume that anyone who has held any position of power within the GOP structure is part of this establishment. If Hyde and others believe that the establishment is out to get them- and they may be right- they still must name the names. You cannot simply dismiss your opponents as “the establishment” without identifying who they are and why you think they are protecting an ideologically flawed power structure with a smear campaign. Outgoing Chairman Bill Wright correctly notes:
“Long before the C4GC formed a year or so ago and became involved in local politics, the many “establishment” Republicans, as we older Republicans are now despairingly referred to, carried the water for the Republican Party and the conservative principles that define our Party Platform.”
Not everybody fits Wright’s description, but not everyone fits Hyde’s description either.
So there is certainly truth behind the idea that there is a power struggle going on within the GOP, but I think it is quite overstated. Even “establishment” Republicans now realize that they cannot win unless they are willing to return to the principles of limited government that groups like C4GC and the Tea Party advocate. This is a new realization that has spread across the nation where with few exceptions, insurgent candidates won in 2010. For every Sharron Angle that lost, there are probably 5 candidates that won. That won’t stop some of the “establishment” types from trying to discredit the insurgents. Theirs is a losing battle, however.
That said, this Hyde/Riddleberger incident does give any hostile forces that may exist in the “establishment” and the Left ammunition. It is way too easy to say “that Tea Party crowd (regardless of the accuracy of the label) is filled with folks with personal and ethical problems” when confronted with this story. The goal- especially from the Left- is to label the movement as a collection of nutjobs and people who can't shoot straight and imply that this is systemic. This is done in an effort to detract from the very real nutjobs that inhabit the Left. One needs to look no further than the gathering of angry Leftists in Wisconsin (or any other gathering of liberal protesters) to witness this spectacle. However, there is no denying that some of the wounds in this local saga are self-inflicted in a number of ways.
Perception is reality in politics. Hyde was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Board of Elections, yet the perception is still that his raffle wasn’t on the up and up. That cloud will continue to hang over him if he is the Chairman, fair or not. Hyde’s response to the Riddleberger story only made the story bigger and his failure to identify by name those that he deems responsible only adds to the questions about his integrity. I think I met him one time, and I offer no personal opinion on his character because I am unqualified to make it. However, as a political observer, I can offer my opinion as to how it all looks and it doesn’t look good.
Stories like this, for better or worse, can have long legs and threaten the very message that C4GC and other like-minded individuals have been successfully advancing for over a year because the personalities overshadow the message. C4GC has been quite effective in the past at getting the message out through people like Isabella Adkins and Jodi Riddleberger to name a few. That is at risk and the local Left is simply delighted because they see the local conservative movement as on the verge of self-destruction over this skirmish. The Left is wrong, but there will be some damage.
Jeff Hyde and some others have made a huge PR mistake here where they already had very little room to maneuver given what is known. Absent any real evidence to support the allegations, the best move would be to avoid further damage to the movement that represents in large part the conservative ideals that myself and others believe in, and that move is to step aside for now.