At the national level, Donald Trump is presenting the “little r” republicans with an identity crisis. Is he Republican? Is he Republican enough? Who decides?

What does it mean to be a Republican? What does it mean to be conservative? How are they they related?

I recently had a conversation about what it means to be American. Are there core values one must hold to be American, or is “American” merely a label that we attach to the average of the preferences of the people within our borders who happen to vote?

I say: it’s the former. And what are those definitive, core American values? Some of them are written down for us, in the Bill of Rights.

So what does it mean to be a North Dakota Republican? Is it written down somewhere? Can it be changed? Who decides?

If you visit you can see the official platform of the North Dakota Republican Party. I asked the state party leadership who wrote this document, and who decided what to put in it. The answer is, as I understand it, that the state party executive staff looked at the state party’s resolutions, and then adapted and condensed the resolutions into the document you see now.

What are the resolutions? You can see the 2014 resolutions here.

The resolutions are much longer, much more specific, and cover a wide variety of topics. The resolutions are, compared to the existing platform document, raw, grass roots democracy.

How do the resolutions happen?

The local Republican party in each legislative district nominates one representative to be a member of the state resolutions committee. The resolutions committee members meet several times prior to the state convention, bringing forth resolution proposals they are submitting for consideration. Together, the committee members will work to finalize the wording of the various resolutions, and then vote as a body on which resolutions should be presented to the assembled delegates at the state convention. There, the assembled delegates vote to accept the resolutions.

Anyone may submit a resolution to the committee for consideration. Contact your district chair, or if you know your representative on the resolutions committee, contact that person.

I happen to be the resolutions committee representative for my district, so if you like, you can suggest a resolution to me, and I can bring it forward. The deadline for resolution submissions is the morning of March 12, so act quickly.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…people who ran as Republicans have a super-majority in the legislature, and hold every elected office in the state’s executive branch. Nearly everything in the state is run by someone who calls themselves a Republican.[/mks_pullquote]

Now, with all that said: why do we bother with the resolutions process? After all, the resolutions from 2014 are a download link on the party’s website; what you see more prominently is the platform document. Furthermore, as you read over the resolutions from 2014, ask yourself: do these resolutions sound like our state government? Did my representatives vote in accordance with these resolutions? Did my governor pass or veto bills in accordance with these resolutions?

Recall, people who ran as Republicans have a super-majority in the legislature, and hold every elected office in the state’s executive branch. Nearly everything in the state is run by someone who calls themselves a Republican.

Does our state run like our platform? Or our resolutions?

My humble opinion is that our “Republican” state officials don’t always vote or act as “Republicanly” as we might wish. And if we look over the resolutions from 2014, we see a wide delta between how some of the resolutions read and how some “Republicans” actually voted.

I’m not the first person to observe that the resolutions don’t seem to have much impact on how our elected Republicans actually govern. Indeed, one of the resolutions from 2014 is that each elected official would be subject to a comparison between their legislative behavior and the resolutions.

Obviously, that didn’t seem to happen.

Are the resolutions important?

The resolutions represent the average of the wishes of the activist members of the state party. I say “activist” because being on the resolutions committee is a grueling process. The people who participate care about policy and and the direction of the party. They argue hard. One participant told me that the resolutions process was the “feedback mechanism” that the grassroots uses to express grievances to the party leadership. Yet for all of the work involved in crafting resolutions, many legislators seem to ignore them. I’ve been told that one legislator infamously shouted, “Nobody is going to tell me how to vote!” when asked about his differences with the party’s official resolutions.

The platform document represents the condensed, sanitized version of the state party leadership’s view of the Republican Brand. There’s a bunch of admittedly wild stuff in the resolutions; some “inside baseball”, so to speak. So I understand (and to an extent, agree with), having a separate platform document. The Republican party needs to carefully manage and cultivate its “brand”. Not so much in North Dakota, but nationally, the brand is damaged and in crisis.

But our legislators aren’t even necessarily aware of the platform document.

So what does it mean to be a Republican in North Dakota?

Is it adherence to some core set of basic principles that have been vetted and approved for mass consumption – like the platform?

Is it adherence to the set of policies that the grass roots activists come up with, and the delegates approve – like the resolutions?

Or, is it anyone who wants to stick an “R” after their name and get 300 signatures? – like state law says?

I don’t think it should be the last one. If you want the “R” after your name, I think you should have the support of the party, and I think that support should be based in part on you having an authentic respect for the policies that your party says are non-negotiable.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…if we’re going to differentiate what is our party from what is not our party, then we may also determine the degree to which our candidates aren’t really our candidates.[/mks_pullquote]

I occasionally flirt with practicality, and I therefore realize that no political candidate matches you on every issue, or votes how you want them to with every vote. So this is not a game of absolutes.

However, if we’re going to have political parties, then those parties should mean something, and should be objectively differentiated from each other. Those differences should be based on ideas. Values. Policies. Goals. Methods.

And if we’re going to differentiate what is our party from what is not our party, then we may also determine the degree to which our candidates aren’t really our candidates.

How should we do that? Who should do it? What would it look like?

I don’t know.

But what I would like is for the brand of the state Republican party – the platform – to be the agreed upon set of ideas that most of us agree with most of the time. The platform should serve to differentiate us from those who are not us. I would like to think that the resolutions, or the resolutions committee, or some other committee, can help shape and manage that brand; to curate the sieve that differentiates.

Furthermore, I would like the people who want to run for office, and who hitch their personal wagon to the Republican brand, to be tested against our platform. Tested before they get endorsed, and tested again and again, with each vote, and each subsequent re-election bid.

Currently, only a handful of legislative and executive super-stars will get an “A” on this test. That’s ok for now. Because this is remedial civics, we can grade our legislators on a curve for a while. Let’s first agree that there should be a test, and let’s publish the study guide for all to see.

If you want your leadership to act more Republican, please help us curate the Republican brand. Please help us choose wise candidates. Please help us hold them accountable.

If we are just a group of people with wildly different ideas and voting habits, we’re not a party.