Posted: May 2, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The last time the Delaware Republicans had to vote on delegates for their national presidential convention, the party establishment had to beat back the Tea Party to get a slate through.

Not this time. In between then and now, the establishment went quietly.

Everybody is drinking the tea these days. Oh sure, the party still has Charlie Copeland and Laird Stabler, a couple of du Pont cousins from Chateau Country, in its top leadership as the state chair and national committeeman, but they have it figured out.

They could lead, follow or get out of the way. They get out of the way.

If all was quiet at the Republican state convention on Saturday in Dewey Beach, it was the peace that comes after a rout.

It took a series of elections to get the party where it is. Nor does it take a history professor to remember when it started.

The election of 2010. The Senate primary. Establishment against the Tea Party. Mike Castle against Christine O'Donnell. Castle was the most successful Republican in state history with 12 wins as a congressman, governor and lieutenant governor. O'Donnell was not a witch.

After prevailing at the ballot box, the Tea Party carried its fight to the Republican state convention in 2012, the immediate past presidential election year, and the tension escalated.

The Tea Party had enough going for it to oust Priscilla Rakestraw, arguably the personification of the Republican establishment for decades, as the national committeewoman and install Ellen Barrosse, the founder of the pro-life A Rose and A Prayer, but not enough to stop a slate of presidential delegates it despised from being approved.

The Republicans' slate is put together by the executive committee, the party's governing council, with input from its five regions -- Northern New Castle County, Western New Castle County, Colonial, Kent County and Sussex County -- and submitted to the state convention for an up or down vote.

Mike Castle was on that slate. So was Tom Ross, who used to be the state chair and earned the undying resentment of the Tea Party when he was once asked why he had said Christine O'Donnell could not get elected dogcatcher and he had retorted defiantly, "Because it was true."

Even though the Tea Party lost that round, it was on its way.

By the presidential primary last week, it was clearly ascendant. Donald Trump won 61 percent of the vote, giving him all 16 of the Delaware Republicans' national delegates.

Republican National Delegates

Automatic delegates: Charlie Copeland, state chair; Laird Stabler, national committeeman; and Ellen Barrosse, national committeewoman
Delegates: Ken Simpler, state treasurer; Gary Simpson, state senator; Carol Bodine, Allison Brokaw, Billy Carroll, Fred Cullis, Tom Draper, John Foltz, Richard Forsten, Bonnie McCann, Rob Stout, Mike Uffner and Cliff Werline

The Tea Party turnaround happened so quickly it made a political force out of Rob Arlett, who is nothing but a first-term Sussex County councilman, but he had the political sense to sign up early as Trump's state campaign chair.

Old instincts die hard, and there was some suspicion from the Tea Party going into the state convention on Saturday about the national delegates sticking with Trump if the nomination was not settled on the first ballot, but really.

There was no establishment left to be suspicious of.

Arlett said as much in remarks he made to the convention. "I have complete faith in our process. I have complete faith in our chairman, executive committee and 16 delegates that they will carry out the will of the people of the state of Delaware on the first ballot and beyond," he said.

Arlett got an amen from Copeland. "We're here to represent Republican Delaware, and 60 percent of Republican Delaware said we want Trump," Copeland said in a brief interview.

All of this new-found unity had the Republicans patting themselves on the back.

"'How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,'" said Tim Dukes, a Republican state representative who is also a pastor, quoting from the Book of Psalms as the opening speaker at the convention.

Still. What price, unity?

Delaware is a moderate state, the most moderate state in the country, as a Gallup Poll found about a year ago, and the Republicans' rightward trajectory appears to be costing it.

Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, the Democrats are the ones surging in voter registration statewide. The Democrats added more than 20,000 voters to their party rolls, while the Republicans lagged badly with only 2,800 new voters. State election records show the Democrats outnumbering the Republicans as of May 1 by more than 127,000 voters.

It has the Democrats in charge of the governorship, the congressional delegation and both chambers in the state legislature.

As Copeland told the convention when he gave a short "State of the Party" speech, "If we are not registering voters, we are simply wasting our time."

The Republicans could put a new twist on an old saying. United they fall.