Josh Kurtz: Meet the New Bossie

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CLEVELAND – Spend just a little time with Maryland’s delegates to the Republican National Convention this week and it’s plainly apparent that this is not your father’s state GOP.

Gone are stalwarts like Ellen Sauerbrey and Joyce Terhes and Audrey Scott. Louis Pope, who has held a variety of leadership posts for the state GOP over two decades, is headed out the door. So is party Chairwoman Diana Waterman. Old-time Republican liberals like Howie Denis and Connie Morella? Nowhere to be found.

Heck, it’s not really Gov. Larry Hogan’s party, either. He may have shaken up Maryland’s political equilibrium with his upset victory two years ago, but he has yet to seize control of the state GOP or attempt to build it. And, of course, he is nowhere in evidence here at the convention, a self-imposed exile of political self-preservation.

Andy Harris, the state’s lone Republican member of Congress, is ideologically in sync with most state party activists today, and is certainly upping his involvement in party affairs and candidate recruitment.

But I’d argue that there’s an emerging leader in the Maryland GOP who is already asserting control. In fact, he has become one of the most important conservative leaders in America. And you probably don’t even know his name.

Forget Donald Trump or U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). There may be no one more responsible for creating the current state of the U.S. political system than David Bossie.

He’s a 50-year-old college dropout who is president of Citizens United, an elbow-throwing conservative group that sued the Federal Election Commission to ease limits on campaign spending. In a 2010 ruling that leaves Democrats and their allies stunned all these years later, the Supreme Court equated campaign donations with speech, paving the way for unlimited spending in most elections.

This has made Bossie a hero to conservative leaders.

"He's probably in the top five in terms of having the most political impact in the country," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Bossie said Republicans and conservatives appreciate the practical impact of the Supreme Court decision, but there's a political element that they celebrate as well.

"If you look back over 7 1/2 years, very few people can say they beat Obama," he said.

(In fact, the Citizens United decision so rankled the president that he lectured Supreme Court justices about it during his 2011 State of the Union address.)

Bossie's handiwork is everywhere: On the airwaves thick with political advertising. In the preponderance of shadowy groups with neutral names and unclear funding streams, pushing controversial agendas. Even here at the Republican National Convention, where -- just like at next week's Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia -- every event seems to have a surfeit of corporate sponsors.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission who is now a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, called the Citizens United decision “a seminal First Amendment case.”

Now Bossie, who lives in Ashton, in northern Montgomery County, is turning his attention and talents to his home state: This spring he was elected Republican national committeeman from Maryland, a role he'll officially assume soon after the GOP leaves Cleveland. And this week he is serving as the Maryland GOP's convention chairman.

Bossie notes that he got his political start in Maryland as an 18-year-old college student as chairman of the Young Republicans, worshiping Ronald Reagan. "I've come full circle," he said. 

But Bossie's run for the national committee post was not without controversy, either. He ousted Pope, the longtime incumbent who was popular with many old-line party activists.

"It showed that the status quo was broken, just like in Washington," Bossie said.

Bossie concedes that building the GOP in Maryland is “a work in progress,” but predicts Trump will do better in the state than most people think.

Of Hogan’s absence, and his assertion that he won’t be voting for Trump in November, Bossie said, “Some of the delegates are disappointed, clearly, in the governor’s position, but the governor’s his own man. He’s done a good job for the state of Maryland.”

But Bossie also says: “This is the time to come together if there ever was one. We have to beat Hillary Clinton, however we get there.”

At a Maryland GOP breakfast the other day, Bossie was treated like an old-time political boss. He sat at a back table, surrounded by his family, greeting well-wishers.

Asked what's next on his agenda after shaking up the nation's campaign finance system and a moribund Maryland GOP, Bossie smiled. "You mean, is there a coup de grace or something? No."

But it’s sure hard to imagine this professional political provocateur sitting idle. Stay tuned.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter: @joshkurtznews

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