One week before its semi-annual convention — which will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 outbreak — the Maryland Republican Party is riven by internal tensions.
At its root, the fighting is over the upcoming vote to select the next Republican National Committeewoman from Maryland — a battle that pits the two-term incumbent, Nicolee Ambrose, against former state GOP chairwoman Diana Waterman. But the battle is also about internal party divisions, personality clashes, fealty to President Trump, and disagreements over who is best able to speak in Maryland for the president’s reelection.
Trump himself weighed in, in mid- April, endorsing Ambrose and Republican National Committeeman David Bossie for reelection. Bossie was Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016 and is the head of Citizens United, the national conservative group that aggressively attacks liberal politicians and has sparked a revolution in the nation’s campaign finance system.
In a state where the top Republican, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., is often critical of Trump, Bossie also plays an outsized role as the bridge between people in the president’s political orbit and Maryland Republicans.
The controversy erupted into public view when Maryland GOP Chairman Dirk Haire sent an email to the 275 members of the Maryland Republican Central Committee Wednesday evening, warning them about “certain parties [who] have decided to substitute their own personal interests above that of the Party and President Trump’s campaign.”
Haire continued: “I have worked with both Diana and Nicolee for many years and both are perfectly within their rights to run for the office. They have both worked hard for the Party. However, as everyone is aware, the President has endorsed Nicolee.
“Second, while I understand that if you support Diana you are no doubt disappointed by the President’s decision, that is not a valid basis to question the legitimacy of the President’s endorsement. Also, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the State Party is working closely with the President’s campaign to make sure that Trump RNC convention delegates, convention speakers, and other surrogates are taking a ‘One Team’ approach, and the captain of the team is the President.”
Haire went on to call out Matthew Adams, the state GOP’s third vice chairman who runs several pro-Trump websites and social media accounts, accusing Adams of falsely claiming that Trump has endorsed Waterman for national committeewoman and a challenger to U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R-Md.), Jorge Delgado, who is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). Harris is Maryland co-chairman of the president’s reelection campaign.
Haire’s letter to GOP central committee members contained an attachment — a cease and desist letter that the Trump campaign wrote to Adams on May 1, demanding that he shut down his pro-Trump websites and social media accounts.
“We assume these efforts are well-intended, but your unauthorized activities in the President’s name hurt his campaign,” Michael S. Glassner, chief operating officer of the Trump campaign, wrote to Adams. “Seeing that you are the 3rd Vice Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party and a proclaimed supporter of the President, we wanted you to know this and expect you will comply with our request without need for further action.”
The letters were first reported Wednesday night by the website A Miner Detail.
In an interview, Adams, the former chairman of the Somerset County Republican Central Committee, questioned the veracity of the cease and desist letter and asserted that “Dirk and Bossie are using the president’s campaign to intimidate people into voting for Nicolee’s campaign.”
Adams also defended his decision to “help” Delgado, the longshot challenger to Harris. “Who am I to tell a young conservative you are bad and I will shun you because you have decided to run against the emperor of the 1st District.”
And Adams insisted that the last thing he is trying to do is hurt Trump.
“I’m just a red-neck fellow on the Eastern Shore who supports Trump,” he said. “I don’t want anything. There’s nothing you can give me.”
In a related development, 13 party leaders — including Adams — wrote to Haire earlier this week, expressing their disappointment that he had rescinded an invitation to Bowie City Councilwoman Roxy Ndebumadu to speak at the upcoming state GOP convention because of her disposition on the state committeewoman race between Ambrose and Waterman.
Ndebumadu, who is 27 and was elected to the City Council last November in a nonpartisan race, is considered a rising star in GOP circles — a rare black Republican to succeed in Maryland politics.
“We believe it is highly inappropriate for you to retract the speaking opportunity offered to Councilmember Ndebumadu simply because she decided to exercise her freedom of speech by voicing her opinion — outside of the convention setting — in a Party leadership race,” the Republicans wrote in a letter to Haire Wednesday evening.
“Whether or not Councilmember Ndebumadu decides to support any candidate in the National Committeewoman race should not have any bearing whatsoever on her ability to speak to convention attendees regarding her work as a Maryland Republican elected official in Prince George’s County.”
Signers of the letter are divided on the national committeewoman race; some are neutral. The state GOP’s first vice chairman, Brandon Cooper, who spearheaded the letter, and second vice chairman, Tony Campbell, were among those who signed it, along with Adams.
In an interview, Haire said he did not deny Ndebumadu a speaking engagement at the truncated convention, because only he and a representative of the Trump campaign are scheduled to speak at length. But he conceded that Ndebumadu will no longer be offering brief remarks during a convention happy hour.
This is hardly the first contentious race for a national committee post within the Maryland GOP. Eight years ago, Ambrose defeated former Prince George’s County councilwoman Audrey E. Scott for the post in a generational and ideological battle. In 2016, Bossie ousted Louis Pope, a longtime party stalwart in a race that became increasingly bitter. Bossie is unopposed for reelection this year.
Waterman did not respond to an email at her workplace seeking comment Thursday. In an email to state GOP central committee members last month, she touted her experience as party chair and president of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women, and argued that national committee members should serve no more than two four-year terms.
The conservative website Red Maryland conducted an unscientific survey of the state GOP central committee and found that 53.9% preferred Ambrose, 28.9% favored Waterman and 17.1% were undecided. About one-quarter of the central committee’s 275 members responded.
Before becoming GOP chairman in late 2016, Haire served as counsel for the Maryland Republican Party for several years, serving under a variety of party leaders, including Waterman.
Haire said he was not trying to threaten or punish Waterman supporters with his Wednesday evening email. He said he had no problem with members of the central committee supporting Waterman over Ambrose initially, but felt that as party leaders they should accede to the wishes of Trump and help the GOP maintain discipline.
“I don’t mind people disagreeing with me,” Haire said. “At the executive committee, we have a debate. When a decision’s made, it’s time to fall in line.”
Haire also said he’s not worried that the controversy might lead to losing his bid to be re-elected state party chairman when that vote comes in December.
“I’d rather lose my job as chairman than preside over a bunch of surreptitious nonsense,” he said.