Any Arkansas conservatives still clinging to the Republican Party of old got their gazillionth reminder this weekend that the rabble-rousing base is taking charge, and moderation and tradition aren’t on the priority list. 

Delegates temporarily but dramatically dethroned Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Joseph Wood for the day, choosing Saline County attorney Jennifer Lancaster to lead the conference instead. And they voted to close GOP primary elections in the future, though it’s unclear whether doing so might also require a change in state law.

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An attorney who teamed up with her husband and law partner Clint Lancaster to represent Lunden Roberts in her paternity suit against Hunter Biden, Jennifer Lancaster is an emerging leader among the Trumpiest of Arkansas Republicans. (A vocal backer of kooks like Kari Lake and Charlie Kirk, Lancaster is president of the book-banning Saline County Republican Women. On the other hand, her Twitter handle, @JenLancasterEsq, goes hard. She’s beautiful and well-spoken and I am very scared of her, as all Arkansas libs should be.)

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Rule recommendations sent up by the state party’s rules committee — which is made up of the party chair’s appointees — got tossed out the window amid the Sturm und Drang populist takeover in the Rogers Convention Center.

Doug Thomas at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was there and provided a good, straight write-up; video and commentary easily found on social media channels help fill in the blanks.

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The splits among Arkansas Republicans this weekend resemble a similar showdown in Missouri last month, where a grassroots coalition seized the controls and yanked the wheel decidedly to the right. And while it’s hard for us bleeding hearts to imagine, it appears Gov. Sarah Sanders and crew aren’t hardline enough for a brawny faction of county-level Republican leadership.

“We are not as free as we think we are,” Jennifer Lancaster told delegates representing their county parties Saturday, shortly before a vote crowned her chair for the day. Lancaster pointed to the death of Little Rock Airport Executive Director Brian Malinowski during an early morning raid by federal authorities as evidence that law enforcement has been politicized and weaponized. (The raid came after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives collected evidence that Malinowski was a straw purchaser, buying guns under false pretenses and then selling them to people who could not legally purchase firearms.) Courts are being weaponized to attack political enemies, Lancaster said, a reference to felonious Donald Trump’s ongoing legal troubles and recent courtroom defeat in New York.

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“People are pouring over the border, and there is talk of allowing them to vote in the next election,” Lancaster said. Have you heard this “talk”? I have not. But if a playbook exists for laying the groundwork on Stop the Steal 2.0, this talking point is surely in it.

Lancaster led the convention to enshrine some new elements into the party platform. One plank calls for medical freedom, but maybe not the kind you’re hoping for. This platform change seems aimed at protecting the freedom to forego masks and gobble ivermectin to stave off COVID-19. It leaves bans on abortion and gender-affirming care for transgender youth in place.

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New wording in the state Republican platform about “economic freedom” calls on the  government to enforce contracts. Might this be aimed at making those spoiled college graduates pay their loans back themselves?

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To help make sense of the ruckus in Rogers, we spoke to State Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest), who’s been in an on-again-off-again relationship with the political party of his youth for years now. King wasn’t there this weekend, but he followed the action and offered a few observations Monday.

King is a veteran of plenty of flaps over the years with the Republican establishment, mostly over the party’s willingness to put the interests of big business and big money over the rights of Arkansans. His most recent tangle was with crypto miners and the Republican lawmakers who gave them carte blanche to do their worst in Arkansas by passing a law that barred counties and cities from being able to do much about the noise and energy suck they bring.

King seemed mostly fine with the way things went at the convention in Rogers. Big money interests just aren’t as interesting to the grassroots faction that grabbed the reins this weekend, he said. He was heartened by their vote to defend access to government documents and meetings, even as Republican Gov. Sarah Sanders and her team fire off attacks on the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

The biggest news to come out of the convention was a seismic shift in Republican Party primaries. Arkansas has long had open primary elections, allowing any registered voter to vote in whichever party’s primary they feel like (although not both).

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Arkansas Democrats met this past weekend too, and they made no changes; they’ll continue to take anybody. But Republicans voted Saturday to close their primaries to all but registered Republicans. This shift locks out any independents and Democrats wanting to throw their weight behind a moderate option, and will almost certainly give the more extreme voices in the GOP a boost.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Monday evening that the Arkansas secretary of state’s office says such a move will require a change in state law. Lancaster disagreed, saying it was the party’s prerogative.

Had primaries been closed this spring, what might have happened? Would U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, incumbent for Arkansas’s third congressional district, have survived the challenge by state Sen. Clint Penzo, a hard-charging Freedom Caucus fanboy who accused Womack a being a RINO? Unclear.