The Rules Fight Food Fight

Any hope that Mitt Romney might have had that the Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party would mind their P's and Q's during his coronation at the GOP convention has come a cropper. And ironically, the revolt is the result of his own efforts to reform the rules to make sure that a tiny minority can't overturn the will of the majority who voted in a state primary.

An old-fashioned floor fight is brewing over new rules pushed through by the Romney campaign that have the Ron Paul delegates up in arms, as well as several state party chairmen who believe that the national party is trying to seize control over the delegate selection process. For the insurgent Paul forces, the rules changes would prevent them from wreaking the kinds of havoc at state GOP conventions that led to chaos in Louisiana and bitter clashes between the factions at the Nevada and Maine state conventions. At issue is a rule that would allow presidential candidates to vet delegates in order to insure their loyalty, and another rule designed to squash incipient revolts like the Ron Paul insurgency that would require delegations from statewide caucuses and conventions to adhere to the will of the majority who voted.

The latter rule is what is angering the Paul people. With a brilliant organizing effort, the Paul campaign literally took over the state conventions in Nevada, Maine, and Louisiana, catching establishment Republicans unawares and sending their own delegations to the Tampa convention. In Louisiana, regular GOP party members didn't take their demotion gracefully. They called in the police, who physically escorted some Paul delegates out of the hall, injuring several. The establishment Republicans then went ahead and held a rump convention where they elected their own delegates. The Maine and Nevada state conventions were hardly less peaceful, with the well-organized Paul campaign running rings around the establishment Republicans.

The point is that the Paul delegates played by the rules while establishment Republicans, in fear of losing power, made up their own rules as they went along. No candidate for national office can afford that kind of chaos -- especially from outriders who threaten the unity of the party and his chances for victory. Hence the effort to channel the Ron Paul revolution into more productive avenues. From here on out, if a Ron Paul-type candidate wants to rule, he must do it first at the ballot box and not depend on the politics of ambush.

The consequences of the Ron Paul revolt at state convention are now being felt in Tampa. The Romney campaign allowed 17 Paul delegates from Louisiana to be seated at the convention, the result of a compromise between the state party and the chairman of the Paul campaign. Another delegate dust up in Massachusetts was also settled with the Paul campaign being allowed 17 delegates -- despite Romney winning 72% of the primary vote in his home state. And despite the fact that the convention-credentialing committee rejected the entire Maine delegation -- all Ron Paul supporters -- a compromise was reached that would seat 10 Romney and 10 Paul supporters.

The Paul campaign was in the right. They did their homework, they got their people to the state conventions, and they knew procedure and had Robert's Rules of Order down pat. And if politics were about who was the most able, the smartest, and the most clever, the Ron Paul campaign would have gotten their just deserts and had many more delegates than what they will end up with.

But politics can be a cruel game. The inexcusable behavior of the GOP establishment in several states notwithstanding, Mitt Romney doesn't need this -- can't afford this -- at this juncture of the campaign. If politics is about grasping for power, all else must be subservient to that goal. The candidate is getting lukewarm support from several factions of the GOP, even while Ron Paul refuses to endorse him. Putting out the image that the candidate can't control his own party is not conducive to victory in November. The last candidate to lose control of his convention -- George McGovern -- ended up giving his acceptance speech after midnight and losing badly in 1972.