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.
That won't happen to Romney even if the Paul delegates manage to bring the rules change issue to the floor of the convention for a debate. To do so, they must get a majority of six state delegations to vote in their favor -- a task that, at this juncture, looks very difficult. But several party chairman are also concerned about the rules changes and might want to express their displeasure to the national party by joining the revolt. If enough of them decide to make a statement, anything is possible, including an old-fashioned roll call vote -- a tedious, but sometimes entertaining, procedure that would give delegates a chance to let off a little steam.
The arguments against the rules changes are understandable, if a little overstated. Liberty Caucus chairman David Nalle:
One of the cornerstones of the Grand Old Party is a belief in republicanism and the idea that power is distributed and limited by checks and balances. Those values are embodied in our Constitution and they were the basis of the Republican Party when it was founded and for most of its history. Historically this has meant that most of the power in the Republican Party has rested with the party members in the states, working as delegates through their local and state caucuses and conventions to generate policy for the party in a unique collaborative process where the voice of the people could be heard strongly.
… Now there are those in Tampa who seek to overturn this traditional structure of the party, set restrictions on the free choice of party members and introduce a new and alien process which would minimize the input of the party’s rank and file and put power in the hands of party leaders and wealthy special interests who can buy the loyalty of the mob.
Such high-mindedness is to be admired, but one wonders what party he is talking about. Since the television age, most of the power has resided with the national party as state parties died on the vine. But if there was one prerogative left to state parties, it was choosing who would be rewarded for their service by being tapped to attend the big quadrennial party put on by the national GOP.
Nalle's points about the effects of the rules changes are well taken. The question isn't whether Nalle is right, but whether future GOP candidates need these rules changes. Mitt Romney carried 43 states during the primaries and received more than 10 million votes. Ron Paul carried three states and won two million votes. The Republican Party soundly rejected Mr. Paul, and yet because his small cadre of supporters were better organized and more energized than the regular GOP members, they were able to sow discord at state conventions, where they substituted their delegates for delegates who were bound by the primary or caucus results to another candidate. Give them an "A" for effort and an "F" for failing the first lesson in democracy: the people's voice is the voice of God.
Binding delegates to the results of a party primary -- even if some Democrats and independents vote in it -- is not only the right thing to do, it's common sense. How enthusiastic would you be to vote in a national election if the results of your state primary were tossed aside in favor of a candidate whose representatives thumbed their noses at the decision of the majority? The Ron Paul representatives have roiled several state party organizations which will now be less effective in November at getting out the vote and laying the groundwork for Mitt Romney to win. This situation can be avoided next time by passing a rule that prevents this kind of chaos.
The rule that allows the candidate to vet all delegates chosen at the state level to insure their loyalty is also simple common sense. One need only read this dispatch from Mary Grabar about delegates attending the GOP convention from Pennsylvania being members of the "Pennsylvania Working Families," a front group for ACORN, to realize the efficacy of such a rule being in effect for the future. Opposition political activists have become adept at infiltrating GOP gatherings for several years and if state parties aren't going to keep the enemy out of the convention, the national party must do it for them.
The chances of seeing a legitimate floor fight over these rules are slim. Mitt Romney has the vast majority of delegates and can easily beat back any challenge. The real question is whether the Ron Paul crowd now will channel their energies into trying to beat the establishment by convincing GOP voters of the righteousness of their cause. Only by winning at the ballot box can their revolution now advance.
And that's the way it should be.