In Tampa, a Fractious Party Strives to Present a Unified Front

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Fang Zhe / Xinhua / ZUMAPRESS.com

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Florida on Aug. 27, 2012

Tampa

This is the love-in Mitt Romney never had. Mere minutes elapsed between the moment Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus gaveled the GOP convention open and its weather-driven adjournment until Tuesday. It was enough to see how the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the hulking sports arena hosting this week’s festivities, has been transformed into a shrine to a candidate who won his party’s presidential nomination without ever capturing its heart. A jumbo video screen interspersed clips of Romney’s campaign kickoff, his coif blowing in the New Hampshire breeze, with a montage of diverse children whose freedom he has pledged to secure. Signs festooned the convention floor and surrounding warren of concrete hallways. Attendees crammed into a store stacked with Romney-Ryan swag, from T-shirts and pins to iPhone cases emblazoned with the ticket’s slogans.

(PHOTOS: The Romney-Ryan Road Trip to Tampa)

But if you look past the pageantry, you can see signs of the ideological divisions that have roiled the Republican Party during the past 3½ years. Small groups of delegates brandished signs promoting Ron Paul, Romney’s onetime rival for the nomination; others advertised support for Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate nominee whose remarks about “legitimate rape” spurred the party establishment to disavow his candidacy. As Republicans gather here to formally nominate Romney in a show of party harmony, the rifts from a messy primary season remain. “The intention is to present a unified party,” says John Burroughs, an electrical engineer from Dallas who supports Paul. The reality is a little different.

The thumpings Republicans received in 2006 and 2008 have pulled the party to the right, sometimes pitting its factions against one another in ideological battles over the course it should pursue in the post–George W. Bush era. As several delegates noted, such realignments often happen when a party gets cast out of power. Even skeptics like the Paulites have pledged to put aside their quarrels with Romney at the ballot box — though some will do so grudgingly — in support of shared principles like shrinking government, slashing taxes and federal spending, and curbing regulations they believe have stifled economic growth.

But in a party that has been plagued by internecine warfare, one of the key goals of this week’s political stagecraft is to present a united front that will give Romney a winner’s aura for the sliver of swing voters who may decide the race. Veterans of the party establishment say the primary squabbling was natural, even healthy, but now is the time to close ranks around the former Massachusetts governor. “Even though we’ve had our disagreements, I think we’re going to come out of this convention very united,” says Saul Anuzis, an RNC committee member from Michigan who has attended the annual convention since 1980. “We’re as united as we’ve been.”

(MORE: The Ticket: Romney and Ryan Go to Tampa)

No one has done more to heal the fissures of the past few years than the party’s common opponent. “Obama is a galvanizing force,” says Brian O’Conner, a self-described Tea Party adherent who owns a small upholstery business in Virginia’s 5th District. “He really helps bring us together.” Several delegates noted that Romney’s decision to select Paul Ryan, a revered figure in conservative circles, “was a great pick to unify the base,” says Jacob Ventura, a delegate from Massachusetts.

And while Romney may not be beloved by the party faithful, his emergence from a crowded primary field speaks to the party’s thirst for a candidate capable of ousting Barack Obama. That comforts party brass who fret that the GOP has lurched away from its roots as a center-right party and could suffer consequences at the ballot box as a result. “The selection of Romney, to me, shows unity,” says Richard Magee, the mayor of Glendale, Mo., and a Romney delegate. “He was vulnerable on Obamacare and expressed pro-choice sentiments at one time. A lot of people ignored that in favor of electability.”

As some of the GOP’s old hands note, both political parties routinely grapple with noisy dissenters. “I don’t think the situation is that dissimilar from what we’ve had at past conventions,” says John Hager, a former Virginia lieutenant governor who is attending his eighth convention. “You’re always going to have minority elements and people who have differing views. We don’t agree on everything. That’s part of the process.” The key, Hager says, is allowing rebels to air their grievances before coalescing behind the nominee. “Inclusion, not exclusion,” he says.

(PHOTOS: RNC in Pictures: The Protests)

And yet, interviews with delegates faithful to Paul — who was denied a speaking slot after declining to issue a full-throated endorsement of Romney — offer a window into how they feel marginalized by a party establishment that has sought to harness their fervor while resisting some of their key ideas in the party platform. At meetings preceding the convention, party bigwigs jammed through rule changes designed to give the nominee broader leeway to pick delegates, effectively limiting the clout of insurgent campaigns. Paul devotees interpreted the change as an attempt to consolidate power and freeze out the new, youthful grassroots activists trying to alter the party’s trajectory. Some restive supporters are plotting a floor fight on Tuesday in protest.

Establishment Republicans “are not letting us be heard,” says Kimlinh Bui, 36, a legal assistant from Edina, Minn., who backs Paul but says she will vote for Romney, despite bristling at the way convention organizers have promoted a “show of unity” for the benefit of the press and voters watching at home. “It would strengthen the party to admit there are factions,” she says. “The fact that we can disagree but work together would make the party stronger. To carry on the fiction that we’re all united is unrealistic.” Adds Bui: “If we can’t convince each other that Mitt Romney is the solution, how are we going to convince Democrats and independents?”

As the party’s grandees know, there’s only one surefire way to stop the squabbling, and that’s to win. A Romney victory on Nov. 6 would go a long way toward remaking the party in his image. And if he loses … well, the recriminations of the past few years will be nothing compared to what comes next.

PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney

32 comments
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Kimmee Sun Woo
Kimmee Sun Woo

Well. I am on the positive side. You have to think about what all Republicans have in common as opposed to differences. Do you hate African Americans and their right to vote? Yes. Good...see. Do you want to see 11 million Hispanics ""self-deport"". Yes? Good! How about the unified hatred of women? Yes. Good. How about the universal hatred for the LGBT community? Yes, Good. And do you want to see the uninsured stay uninsured? Yes. Good.  See how much Republicans have in common? Hate is such a unifying and motivating human factor. 

53underscore3
53underscore3

I heard they're diverse now, too!

Yeah, riiight.  And pink elephants fly...

ERenger
ERenger

I wonder if they'll really be able to pull off the suppression of their rebellious wings, or if there  will be some kind of floor fight or other demonstration. The Ron Paul folks are angry about their delegates being hijacked. And the social conservatives are pissed about Akin being thrown under the bus. Huckabee gets a speaking spot, doesn't he? I wonder what he'll say. 

A brawl would make for some great television! 

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

"The key, Hager says, is allowing rebels to air their grievances before

coalescing behind the nominee. “Inclusion, not exclusion,” he says."

Did this strike anyone else as funny?  That inclusion is letting dissenting opinions air, before subjugating them to the nominee.  Pro tip:  Letting people speak, and then not listening to them, isn't really being inclusive.  It's how you humor a small child who asks for ice cream for dinner--you let them ask, but they have to eat their peas anyway.

Also, that Romney has been deemed the most electable speaks volumes about the state of the party.  

I hope the party implodes under the weight of their own hubris and hatred.  Then perhaps they will reemerge as a viable choice one day.  Anybody else remember McCain/Powell circa 2000?  That was about the last time, for me, that any Republicans on the national scale were viable and worthy of any serious attention.  But then, they nominated GWB, and the rest has been history.  (And, as a footnote, look what happened to McCain and Powell.  McCain sold out to the base and Powell was treated so poorly he left, for all intents and purposes.)

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"And if he loses…well, the recriminations of the past few years will be nothing compared to what comes next."

Let's hope that what comes next is a generation in the wilderness for that unhinged, racist political party so they can rethink and reject their psychopathic dogma and return to some semblance of a patriotic philosophy of responsible governance.

ERenger
ERenger

I'm not sure this is what will happen. They were already sent into the wilderness once in 2008, and what they came back with was this more unhinged and dogmatic party you see now. More energized, but more narrow. They decided they needed to purge their moderates and "purify" their party by becoming more ideological, not less. Romney is a last gasp of the old party, and many of the new ideological GOP don't trust him. If (when) he loses, they are going to blame him, and when they come back from the wilderness this time, it will be the purest distillate of the worst ideological dogma you can imagine. On the bright side, after purging all of the moderates and centrists and pragmatists, the entire party will probably consist of about 10 very angry white dudes. 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

I'd be interested to see where the moderates go after they leave / get kicked out and only the teavangelicals are left. A new party? Purgatory?

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

 "I'm not sure this is what will happen... They decided they needed to purge their moderates and "purify" their party by becoming more ideological, not less."

I'm not sure, either. But that continuous pull to the radical right by the brainwashed base might just do it. It would have already happened (and 2010 never would have) if the pathologically bi-partisan legacy press hadn't also lost its moorings and decided that balance was its mission, rather than integrity and truth.

VictorCraig
VictorCraig

This is one case where I hope that I am wrong.

It is my firm belief that at the Republican convention, we will witness the shameful power of ignorance and racism at its worse level since the 1960's.

The planned speeches will be filled with attacks on president Obama, much to the delight of people who hate him simply because he in not white.

When we cheered the results of the 2008 election and showed the world that the

United States of America was finally living up to its promise of "Liberty

and Justice for All", the Republican party was plotting and acting on its

scheme to support Senator Mitch McConnell's vow to make Mr. Obama "One

Term President". The "do nothing congress" was no accident. It was contrived.

  Mitt Romney, much to his own disgrace, as he accepts his party's nomination, is the personification of that plot. His"joke" about his birth certificate and other remarks charging"hate" and "division" has been and will be fresh red meat

for an audience with a voracious and insatiable appetite for the very hatred

and division of which Mr. Obama has been accused and unlike the uplifting news

that was spread across the world in 2008, this sorry spectacle will also be

shown.

The only good thing about the Republican convention is the fact that it will have

been shortened by one day, thanks to the timely intervention of hurricane

Isaac.

Perhaps the same right-wing zealots who claimed that Haiti's earthquake was God's punishment for the sinsof the Haitian people as was hurricane Irene that devastated New Orleans, might conclude that God has also sent them a message, but don't bet on it. Their bigotry will not permit such fair-minded appraisals.

Again, I hope I'm wrong, but their TV adds indicate that I am on target. We'll see.

Susan Hassinger Kirtadze
Susan Hassinger Kirtadze

you got Victor Craig; this is a contrived election.  The candidates are bought and paid for by a few very powerful organizations and people, Norquist, Adelsen, Koch Brothers, and special interest groups representing the Big Corporations like Oil.    They are ready to axe social service programs that benefit the poor, the under-employed the unemployed, the sick, women and children, they want to abolish the first chance people have ever had for full access to health care, they want to disenfranchise VOTERS.  They was us all to become the PUPPETS that our GOP Congressmen and women have BECOME.  They are tricking the right wing thumpers into believing this is a bible-based platform.  THIS PLATFORM HAS ONE INTREST--its the god of MONEY.... MONEY MONEY, MO Money for US and Less Money for you. plain and simple

Diecash1
Diecash1

Maybe Akin will make an appearance to unify the convention under the auspices of subjugating women?  Nah.  Been there, done that, eh GOP?

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

We are united Alex.  United to the point this country has never seen the likes before.  Count on it.  

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

Twelve hours later:

On Tuesday evening, nearly half of Ron Paul’s Maine delegation stalked off the convention floor.

So much for unity.

ERenger
ERenger

LL, here I was, thinking you had no sense of humor, and then you roll this out! Awesome!

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

Hillary will go down as a small footnote in history.  The fat, pant-suit wearing former First Lady who didn't quite make it, with that ghastly laugh of an insane woman.  

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

 Chris Christie was never a former first lady.

outsider2011
outsider2011

 OT - sorta, thanks Rusty - is it apt to call a woman bubba?

Isn't that a masculine name?

I'm just curious. Does Rusty think Holly is a man, or is he just not bright enough to realize bubba is a mans nickname?

Or am i wrong, and bubba works for a woman??

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

Thank you for today's humorous post. The knives will be out on November 7, after Romney's loss.  Christie vs Clinton in 2016.

ERenger
ERenger

Yes, the knives will be out, for sure. If the GOP loses this one (and they will), they are going to blame Romney and the GOP establishment who pushed him on the party. Christie is a member of that more centrist faction. He may well be seen as too moderate by 2016. 

rokinsteve
rokinsteve

"Party Bigwigs jammed thru rules changes".  The American Communist Party is alive and well at the convention in Tampa "effectively limiting the clout of insurgent campaigns."

LiberalLies2012
LiberalLies2012

That's next weeks convention in North Carolina.  Comrades from around the 50 States will converge on Charlotte to bolster the grand wizard of all commies around the world.  

JamesTee56
JamesTee56

It's not just the GOP that's fractious.  As shown here, Republican and Democratic voters have seen their viewpoints diverge massively over several key issues during the past decade, something that the Presidential candidates are playing up.  Here is an article that looks at which issues have become the most divisive:

http://viableopposition.blogsp...

DerekHologram
DerekHologram

I think it is great that the squabbling Right is coming together to present a unified face to the country, that doesn't represent who they really are.

outsider2011
outsider2011

Exactly. They're taking Romney as bitter medicine.

But the more he talks, the more he will disenfranchise his own party, i suspect.

gysgt213
gysgt213

I heard Mitt is now just a warm and fuzzy guy.  Maybe he can bring everyone together under one big cozy tent...Never mind.

anon76returns
anon76returns

I guess Rod never understood the significance of being the second Democrat since Roosevelt to win Indiana, the seconds since Johnson to win North Carolina, and the second since Truman to win Virginia.

VictorCraig
VictorCraig

LL;  Wake up, get informed and stop letting your apparent bigotry get in the way of your common sense.

Change in US politics is a two-way street.  Our nation has a political system of checks and balances wherein the executive branch is supposed to work in cooperation with the legislative branch.However, if one branch, controlled by a party of obstructionists, decides to block, not compromise and oppose everything put forth by the executive branch then, indeed hope and change go out the window.This is what we have all seen unless you were not paying attention.For example, where is the president's jobs bill that was submitted several months ago?