Target Rich Environment: Convention fun
By John Frary
“This is the worst convention I’ve seen in 30 years.” This is the bitter verdict of a veteran Republican legislator and stalwart conservative. My experience is more limited than hers, having attended only three Maine GOP conventions, so I can only attest that it was the most laborious in my experience.
The words chaos, anarchy, turmoil, and confusion would not be misapplied, although “insane” goes a little too far. Party regulars, not all Romney supporters, were fed up to the eyebrows. The party’s congressional candidates were hardly noticed. Some ended up giving speeches from the stairs in the entry hall. The 2012 state legislative races were all but forgotten. The party platform was adopted as an afterthought by a shrunken remnant in the final 15 minutes of the frolic. The proceedings ran past the contractual deadline, costing the state party thousands of dollars.
The Ron Paul enthusiasts were not so negative as the regulars. They had their moments of triumph to relish. State politics interested them less than capturing delegates to the national convention in Tampa. They picked up 20 out of Maine’s 24. Yet they too suffered from agonies of prolonged boredom during the dead times while the convention’s leaders conferred about procedural matters and balloting problems.
The regulars blamed the Paulicians for the tumult. The Paulicians blamed Romney supporters for obstructing and delaying their march to victory. I sort of enjoyed the chaos — it appealed to my inner juvenile delinquent — and the dead-times gave me opportunities to talk with some of the Paul people. I found a lot interesting and unusual characters among them. Apart from a common enthusiasm for their hero their principal motives were varied, ranging from a wish to see the legalization of pot to abandonment of the Afghanistan intervention. One among them, a newcomer to political activism, ended up blaming the Romney supporters for obstructionism and the Paul supporters for arbitrariness.
There are a number of facts and features which require attention to get a clear impression of this event.
The meeting was certainly a mess, but if you ever hear of a political convention free of conflict and confusion look to the East. It’s probably a sign of the Second Coming. A smooth, glitchless political convention is abnormal. Think of the 1952 GOP gathering in Chicago with its chorus of boos and fist fights. Reminiscing after the event during a speech in Old Orchard Beach, Rep. Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.) compared the Chicago uproar to a storm-driven tide on the coast of Maine. Proceedings at the Augusta Civic Center were a lot worse that than they had to be, but not as bad as the could have been.
It was clear from their Friday night pre-convention meeting that Ron Paul’s organizers wished to avoid a noisy uproar. It was no use to them. They were single-mindedly set on gathering delegates. When one pest attempted to stir up opposition to the GOP state committee’s platform recommendations he was tactfully deflected. They had no interest in a platform fight. When the state chairman’s name was mentioned a number of those present jeered; they see Charlie Webster as the demonic spider at the center of the “establishment” web. But the organizers gave no sign that replacing him among their goals.
Come Saturday and Sunday the Ron Paul managers were ready with their QUIET signs to stifle any impulse to yell and boo. There had been fears that Olympia Snowe’s speech would be drowned out since for many she personifies the “centrist” poison that pollutes the party. In the event she was heard without interruption. This discipline inspired one Romney supporter to draw a comparison to a Nazi Party rally. Not really, it was normal to any well-managed political event.
Ron Paul had a devoted grassroots organization. Romney had a high-priced lawyer named Benjamin Ginsberg. Mitt had a lot of supporters but I didn’t any signs that they were highly organized.
Romney’s people were powerless to resist the Paul tide in Augusta, but they may prevent the seating of his delegates in Tampa on legalistic grounds. It follows that Paul’s managers had every interest in minimizing confusion while the Romney people may profit from any balloting irregularities produced by chaos. This is not to say that they were its exclusive source; only that they had no interest in clarity and order.
If the event escaped the Paul planners’ control this simply confirms the old military adage that “no plan survives an encounter with the enemy’s main force.” The narrowness of the vote for convention chair and secretary produced the procedural wrangling over balloting that prolonged and disrupted the event. A clear and decisive victory would have made for a smoother meeting.
Charlie Webster resisted the “take-over,” accepted defeat, and recognizes the newcomers’ energy. It seems clear that as a delegate he will cast his vote for Romney. As state chairman he will support seating the Paul contingent. Ever the pragmatist, he sees that purging the Paulicians could stimulate a third party effort. We must wait for the Tampa gathering to see if Romney is equally sensible.
To understand the dramas in Maine and in other states you have to understand that Ron Paul needs at least five state delegations to place himself in contention at the national convention. Many of his followers appear to hope that a “brokered convention” will get him the nomination. Not very likely; a brokered convention requires brokers, but there are no brokers. There used to be. They were powerful state chairman with organizations held together by patronage, favors and cold cash. They are a part of history, not a part of contemporary life.
I have no way of knowing whether the Paul High Command shares the brokerage delusion. It seems more likely that it aims for influence on the national platform and the vice presidential selection. We will see in time.
The state committee meeting on May 12 passed peacefully. The newly elected libertarian delegates made no challenge to Charlie Webster’s leadership.