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Carney: Republican leaders trample their grass roots in Tampa

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Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Republican establishment still doesn't get it.

At the Republican National Convention, party officials flouted the rules and railroaded longtime conservative activists, Tea Party newcomers and Ron Paul delegates.

You might think a party whose power in Washington is due to bottom-up, decentralized grassroots passion would not resort to top-down, centralized control.

Establishment arrogance first flared up in two of the convention's standing committees.

In the Rules Committee, D.C. delegate Ben Ginsburg, an attorney working with the Romney campaign, passed two rule changes that conservatives immediately blasted as "power grabs." First, Ginsburg stripped power from delegates by giving the Republican National Committee -- that is, the 50 state committeemen and 50 committeewomen -- the power to amend party rules between conventions. (This was a change to Rule 12, which governs amendments to the platform.)

Second, he stripped power from state parties by giving candidates the ability to replace any of their own delegates. Conservative delegates and activists reacted so negatively to this one that party leaders backtracked. They crafted a compromise on Monday night that leaves state parties with the power to elect delegates, but imposes new rules on delegate selection.

Meanwhile, the Credentials Committee voted to unseat half of Ron Paul's delegates from Maine. Party officials contended -- on flimsy evidence -- that Paul backers had broken the rules in the state party's convention, where they won 21 of Maine's 24 delegate seats.

These power grabs, while unseemly and directed at consolidating power, at least passed according to party rules. That is, a majority of delegates in each committee voted for them. But on Tuesday afternoon, in order to prevent any fight over the power grabs, party leaders simply flouted the rules.

RNC rules allow for amending committee reports on the floor of the convention if 25 percent of the relevant committee signs onto an amendment. South Carolina delegate Drew McKissick wrangled the requisite signatures to propose an amendment killing the new delegate-selection rule, and Maine Committeewoman Ashley Ryan got enough signatures for an amendment to kill the Rule 12 change.

Meanwhile, members of the Credentials Committee had secured enough signatures to propose an amendment to the committee's report that had unseated the 10 Paul delegates from Maine.

Plenty of delegates on the floor Tuesday were ready for a floor fight -- or at least a vote on the amendments.

California delegate Mike Spence, president of Conservative Republicans of California, told me he planned to vote for one of the amendments on the floor. "Allowing the RNC to change the rules" between conventions "is allowing elites to control things," he objected.

But there would be no debate and no vote.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gaveled the convention back into order about 4:10 Tuesday and called up the report from the Credentials Committee. Multiple Ron Paul delegates -- including uncontested delegates like Ashley Ryan -- loudly objected to proceeding to a vote, but Priebus said "without objection," he would call up the vote.

Shouts of "Point of order!" and "Objection" rung out from the delegates, but Priebus rolled ahead, calling for a voice vote on the Credentials Committee's report. Dozens of delegates yelled "Aye" loudly, but the "Nay" shouts a few seconds later were clearly louder. "In the opinion of the chair, the Ayes have it," Priebus nonetheless declared, banging the gavel.

Ryan tried using her delegation's microphone and the phone used to communicate with convention officials backstage, but neither was turned on. Paul backers began chanting "Point of order! Point of order!" but they were ignored.

House Speaker John Boehner soon took up the gavel, and also ignored objections to the Rules Committee reports and never entertained the amendments, which, by the rules, should have been voted on.

It was a railroading, and it sent a few clear messages.

The party leadership effectively told the Ron Paul backers -- the youngest, most dynamic part of the party -- that they are not welcome. They told the longtime activists that their voices are no longer needed. And they told the Tea Partiers, many of whom are new to political involvement, to calm down and just do as they're told.

"It shows you just how much the pooh-bahs don't quite get what's going on yet," Matt Kibbe, of FreedomWorks, told The Washington Examiner on Tuesday. "They are trying to disenfranchise all the new people that have created the energy in the party."

One Texas Republican saw the Romney campaign's behavior in these delegate battles as ominous. "If they're operating this way now, they'll be operating this way when they win."

Trampling on your own grass roots is an odd way to try to build a party.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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