TAMPA — Despite reports of a compromise, there is still substantial unhappiness among many delegates to the Republican convention over a package of party rules changes proposed by the Romney campaign. The fight — which one conservative delegate calls the result of Team Romney’s “political malpractice” — could break into the open today, as delegates debate various proposals to resolve the conflict.
The short version of the story is that the changes would give the party’s presidential nominee more control over how individual states choose their delegates to the national convention. In this cycle, there have been bitter fights in some states as supporters of Ron Paul, who did not win any primaries or caucuses, tried to exploit the rules at local, district, and state-level conventions to win delegates. If the proposed new rules, introduced by Romney campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, had been in effect this year, Mitt Romney, as the presumptive nominee, would have had significant control over that delegation-selection process.
But a number of conservative delegates believe the changes will have other, more damaging, effects. “In my opinion, Ginsberg and some of the others who are pushing these changes have used Ron Paul and Ron Paul supporters as a boogeyman to try to scare a lot of Republican regulars into thinking we need these changes without giving them a lot of thought,” says Drew McKissick, a South Carolina delegate and member of the party rules committee. “It’s completely unnecessary.” As McKissick sees it, Paul reached his “high water mark” and still lost, and the states which had a Ron Paul problem will tweak their own rules to prevent such situations in the future.
If Paul is a pretext, what is the actual motive of those proposing the changes? McKissick, who supported Romney in 2008 and again this year, declines to speculate. “That’s supposition,” he says. “But let me put it this way. Regardless of motivation, what I will say is those changes, if they were to have gone into effect as they outlined them, what they will do is diminish the influence of conservatives in the Republican party. They will diminish the influence of conservatives to be able to control who their delegates are. Delegates in each state convene and caucus and elect their two members of the platform committee, so if you’re controlling delegates, you’re controlling the platform committee down the road.”
The reason conservatives will suffer, McKissick believes, is that the new rules would lead to a situation in which professional campaign consultants — and not grassroots activists — dominate the delegate selection process. And that, he says, will be bad for conservatives. “Candidates aren’t going to be picking the delegates,” McKissick explains. “Mitt Romney, or whoever it is four or eight years from now, isn’t going to be sitting down and checking off a piece of paper. It is going to be consultants or some staffers in each of these states. If you don’t know the right consultant or the right guy, you’re not going to be a delegate. If you’re not a major donor, you’re not going to be a delegate. Who’s going to win and lose in that process?” McKissick and his allies believe the answer is conservatives.
Team Romney proposed the changes on Friday in what opponents view as a last-minute move to avoid extensive debate. “This was political malpractice, period,” McKissick says. “It was handled terribly. It was sprung on everybody at 9:30 Friday morning. That did not have to happen. As a result of that, you have a candidate who is right now trying to consolidate conservatives in the party, and it’s spooking people. We shouldn’t be spooking people we need to be unifying.”
McKissick does not blame Romney himself. “I think what we have here is a group of Beltway insiders and consultants who got off their leash, and now the campaign is going to have to mop up,” he says.
Conservative legend Morton Blackwell is a leader of the opposition to the changes. The controversy has played out mostly under the radar at the convention, but has gotten a lot of attention in the conservative blogosphere, and in some parts of conservative talk radio. In a Facebook posting Monday, Sarah Palin called the proposal “a direct attack on grassroots activists by the GOP establishment, and it must be rejected. Talk show host Mark Levin, has discussed the proposals at length, saying they would substantially change the Republican party. “This is not down in the weeds,” Levin told his audience Monday.
Opponents of the rules changes still hope Team Romney will decide to simply withdraw the proposals. What would happen then? “Then we all shake hands and have a party,” says McKissick. But don’t look for that to happen without a lot of conflict first.