Beneath the still surface of the apparently secure nomination of John McCain as the Republican candidate, supporters of Ron Paul are still fighting the system and doing what they can to influence the process. It appears to be an uphill battle, with many of their efforts devolving into little more than delaying tactics and spreading chaos, and in many cases generating a hostile backlash from the party establishment which is harming efforts to move the party in a more pro-liberty direction.
As GOP conventions are held in state after state, the tactics of the Paul supporters have become clear enough to be predictable and for entrenched party forces to counter them. The basic procedure is to try to take over the convention from the floor with the objective of forcing a vote to throw out any results from committees which did work in advance, kick out the sitting leadership and install new leaders and handle delegate nominations and platform resolutions from the floor. Using Roberts Rules of Order as their shield, the Ron Paul forces introduce motions from the floor and demand counted votes when voice votes don't immediately go their way. If they manage to win the first few procedural votes they attempt to use the momentum to force votes on convention rules and throwing out convention executives and starting things over from scratch. If their votes fail, they begin introducing more and more procedural motions in hopes of disrupting the convention and creating so much chaos that nothing gets done, a tactic which angers a lot of people who might otherwise support them.
Since the Paul delegates are usually numerous, but still a minority, they count on some mainstream delegates voting with them in sympathy. With many Republicans leaning towards libertarian principles this was a good strategy, but as their tactics have become more disruptive and hostility towards them spreads they are having a harder and harder time winning over those who might normally have been sympathetic. Republican moderates who are also dissatisfied with the stranglehold of the religious right on the party find themselves having to choose between the extremist devil they know and the extremist devil they're meeting for the first time, and the attraction of the pro-liberty reforms offered by the Paul movement is increasingly being outweighed by some of their more unpalatable ideas and their disruptive methods.
Every week since I last covered this issue in early May, there have been one or two state conventions, and as they have progressed, the party insiders have become more organized and Ron Paul forces have made less and less progress promoting their agenda. Their successes in district conventions in the Spring were followed by the hasty cancellation of the Nevada convention, and since then it has been harder and harder for them to get their voice heard or win delegates to the national convention.
The hostility of party insiders and convention managers to the Ron Paul supporters and their tactics has now spread to the point that any motion from the floor is looked at as a potential attack on the convention and even when the motions are reasonable they are shut down as quickly as possible for fear that if delegates are allowed to make motions and support builds for them it will lead to a takeover of the convention. Backlash against Paul supporters has started to follow a consistent pattern of further excluding the mass of delegates from the decision making process. In the effort to control the perceived rebellion, convention procedures which ordinarily would have permitted meaningful input from the delegates are replaced by more reliance on committees and closed-door negotiations, turning the convention into little more than a pep rally. This trend became disturbingly clear over recent weeks as similar reports came in from conventions all over the country.
In Hawaii a tightly managed convention basically shut down Paul disruptions and railroaded through the establishment agenda.
In Georgia Paul supporters had insufficient numbers to sway the convention, and found themselves essentially shut out. As their efforts from the floor were voted down they ended up leaving the convention and achieving little or nothing.
In Colorado the party insiders were ready in advance and distributed fliers identifying Ron Paul supporters by name as troublemakers planning to disrupt the convention. The convention was presented with a prepared slate of delegates for the national convention and with mainstream libertarians alienated by the fliers, Paul supporters couldn't pull enough votes to block passage of the hand picked slate of delegates.
In Minnesota — where the GOP national convention will be held this fall — Ron Paul himself was not given time to address the convention and made a speech to supporters outside the hall instead, and inside the hall there was a strong backlash against procedural motions and attempts to disrupt the convention. Once again those who might have supported the reformers were driven away by the antics of Paul supporters and as a result all of their efforts failed. As one delegate commented, they were "completely shut out of the process."
In Indiana Paul supporters ended up stymied and marginalized and once again reduced to raising procedural issues and resorting to causing what disruption they could. They found themselves ill-prepared for the level of organized opposition which they faced from the 'blue hairs'.
One of the few remaining conventions is in Texas, where Paul supporters had some of their largest successes in the various district conventions. Paul supporters in league with some mainstream Republicans have filed a lawsuit to try to prevent the state party from running the GOP convention in a way which will pretty much shut-out input which hasn't been pre-approved by party insiders. Their contention is that the plan to run most of the convention under the authority of the temporary Chairman and executive committee appointed prior to the convention is a violation of Texas election law and that the first order of business ought to be to elect new leadership. I don't know Texas election law well enough to say whether they have a case, but it certainly seems much more reasonable to run the convention that way. They also have concerns about irregularities in various district convention, a knife which cuts both ways because there seem to be as many instances where Ron Paul supporters abused the process as there are of abuse by party insiders.
That this lawsuit has attracted support from more than just the Paul faction is significant. The involvement of some county officials and mainstream Republicans in the suit is a reminder that the attempts at reform are most effective when they are undertaken in ways which benefit everyone who wants to put the party back on track, not just the more extreme elements drawn in by the Paul campaign. The Texas GOP has been dominated by a faction from the religious right which took over in the 90s, and the large body of traditional Republicans in the state are tired of absolutist politics and hanging the future of the party on what ought to be secondary issues to core Republican values of individual liberty and small government. We all know it's time for reform in the party, but being conservatives we're leery of reform which is too quick, too radical, and takes us too far towards another extreme.
The Texas state GOP convention is coming up on June 12 through 14 in Houston. I'll be there liveblogging and filing regular reports where I can. With any luck I'll get bumped up from alternate to delegate, though that may end up coming at the expense of some of the Ron Paul supporters if party insiders follow through on their plans to decertify Paul activists in advance and to require all delegates to sign some sort of McCain loyalty oath. Whatever happens, it's shaping up to be a much more exciting and contentious convention than the state has seen in many a year, and I'll be there doing what I can to help move things in a positive direction where liberty has a voice — and, of course, I'll be there to tell the story.