As the media continues to wax orgasmic over the ongoing struggle between Clinton and Obama to win the Democratic nomination, they are largely overlooking another potentially more interesting struggle taking place within the Republican party. Although John McCain is the presumptive nominee, as the various state conventions roll forward – largely in obscurity – conflict and chaos continue to be spread by Ron Paul’s enthusiastic followers who continue to try to storm the ramparts of the GOP establishment.
These efforts by libertarian-leaning Republicans, far-right John Birch Society agitators and anarcho-socialist infiltrators looking to strike a blow against the dreaded neocons, have met with some successes and some failures and a considerable and I think very undesirable backlash. Their strategy, as demonstrated at district conventions around the country, is to show up in large numbers, use procedural motions to disrupt the convention, and if then if their forces are sufficient, force a vote to suspend the convention rules, remove the convention leadership and start over again with their faction in control. If they don’t have the numbers to pull that off, their goal is to disrupt the proceedings as much as possible so that little or no business can be conducted.
This strategy is continuing at the state level as was demonstrated a week ago at the Nevada State Convention in Reno, where an attempt to take over the convention was on the verge of success when the sitting chairman adjourned the proceedings altogether to reconvene at a later date and likely in a different city. As news of what happened in Texas Senate District 25 (where Paul supporters completely took over) and in Nevada has spread, state party leaderships have drawn up their counter-strategies which include changes to how conventions are run which reduce direct input from delegates and motions from the floor, draconian measures to remove anyone they think is ‘disruptive’ and in some cases special meetings of credentials committees to disqualify Ron Paul delegates before the convention convenes.
Meanwhile, as more state conventions are held the conflict continues. At the Maine Republican State Convention this past weekend the screws were tightened, with no microphones on the floor of the convention and a number of delegates forcibly ejected from the hall. Police were even on hand to maintain security if there were problems. Scheduled Pro-Paul speakers found their time shortened or their appearance cancelled. Attempts to introduce delaying motions were quickly ruled out of order by the chairman. The whole proceeding charged ahead with little opportunity to interrupt. This type of highly managed convention where delegates are treated more like observers than participants may become the standard for these state conventions.
Not surpsingly, this type of behavior from party leaders has not been well received. One of the best reports on the Maine convention comes from Robert Miller, a young delegate whose account of the convention stresses the alienation which he felt as a Ron Paul supporter from the convention proceedings which he describes as too “republican”, raising the question of how a Republican party convention can actually be too republican. Hostility to the party which he chose to make himself a part of aside, he does raise some legitimate complaints about the extremely restricted way the convention was run, and it makes a striking contrast with accounts of earlier conventions where the proceedings were much more open. The party leadership is definitely cracking down.
Despite the obstacles being put in their path, the Ron Paul faction is having some success. They haven’t taken over a state convention yet, but they are gaining delegates here and there. Some states use a system for selecting delegates to the national convention where a part of the delegation is chosen at district conventions and the rest are selected at the state convention. Paul supporters have done very well in states which use this approach, taking half of the 12 available delegate slots in Minnesota and a third of the delegate positions in Oklahoma. This sort of representation, out of proportion to Paul’s actual standing in the popular vote in those states, is made possible because Paul’s supporters are highly motivated and actually attend the conventions while less motivated partisans stay home, and because of the departure of two moderately successful candidates who have dropped out of the race and left a vacuum which the Paul forces can move in and fill.
If this pattern continues, even with crackdowns at future state conventions, Paul supporters are likely to still fill a lot more seats at the national GOP convention in August than would normally be justified by his showing in the popular vote, perhaps 30 times the 21 delegates they are officially entitled to based on the state primary results. Along the way they’re likely to antagonize party organizers and drive away potential allies, and ultimately make themselves into pariahs. But the fireworks at the national convention should be fun to watch.
As someone sympathetic to many of the goals of Paul’s renegade would-be revolutionaries, I find their choice of tactics dismaying. I understand their frustration and can see the reasons for their hostility to the Republican Party, but at the same time it’s maddening to see them throw away so much potential to achieve real change. By insisting on nothing but a total victory which they cannot possibly achieve, they are passing up opportunities to accomplish realistic secondary objectives which could be enormously important.
Instead of trying to seize control of convention after convention, they could have laid relatively low and worked within the system and probably sent even more delegates to the national convention than they are likely to now. They could have won over allies and made converts within the mainstream of the party. The backlash would have been minimal and while they might not have been able to stop McCain from getting the nomination they could have had a profound influence on the platform, the issues raised in the election and the future direction of the party.
As things are developing now, by the time they are done, they will have not only caused the party to ostracize them, but they will likely strengthen the worst elements of the party and they will have discredited the libertarian ideology they are associated with. Some of us have been working for decades to return the GOP to its traditional libertarian values, and to take control away from the statists and the religious right. We may see all of that work undone in a matter of months.
It may not be too late for them to change tactics and salvage something from all of their efforts. If their numbers and their organization were turned towards influencing the party more positively they might be able to bring about amazing change and set the party back on the right course. I don’t really see it happening. Too many of the Paul faction seem to be ideologues and fanatics, driven by radical beliefs and paranoid fantasies. Mississippi, Virginia, Arizona and Utah have conventions next week. I suspect we’ll see more of the same – attempted takeovers responded to by harsh crackdowns and more people on both sides increasingly angry and frustrated, leading up to a final confrontation at the national convention which devolves into chaos and leaves the party weaker than it needs to be to face the real threat in November.