Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

RNC Dispatch: Party (in) Pieces

TAMPA–At 5:41pm Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the New Jersey delegation to the Republican National Convention sounded off, clinching the nomination for Mitt Romney. So begins two days of conventioneering, in which the GOP will convince itself that it made a good decision. The official ticket wasn’t the only major political setpiece to […]

TAMPA–At 5:41pm Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the New Jersey delegation to the Republican National Convention sounded off, clinching the nomination for Mitt Romney.

So begins two days of conventioneering, in which the GOP will convince itself that it made a good decision.

The official ticket wasn’t the only major political setpiece to take its final form yesterday either, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell submitted the official Republican platform, which was pro forma adopted.

Most of the platform, including the much-ballyhooed abortion plank, is nothing new. We should expect an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, American exceptionalism insisted upon in vaunted, anachronistic terms, and obsequious praise for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It does include support for not just a single audit of the Federal Reserve, but audits annually, though nearly all of the other new additions are nothing to get excited about. The language on sequestration is tendentious nonsense, employing the explicitly Keynesian logic of protecting a “struggling economy that can ill-afford to lose 1.5 million defense-related jobs.” It also paints a completely false picture of a post-sequestration defense, that the “U.S. will be left with the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.” None of this is true.

The plaftorm also calls for an end to federal student loans, but supports insuring private lending to students, which is strange for a party that has made major political hay pointing out the folly of government loan guarantees. It professes a commitment to federalism while calling for a national right-to-work law. It claims a belief in free enterprise but calls on the president to “stand ready to impose countervailing duties” on China if those evil currency manipulators keep selling us cheap things. This is the platform of a party that’s afraid of its own principles.

I asked several delegates how they felt about Romney’s foreign policy, which in light of proposed increases in defense spending and a Bush-era foreign policy team, is the most troubling aspect of his candidacy. Most of them supported the former and were completely unaware of the latter.

“I can’t say I’m that familiar with who he has on his foreign policy team, but I think he’s the kind of man that is gonna get the best people available to get the job done,” said Philip Smith, a delegate from Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The president doesn’t have to know everything, he just needs to know those who do.”

For Smith, Romney’s decision-making acumen, plus his moral fiber, was enough to assuage any doubts about his potential to embroil the United States in another war in the Middle East; “Romney has a reputation for being honorable, and he’s a good family man,” he told me. “Families are the structure of our society, if you don’t have good families, you’re going to disintigrate and it won’t take long for that to happen. We need someone with strong moral values in the White House.”

There were a few cracks in the otherwise completely scripted events, notably the effort to oppose RNC rules changes, which briefly threatened to derail the proceedings Tuesday morning. Thankfully for the convention planners, chairman Priebus gaveled the room back to order and John Boehner declined to take up the minority reports submitted for consideration by the Maine delegation, among others. The loudest cheers from the day’s events came from the Ron Paul faction, who shouted down a challenge from Romney supporters with chants of “Let Him Speak,” “Ron Paul,” and “Seat Maine Now.”

Braden Wilkerson, a 21-year-old Paul delegate from Lynchburg spoke favorably about Virginia’s nominating process—in a noted contrast with the experience of Paul delegates from other states—but the national party was another matter.

“Honestly, this convention is not a real convention,” Wilkerson told TAC. “At a district or state convention there are rules that you follow and the votes actually matter. There’s a teleprompter that pre-scripts this entire convention, and whether we vote yes or no, the party decides what we say and who our nominee is.”

After a brief adjournment following the roll call vote, I returned to my seat among the foreign bloggers in the top tier of the stadium to catch the evening’s speeches. House Majority Leader John Boehner took the stage just after seven with a familiar pitch. After four years in the Obama economy, “Can we do better?” He had a new reason for optimism in the now-official vice presidential nominee. In addition to their time in the House together, Boehner’s relationship with Paul Ryan goes way back to 1990, when Ryan volunteered for his campaign as a college student at Miami of Ohio, “putting yard signs up.” A political operative, to a reformist technocrat, to the vice presidency. Even for Republicans, the road to the White House runs through a community organizing apparatus.

Boehner’s slavish introduction proved too much for me. I decided that the rest of the night’s perfectly-arranged assortment of demographic countermeasures, Democrat turncoats, and Republican stars would be observed at least as well in the comfort of a big screen and an Ethernet catheter as from the nosebleeds. I began making my way toward the “Tunnel of Innovation,” a temporary tent-corridor connecting the convention center and the stadium that allows delegates and media people to go between without hardly seeing the light of day.

On the way down the stadium stairwell, I passed a Ron Paul balloon perched, half-deflated on a step. Thinking it was a kind of pathetic but poignant encapsulation of the day’s mood, like a dutifully wired millennial I turned around to take a picture with my cell phone.

But life, as they say, is more poetic than art, and Lord knows it’s more poetic than an Instagram. Several members of the Georgia delegation were coming down the stairs as I turned around, and before I could find the right app, one of them was raising an Oxford over the helpless balloon.

“Watch this!”

He showed ’em good. I asked him if he must not be a Ron Paul fan.

“It’s not that I don’t like him. [But] these people are gonna git him four more years, cryin’ in the corner like babies.”

This is a free-enterprise party that’s afraid of free trade, and a party ostensibly in favor of federalism that advocates national marriage and labor laws. It advances so-called republicanism while committing itself to empire, and actively marginalizes those more firmly committed to principles that it used to hold. As of yesterday this is the GOP’s official platform, and as of yesterday they have the acolytes to advance it, countering the current president’s socialized healthcare system with a promise to preserve socialized healthcare, but only for the elderly. If this is the essence of pragmatism, the GOP can have it.



The American Conservative Memberships
Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here