Politics::RNC 2012 Category

The last three evenings were occupied with an election night watch party (disappointing results, but some good conversation late into the night that only confirmed my conviction that Oklahoma is much the poorer that someone as principled, intelligent, and sincere as Shane Saunders won't be serving in the state legislature next year), dinner with visiting customers, and grading Greek papers.

There's a lot I'd like to say about the rules changes that Romney's forces pushed through the Republican National Convention Rules Committee last week and the convention as a whole on Tuesday, but no time to say much now, so I'll point you to four articles that cover the important details and correctly comprehend the significance of what came to be tagged on Twitter as #goppowergrab.

First, just a few points from me:

1. This wasn't about Ron Paul and his supporters. It was about shutting down grassroots conservatives of all stripes -- old timers and newcomers alike -- in favor of the wheeler-dealers and K Street insiders.

2. It wasn't about 2012. It was about 2016 -- protecting Romney from a conservative challenger if he turns out to be a RINO in office -- and 2020 -- letting the next establishment candidate sew up the nomination as quickly as McCain did in 2008. The rules don't just govern this convention; they govern the party until the next convention, and they set precedent for future rules.

3. Too many conservatives want to know why we wind up with candidates like Dole, McCain, Romney, but then they dismiss rules disputes as "inside baseball," not worth noticing, not worth fighting about. Folks, it all starts here. Rules shape the race. Rules shape the structure of the party and the distribution of power. If you want to debug the system, you have to analyze the source code.

4. I had been trying for some time, without much success, to get conservative bloggers to pay attention to this issue. Back in January I'd suggested to a conference planner that the "inner workings of the Republican Party" should be a panel topic at the next conservative bloggers conference, with a panel made up of bloggers who, like myself, had been involved in Republican Party politics:

I see a lot of frustrated commentary from conservative bloggers about the GOP, often anthropomorphizing the party as a monolithic entity, when it's really a complex system of individuals, forces, rules, and institutions. Rather than blame the party as a whole and attack the symptoms with no lasting impact, conservatives need to identify and target the causes of the problems we see, and conservative bloggers can play an important role in providing context and directing activist energy in productive ways.

More recently I suggested that any bloggers who could be in Tampa before the convention began should report on the Rules Committee meeting, as I had done in 2004 and 2008, specifically mentioning the possibility of an effort to undo the primary calendar reforms that governed the 2012 primary cycle, reforms that this time around prevented a super-frontloaded national primary. As far as I know, no conservative bloggers reported from the meeting itself, and there weren't any conservative-leaning news outlets there either. Live tweets (which I captured with the GOP 2012 Rules Twitter list) were coming from reporters with Buzzfeed, CNN, Huffington Post, and Politico.

If more conservative bloggers and reporters had been paying attention from the beginning, and if Team Romney and the Rules Committee knew we were paying attention, perhaps some of the Romney changes would not have been put forward by the Romney people or won the Rules Committee's approval.

All that said, here are four well-done articles on the controversy and its aftermath:

Washington Examiner's Tim Carney: Republican leaders trample their grass roots in Tampa

Michelle Malkin: RNC Power Grab: The Aftermath

FreedomWorks' Dean Clancy: Romney's "RNC Power Grab": What Really Happened

Mark America: Becoming a Top-Down Party of Nothing

I hate to have to miss the Republican National Convention this year, but it's especially tough to miss the convention's Rules Committee proceedings the week before the convention. I was one of a handful of reporters and bloggers covering the 2004 and 2008 Rules Committee proceedings, and I suspect I was the only one covering them that had served on GOP rules committees at the county, congressional district, and state level.

So I had half an eye on my Twitter stream on Friday as the 2012 Republican National Convention Rules Committee was in session. A handful of new and old media reporters, occasionally joined by actual rules committee members, were live-tweeting the event: Zeke Miller of Buzzfeed, Jon Ward of the Huffington Post, Peter Hamby of CNN, James Hohmann of Politico; Chris Brown, rules committee member from Alabama, Iowa State Chairman A. J. Spiker, and Oklahoma rules committee member Stuart Jolly, head of Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma.

At the meeting, Mitt Romney's forces, spearheaded by former Bush 41 chief of staff John Sununu as committee chairman and Bush 43 / Romney lawyer and lobbyist Ben Ginsberg, pushed a bushel basket full of significant changes to the way the Republican Party selects its presidential nominee and elects delegates to the national convention. While the GOP's presumptive nominee is expected to have some influence over the conduct of the convention, I've never seen such a extreme attempt by a nominee to subvert the fundamental structure of the party. It reminds me of Tony Blair taking a metaphorical ax to the House of Lords after his election in 1997.

Some background: At each quadrennial Republican National Convention, the delegates to the convention approve a set of rules to govern the convention itself and the party until the next convention four years later. That includes defining the nominating process and the formula for delegate allocation to be used four years hence. The vote on the floor of the convention is usually a formality, a voice vote, over in a minute with no debate. The full body of convention delegates are voting on the recommendation of the convention rules committee, a group consisting of two delegates (one male, one female) selected by each state delegation. The convention rules committee meets the week before the convention. The committee chairman is appointed by the RNC Chairman, usually in accordance with the wishes of the presumptive nominee. There is typically one committee member who is there specifically to push the nominee's preferred rules.

Taken as a whole, the Romney "reforms" are designed to undo the reforms approved between the 2008 and 2012 convention, which slowed down the nominating process and subjected the eventual nominee to a great deal of scrutiny. The Romney rules would compress and front-load the calendar once again to protect any future establishment-backed candidate from enduring a similar level of scrutiny, favoring the next-in-line Republican with the biggest fundraising and name recognition advantage and hindering any insurgent campaign from building on a surprise win in a small, early state. The Romney "reforms" would also put control of delegate selection in the hands of the presidential campaigns and increase the threshold for putting a candidate's name in nomination from a plurality of five state delegations to a majority of eight state delegations.

The Romney rules would also allow the Republican National Committee to amend party rules in between conventions. This would be a radical departure from Republican Party practice; the GOP passes rules at the national convention and they remain in force for four years. In 2008, however, a precedent was set to allow a one-time, limited-purpose amendment: A commission was established to recommend new rules and a new calendar for the 2012 presidential nominating process, with an up-or-down RNC vote on adopting the report as a whole.

This time around the Romneyites got rules committee approval for most of their proposals, but some were altered and one failed outright: An attempt to raise the threshold for a minority committee report from 25% to 40%. Opposition to the Romney coup was led by Virginia national committeeman Morton C. Blackwell, the Republican National Committee's institutional memory and founder of the Leadership Institute. From live tweets of reporters on the scene, it appeared that most of the support for the Romney Revolution came from northern, small state, unsuccessful parties, while successful, large, southern state parties opposed the rules changes.

Since convention delegates are apportioned to each state by population with bonuses for Republican electoral success, a win for RINOs in the rules committee, where Massachusetts has as much power as Texas, is no guarantee of a win on the convention floor.

Following adjournment, minority reports were circulated and appear to have received signatures from enough rules committee members (at least 25%) to move forward. The current rule requires a signed petition to be presented to the chairman, vice chairman, or secretary of the rules committee within an hour of the approval of the majority report in order to come before the convention as a minority report. I have not heard whether or not this was accomplished, but there was one report that John Sununu went into hiding to avoid being served with the report by the deadline.

According to a letter from RNC member Morton Blackwell of Virginia to state delegation chairmen, even if the minority report moves forward, the support of at least six state delegations will be required to force a roll call vote. Blackwell states that tremendous pressure is being applied to rules committee members to get them to retract their signatures on the minority reports.

Romney's heavyhanded efforts, by way of Sununu and Ginsberg, to reshape the party in a top-down direction will undo months of fence-mending with the grassroots conservatives whose enthusiasm he needs to win in November. Whether a minority report comes before the convention or not, there's a good chance for some effort to defeat the proposed rules. Even if the challenge to Romney's rules fails, he will have provoked exactly the kind of prime-time conflict presumptive nominees usually seek to avoid, all in an effort to insulate himself and future establishment candidates from grassroots influence and accountability.

Supporters of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul should join together to oppose Romney's rules coup.

If you happen to know someone in Tampa as a delegate to the convention, drop them an email or Facebook message and encourage them to vote against the Romney majority report and to support the minority report. It may also help to contact your state Republican Party headquarters to register your concerns. The phone number for Oklahoma Republican HQ is (405) 528-3501. Email addresses for the state chairman and vice chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman are on the Oklahoma GOP's contact page.

I will consider the actions (or failures to act) of our state party leaders and delegates on these matters a litmus test that will influence my support for their future ambitions and initiatives.

LINKS:

The Republican Party rules approved in 2008, as amended by RNC adoption of the commission report in 2010.

My GOP 2012 Rules Committee Twitter list.

Shane Vander Hart, Caffeinated Thoughts, Mitt Romney's Assault on the Grassroots at the RNC:

Mitt Romney's legal advisor, Ben Ginsburg, has been attacking grassroots activism within the Republican Party during the Convention of the Rules Committee that met Friday prior to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL. I was told late yesterday that one of the amendments that he offered and was passed by the committee changes the RNC rules so that the presumptive nominee and the state party can decide who the delegates are that can go to the national convention. The language of the rule states that the presidential nominee and state party can disavow any delegate.

These are essentially the people who write the platform. Think about the implications of this: If the nominee is anti-life, he or she, can essential disavow any pro-life delegate. If he is in favor of same-sex marriage, he can disavow those delegates. This gives the nominee too much influence over the party and it diminishes the grassroots who choose the delegates to send. It is a top-down approach which favors the establishment.

Letter from Dave Nalle of Republican Liberty Caucus opposing the Romney power grab:

The presidential nomination, which was supposed to be the focus [of the convention], is taking a backseat to a growing controversy over an attempt by a small group of elite party insiders and the Romney campaign to fundamentally change the rules and structure of the party to disenfranchise grassroots Republicans activists and turn the GOP from a party of the people into a party of top-down governance from a select class of professional political organizers.

Buzzfeed: Romney Executes Republican Party Power-Grab:

The Republican National Convention Rules Committee voted 63-38 to approve a new rule allowing granting the Republican National Committee -- and Mitt Romney -- sweeping new powers to amend the governing document of the GOP.

The move came at the encouragement of Mitt Romney supporters on the committee, including Romney's top lawyer Ben Ginsberg, who stressed that it would grant "flexibility" to Romney and the committee to adapt to changing political environments. The rule allows the RNC to amend the party's rules without a vote by the full Republican National Convention. And it offers the Republican Establishment a new tool to keep at by Tea Party initiatives that threaten to embarrass or contradict party leadership and stray from a planned message....

Virginia delegate and RNC member Morton Blackwell strenuously objected to the proposed rule change, calling it "the most awful proposed amendments I've seen presented to this committee."

"This is dangerous, it amounts to a power grab," he said. "We are abandoning the historic process by which are rules are adopted."

The Romney allies waited until Friday to propose the amendment, choosing to avoid giving the opposition time to organize by proposing it at the preliminary Rules meeting on Wednesday or during more than three years of RNC Rules Committee discussions.

Business Insider: There Was Major Drama At The GOP Convention Friday, And It Ended With John Sununu Fleeing The Building:

The drama Friday centered around a contentious meeting of the powerful Rules Committee, where Romney's campaign lieutenants, led by his legal counsel Ben Ginsberg, pushed through several changes that would give Romney broad authority over the Republican nominating process.

According to one source who was at the meeting, the saga ended with former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, the committee chair, hightailing it out of the building before committee members could submit dissenting minority opinions, or "minority reports."...

"The rules say that you have an hour after the meeting, but within 15 minutes, we couldn't find [Chairman Sununu] anywhere," Ryan, a Ron Paul supporter and member of Maine's delegation, said. "Finally, we asked an RNC official if they had seen former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu. He said, 'John Sununu! Everyone's looking for him! But he left the building.'"

Buzzfeed: Grassroots Backlash Against Romney Campaign's Rules Changes

The Republican National Convention Rules Committee revolted against the Romney campaign on Friday, after more than six hours of domination by top Romney lawyer Ben Ginsberg.

Ginsberg, who had forced through a series of amendments to make it more difficult for an insurgent candidate to earn delegates to the national convention and earn a spot on the convention ballot, tried to raise the threshold for obtaining "minority reports."...

Drew McKissick, a delegate from South Carolina objected, noting that the rules change could also apply to that same contentious rules committee meeting if approved.

"He is systematically trying to prevent minorities from having even any remote opportunity of being heard," followed Virginia delegate Morton Blackwell to rave applause from the committee. "This is wrong, it's gonna hurt us, it's gonna hurt our presidential candidate."

After being publicly rebuked, Ginsberg withdrew his amendment, prompting further cheers from the committee.

Michael Duncan, FreedomWorks: Stop the Establishment from Rewriting the RNC Rules:

As you may know the Romney camp is pushing new rules that would strip grassroots activists of any meaningful ability to participate in presidential politics. The process has always been bottom-up, but Romney officials have rewritten the rules so that the nominee can stifle any dissent on the platform committee and even unseat delegates. Make no mistake, this will weaken the process by which Republicans chose their candidate for president and push the grassroots out of the party process....

Please locate the phone number of your State Republican Party Headquarters below, call them immediately, and tell them to oppose Romney's new rules that strip grassroots activists of the ability to participate in the Republican platform process.

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