I Survived a GOP Convention
by Ryan McMaken
by Ryan McMaken
Back in the days when I was politically active, I attended a GOP election party with my wife. Someone at the party had rented out a hotel ballroom, and after the polls closed a couple hundred of us milled about and watched as the returns came in. Big television screens were tuned to various news channels. People cheered when Republicans did well and booed when Democrats did well. The primary function of this event, however, seemed to be to offer a chance for Republican true believers to feel safe among their own kind.
My wife said "this is the largest support group I have ever attended." And that is what it was.
I was reminded of this little episode repeatedly when I attended the Colorado GOP convention as a delegate in late May. I prepared for the event the same way one might prepare for a sentencing following a murder conviction. I told myself repeatedly it might not be that bad, and at the very least, I would leave with some information, probably unpleasant, that I didn't have before.
I certainly had not campaigned to be a delegate. It turns out, much to my surprise, that my GOP membership had never lapsed, and the Ron Paul voting bloc was just so well organized that they managed to elect me as one of many Ron Paul delegates to both the local congressional district convention and the statewide convention. They did this with precious little help from me.
This is why I forced myself to attend both conventions and to vote with the Paul bloc. I'd rather submit to enhanced interrogation than attend a rally or wave a sign or hoot and holler in favor of a political candidate, but the Ron Paul people were so committed to offering an alternative to McCain, the worst GOP nominee in decades, that I had to go and do their bidding.
Unfortunately, the experience would turn out to be what will no doubt prove to be an excellent preview of what awaits all Ron Paul delegates who managed to win seats at the national convention. Make no mistake about it. The national convention will be nothing other than a coronation of the nominee approved by the party leadership. Floor fights or platform debates or dissent of any kind have not been seen at national conventions since the days of yore, and no one in the party with power has any desire to bring such things back.
Locally, things are no different. The convention for the congressional district here was certainly a lesson in authoritarianism. The meeting was chaired with an iron fist by some wizened old lawyer who shouted down anyone who dared say anything in favor of Paul. The other members of the central committee dutifully took dictation.
The 1st CD always votes for Democrats, so the matter of who runs for the seat is of no global importance. As it happened, however, a person named George Lilly, a Ron Paul supporter, had managed to position himself as the presumptive nominee for the race. Yet, the McCain supporters were so vexed by this, that they recruited a homeless man to run against Lilly. I'm not exaggerating. The guy's address is a homeless shelter.
In spite of the fact that the homeless guy swore that "I understand the global economy completely," I remained unconvinced and voted for the guy with a house. The rest of the meeting was cliché as far as Ron Paul stories go. One of the Paul supporters was thrown out based solely on the chairman's whims, and many others were harangued from the podium.
As you can imagine, dear reader, my enthusiasm for attending the state convention was much diminished by the district convention. Yet I pressed on, getting up early on a Saturday to eat six dollar scones and drink bad coffee at the local suburban convention center.
As I arrived, it became clear that both the Ron Paul supporters and the McCain supporters had done their homework and organized themselves into slates of delegates for the national convention.
The Ron Paul supporters had managed to garner quite a bit of success early on by employing more sophisticated tactics than the McCain people. At county and district conventions, the Paul supporters had run as slates of delegates in order to concentrate their votes. At some of the later district conventions and at the state convention, the McCain people had caught on to this, and had organized themselves into ominously titled "Unity" slates.
The party had also recently taken steps to require delegates to disclose their preferred presidential candidate, so by the state convention, the old Paulist tactic of simply stating one's position ("I'm pro-life, anti-tax, pro-gun," for example) while running for delegate slots no longer worked.
So, by the state convention, which delegates supported whom had all become quite obvious, and it had all come down to the Ron Paul slate and the Unity slate. At this point, defeat of the Ron Paul slate was pretty much a fait accompli. While the Ron Paul delegates made up perhaps a third of the delegation at the state convention, they certainly lacked the votes to elect their slates or overturn the meeting agenda which had been carefully planned and rushed through by the state's central committee.
Indeed, according to his more active supporters, Ron Paul had offered to speak at the convention, but was curtly denied by the state chairman. Paul supporters were also denied any opportunity to say even one word from the podium in favor of Paul's candidacy.
The convention was undoubtedly a valuable education for those who still na´vely think that political parties are run like democracies. The struggle within the Democratic Party between Obama and Clinton this year should make that obvious, as should the treatment Paul received at the hands of GOP party leadership regardless of his substantial support among the rank and file.
In modern America, party conventions exist far more as political rallies for the candidate the party leadership has approved, rather than as mechanisms for choosing candidates.
The state convention here was no different as within minutes the event quickly degenerated into a series of doctrinaire short films espousing the unmitigated greatness of the GOP candidates and various other personages who had won the favor of the party's central committees. There were also lots of videos of waving American flags, and people driving pickup trucks on dusty country roads, and gray old men chatting in barber shops, and young men wearing military uniforms.
As the warm fuzzies came to an end, the potential delegates lined up to deliver their little 10 second speeches. Most notable here were two veterans: a disabled Iraq veteran and an Afghanistan veteran who were both booed by the crowd for supporting Paul. The sheer amount of venom spewed by the old woman in front of me against the Afghanistan veteran was quite memorable.
And naturally, the crowd cheered loudest after someone held up a "Stop the War" sign. They didn't cheer for the sign or the sign holder. They cheered when a police officer threw her out of the building.
By the end, the Paul supporters were outvoted and everything returned to normal in the party. No Ron Paul delegates were elected, Mitt Romney gave the keynote address to wild applause, and by the end of the day, the meeting had become what the party had always intended it to be: a support group for fans of John McCain.
We can expect to see much of the same at the convention in September.
July 29, 2008
Ryan McMaken [send him mail] teaches political science in Colorado.
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