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August 29, 2012 3:12 PM The Paulite Mess

By Jonathan Bernstein

The big puzzle from Day One of the Republican National Convention was: why did Mitt Romney’s convention pick a fight with the Ron Paul delegates?

Dana Millbank has some of the details. Basically, the convention took a candidate with a few hundred very aggrieved delegates, and gave them…pretty much nothing. Well, they get a video presentation and a Rand Paul speech today I guess, but what they didn’t get was procedural fairness: not only were they not allowed to put Paul’s name in nomination, but they also weren’t given opportunities to formally dissent on new RNC rules or on the platform.

Some of that, to be sure, was understandable. Actual roll-call votes on the rules and the platform would have been extremely time consuming. But surely the convention could have found ways to accommodate the Paul delegates’ desire to be heard. Would a formal nomination, for example, really have hurt anyone? As it was, the Paul delegates still voted for him; the convention simply refused to tally their votes.

The result was a few ruckuses on the convention floor during the rules and platform adoptions, which sparked some second-tier news stories — and, during the actual nomination vote, much louder cheers for Paul’s occasional votes than for Romney’s, leading (for the tiny audience watching, but presumably also for the large contingent of working press on the scene) to the conclusion that the convention wasn’t very enthusiastic about their nominee.

Now, it’s possible that the GOP was stuck with this problem (especially the lack of enthusiasm for Romney) whatever they did. But I doubt it; it sure seems to me that they could have avoided the rules fiasco, at least, without either substantive concessions or blowing up the schedule.

Millbank interprets this as a case of Mitt Romney being a control freak. Could be; on the other hand, I’m always reluctant to invoke personality explanations, especially in cases where we don’t know for a fact that the nominee himself had anything to do with it. My guess is that it was a more straightforward miscalculation; whoever was handling these choices figured that they had the votes, so why should they worry about accommodating what is, after all a pretty small minority at the convention (especially since it represents an even smaller minority within the electorate). They knew that they couldn’t push Ron Paul himself so far that he would walk out, but that was about it; they didn’t consider what the delegates might do.

I don’t want to make more of this than it is; the GOP convention wasn’t derailed significantly from its function of giving people who were inclined to vote Mitt some reasons for doing so. Still, it’s an unforced error; a party doesn’t want to get in the habit of making those.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.