Dispatches From the Republican National Convention
Entry 3: If Ron Paul’s people behave, where will this convention’s excitement come from?
Greetings from the aforementioned table at a sandwich shop outside the convention! (It’s called Inside the Box, in case anyone needs to track my movements or solve a mystery.) As I write, a resigned-looking film crew is filming the extremely minimal street traffic, probably because there’s a nice big road sign reading “Tampa Street,” and if you can’t do reporting you can sure as heck do B-roll.
With so many official events canceled (by weak, spitting rain), I’m impressed by how many predictions you’re willing to make. Trying to figure out how the RNC will sell Romney in these conditions is like solving one of those bar trivia questions that only gives you one isolated clue before you start losing points—“Wore a cape,” or “not an Osmond,” or some such. The only sanctioned meetings I’ve been to were a morning breakfast for Iowa delegates and a late morning session of “Newt University.”
The Iowa meeting was not, in any way, a Romney up-with-people party. Iowa gets 25 pledged delegates. Ron Paul supporters seized 21 of those slots during the lengthy, little-covered post-caucus process. You have to love the irony—one of the most important states in the GOP’s primary system, which brings hundreds and hundreds of national and international reporters in to cover its very important caucus, is mostly pledged to the guy who won’t win the nomination.
These delegates (as I’ve been writing) are very polite. They just don’t believe that Romney legitimately secured the nomination, and they think his RNC is stripping delegates from Paul without reason. Delegates from Maine, which has been altered from an all-Paul team to a half-Paul team, were given free entry to the breakfast out of solidarity. Paul himself tried to tamp down the bitterness, in his way. “I really thought we were going to do well in Maine,” he said. But he thought back to the paraphrased/apocryphal conversation between Vo Nguyen Giap and an American who was admitting defeat in the Vietnam War. The general groused that Americans had never lost a battle. Giap pointed out that they lost the war anyway. Good analogy.
There was slightly more warmth toward Romney at Newt Gingrich’s “Newt University” event—which has got to be the cleverest way of getting reporters to show up and cover the remarks of a guy who won two state primaries. A series of Newt-approved politicians talked up Romney’s Olympics experience in great detail, the kind of material you’d use if you were writing a flattering Forbes article about a businessman. Friendly, not braggy. Not negative, either. Romney’s youthful policy guru Lanhee Chen (Harvard class of 1999) went long on Romney’s “energy independence by 2020” pledge, a much less bratty way of talking about the issue than the “drill baby drill” slogan we all heard in 2008.
I guess that’s what I’m expecting. A biography spiel, told in video and personal stories, that gets granular about how terrific Romney really is. The smallest bones thrown to Romney’s defeated rivals. Will the Ron Paul people cause a ruckus? We’re all waiting for it (“we” being media who can only Instagram balloons and signs for so long). But Paul has pretty carefully walked the line between pissing off his delegates and pissing off Romney. Adam Kokesh, an Iraq qar vet and anti-war activist who became a huge Paul booster, was banned from attending official Paul events because he didn’t want to walk that line. The people who won Paul’s delegates slots are, by and large, savvy and ambitious. If they behave, where do we think this convention’s excitement is going to come from?
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.