Dispatches From the Republican National Convention
Entry 17: The convention floor is ruled by people in hats. The black hats matter most.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
Last night John explained why working a convention is like covering Congress. Since I have spent the better part of the last two years writing about the world of electoral politics without even having to fake a dutiful glance toward governance or the policymaking process, I have only a distant but nonetheless fond recollection of the days where I could stumble upon a committee chairman in a stairwell.
But after having spent my days talking primarily to professionals in the political-industrial complex, the convention floor has still felt like home to me. In fact, the week has been a procession of moments bumping into subjects or sources from the Republican consultant/operative class. The process of recognition is always the same: a familiar face, buried beneath a colorful mesh-backed trucker hat, wearing a security guard's wrist-and-earpiece set. I turn a corner into one of the floor's radial boulevards, and hustle past one of the colorful hats, vaguely aware I'm in the presence of someone familiar. Not until seconds later, a few state delegations past the spot where our paths crossed, does my mind match a name to the partially obscured face.
One of the curiosities of national party conventions is that logistical work on the floor is doled out to consultants and party operatives who for a week are given the responsibilities of bouncer. (They are suited up in colored hats adorned with Romney’s R logo.) Very few of them are necessarily built or skilled for the task; they tend to be direct-mail consultants, field tacticians, or journeyman campaign-manager types.
The colored hats have not been vested with any actual authority by the party committees. They are assigned to patrol sections of the floor, with an eye out for unruly delegates poised to mount a chair or unfurl a quarrelsome sign. All the color hats can do is ask a troublemaker to cooperate, offer a warning, and call in the black hats. The black hats, who operate under the jurisdiction of the sergeant-at-arms, have what passes for real power in the convention hall: the ability to seize a credential.
On Tuesday, as Dave has written about, there was a bona fide floor incident when Ron Paul supporters and other insurgents challenged the adoption of new delegate-allocation rules for 2016. Yesterday evening, they marshaled allies to parade through the Tampa Bay Forum’s corridors in solidarity. Otherwise the colored hats stand at the ready, available for an inquiry about mail tactics or targeting techniques.
Read the rest of Slate’s coverage from the GOP convention.
Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.