Republican leaders are working behind the scenes to head off a potentially embarrassing floor fight between the party's establishment and its grass-roots activists — especially Ron Paul supporters — who are concerned that proposed changes to RNC rules at this year’s convention could make it more difficult to influence the party’s future direction.
A battle has been brewing this week over a controversial proposal to change the rules to the convention, known as Rule 15. It would give candidates authority to remove state-elected convention delegates, and replace them with their own supporters.
The objective was to eliminate the prospect of delegates who “go rogue” and vote for a candidate other than the one they had pledged to support.
“There were Ron Paul supporters being elected as Mitt Romney delegates saying they would not vote for Mitt Romney,” influential National Republican Committeeman James Bopp of Indiana tells Newsmax.
Bopp added it is a violation of state-level regulations for a bound delegate to vote for another candidate.
Bopp was concerned however that the proposed cure to the problem — giving candidates authority to remove a state’s entire delegation — was worse than the disease. Ron Paul activists, as well as their tea party allies, were alarmed at what they saw as a move to silence insurgencies that might spring up within the party.
FreedomWorks chief Matt Kibbe tells Newsmax the attempted Rule 15 change would “essentially disenfranchise the grass roots and essentially disenfranchise any dissent coming from activists.”
But in an attempt to protect the right of states to designate their own delegates, and to head off an ugly fight on the floor over Rule 15, Bopp successfully lobbied his fellow committee members on Monday for a revision. It would preserve the states’ right to select their own delegates, and to structure their primaries as they wished in terms of delegate apportionment. But bound delegates would face stiff penalties if they rebelled.
Bopp tells Newsmax such delegates “will be deemed to have resigned, they will lose their credentials. They will go off the floor, and they will not be able to participate in the convention [as] a delegate.”
In addition, their delegate vote would then be awarded to the candidate to whom it was originally pledged. But the individual candidates would have no power to remove delegates.
The big question now: Will Ron Paul supporters find that compromise acceptable? If they introduce a motion on the floor to overturn the rule, or worse yet they stage a dramatic protest such as walking off the convention floor, it would open the door to the mainstream media focusing on the internal party dispute. That would disrupt the party’s effort to convey the personal narrative of the candidate that the Romney campaign desperately needs to communicate to the American people after months of withering attacks.
Asked Tuesday morning if the ardent followers of Texas congressman Paul will back down in response to Bopp’s compromise, Kibbe said: “It’s not clear yet. Everyone’s trying to parse through what the compromise means. The initial reaction of the Ron Paul guys has been negative, but I think we all need to understand what’s actually been proposed.”
The uncertainty stems from the activists’ frustration with another proposed change, Rule 12, which remains intact.
Rule 12 enables the RNC to change convention rules within a two year period, once three-fourths of RNC committee members agree that a change is needed. The goal, Bopp says, is to empower the party to respond more rapidly when an overwhelming majority of the RNC believes a change is clearly needed, without having to wait four years for the next convention. But grass-roots activists worry that change could give too much power to party leaders.
Florida delegate and incoming Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman, a strong supporter of the grass-roots movement, says it is “absolutely crucial that the grass roots stays active,” adding: “I’m going to do everything I can to see that the grass roots are not disenfranchised in any way, now or in the future.”
Asked if Bopp’s compromise could head off a floor fight with Paul’s delegates, Feaman tells Newsmax, “I’d say that remains to be seen.”
He also suggested that pro-Romney forces may have overreacted in trying to head off disruptions by the Ron Paul delegates.
“On the outside it certainly appears like it is an overreaction, because there’s no doubt that Gov. Romney and Rep. Ryan are going to be the nominees and are going to go forward out of here with a lot of momentum,” said Feaman. “So it could be a little insider overreaction.”
Paul followers at the convention continue to complain about what they perceive as the establishment’s power grab through the rules process. About 320 delegates are pledged to support Paul, out of a GOP total of nearly 2,300 delegates in attendance.
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