In modern times, political party conventions have become just another scripted showcase, tightly controlled by partisan leaders who pay pricey consultants and highly skilled marketing firms to create a professionally choreographed, theatrical sales pitch for the party’s predetermined nominee.
Delegate Matthew Hurtt sits among delegates jockeying for a position on controversial rules changes Aug. 28, 2012, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Absolutely every detail, down to color of the drapes, is carefully chosen to fit a prescribed narrative, which has been tested and retested with focus groups or scientific polling.
This year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., has given hope to those who yearn for the old days, when party conventions were exercises in raw democracy.
The first tussle broke out last week during proceedings of the Rules Committee charged with compiling the convention’s various procedural guidelines.
While most media outlets were still focused on proposed social issue planks by the Platform Committee last week, the Rules Committee voted to require written certification that a presidential candidate has a plurality of delegates from five states in order to get a space on the convention ballot. This move is intended to provide a warning in the event of a floor movement toward an “insurgent candidate,” like Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
National Committeeman John Ryder, a member of the Tennessee Republican Party from Memphis, pushed the rules change to eliminate a rumored uprising by Paul delegates on the convention floor, in an effort to “try to create a more streamlined convention procedure, that better reflects the realities.”
“The focus is to get away from some of the residue of the 19th century,” he added.
And while Ryder’s rule change failed when it reached the less tightly controlled convention floor, prominent supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were able to introduce in an amendment that requires delegates to state in writing who they intend to vote for on the convention floor at least one hour before the vote.
More than 10,000 Paul supporters from across the country massed Sunday for a rally in Tampa, just two days before the floor vote.
According to attendees of the rally, Paul never technically ended his campaign, and they see this year’s convention as a chance for grassroots activists to “halt the GOP establishment in their efforts to drown out conservative descent.”
They called on former Paul supporters within the delegation to defect from Romney during the traditional roll call of state delegates Thursday night.
But some of Paul’s most active supporters feel such outright revolt is not necessary, and that the “constitutional conservative movement” is better served by working from within the party structure.
Murfreesboro native Matthew Hurtt, who is a political consultant working in the Washington, D.C., area, was elected as a Virginia at-large delegate for the 2012 convention. Hurtt supports Paul, but he is pledged to Romney.
Reached Tuesday by phone, Hurtt anticipated further floor squabbles on yet another rule change opposed by Paul supporters. But, he said he would follow whatever rules were passed on the floor.
“When you play the game, you play by their rules.” he said. “Them’s the rules.”
Delegates had been up in arms since Monday about a proposed rule that would weaken states’ control of who gets to attend future national conventions as voting delegates, and opposition was led by yet another figure from Tennessee's recent past.
Jim Bopp – a former attorney for Democratic state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, of Clarksville, in her recent legal battle against the party’s nomination process – is now a Republican National Committeeman from Indiana. Bopp was among those who rose to oppose the rule change.
While primaries typically determine how many delegate votes candidates will receive, states typically meet later to fill out those delegate rosters.
The new rule allows presidential candidates to veto those choices, and was approved by House Speaker John Boehner to the chagrin of Paul supporters.
“All hell just broke loose on the floor,” Hurtt tweeted during the procedural fight. “Boehner totally pulled a Jimmy Naifeh on adoption of the rules.”
Though the rule change is “definitely a snub” to Paul supporters, Hurtt said he would continue to support similar candidates who fit the mold of constitutional conservatives.
“It’s a process,” he said. “It will take a generation, and these candidates represent a bridge between Ron Paul activists and the GOP establishment.”
Otherwise, Hurtt said, the convention has been a great way to meet and mingle with like-minded people from across the nation.
“I’m not a real tourist-type guy,” he said. “Just find me a hole in the wall where I can meet fellow conservatives, and I’m happy.”
Asked whether he thinks such floor fights could return, Hurtt said, “It would be very unlikely.”