TAMPA, Fla. — It didn’t take long for strains within the Republican Party to surface Monday as national delegates got down to work on a final draft of the party platform, one week before the nominating convention opens.
Ron Paul delegates are making a diligent effort to wedge the defeated presidential candidate’s libertarian ideas into the party document. Among them: curbing the power of the Federal Reserve, enhancing the constitutional rights of individuals and opposing the overseas role of U.S. military forces.
There is no doubt about who is in charge, of course. Delegates for presumptive nominee Mitt Romney are voting down substantive changes to the platform language that was written at the direction of Romney’s campaign. The biggest question is whether the tone remains polite, as it was at the outset of two days of deliberations, or whether dissenters spoil the image of harmony that the Romney campaign is working hard to produce.
“This is grass-roots democracy, I think, at its finest,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the platform committee chairman, said at Monday’s opening session. He urged the 112 delegates to “be passionate but civil, recognizing that our goal is to have a united Republican Party.”
In theory, a platform gives voters a clear statement of where a party stands. In reality, it is a carefully crafted sales pitch by the victorious campaign, artfully designed to avoid giving any fresh ammunition to critics or the enemy party.
Georgia Republican chairwoman Sue Everhart, a Romney supporter and platform committee member, warned against adding language that would make the platform “so complicated” that “the news media just tears it apart.”
The platform is “a document for Mitt Romney to live by” and is “not going to be a document that we live by,” she told fellow Republican activists on the defense and foreign policy subcommittee.
Rarely read by voters, platforms are as anachronistic as national conventions themselves. But the sessions in Tampa are a reminder that Romney had to slog through a long and difficult primary season that exposed enduring fissures within his party.
At this morning’s drafting session, Paul delegate Linda Bean, an L. L. Bean heiress from Maine, sought unsuccessfully to insert language — which she said came originally from John Quincy Adams — that described the image of the U.S. military as a “murderous aggressor.”
Another Paul delegate, Pastor Kevin Erickson of Minnesota, tried to put the party on record in favor of raising taxes to help balance the budget. Echoing Paul, a congressman from Texas, Erickson said the greatest threat to the United States is not from Al Qaeda or Iran but from an expanding government debt.
“We are going to kill our poor and middle class if we continue deficit spending,” Erickson said.
Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who was chairing the session, made it clear that the GOP wasn’t about to place a tax increase into its official policy statement. The proposal was voted down.