Marilyn Newton / AP Photo
Sunday, May 6, 2012 | 10:22 a.m.
SPARKS — How fitting that at a place called the Nugget, supporters of the man who loves the gold standard made their voices heard as the state Republican Party put on a show that was entertaining, empty and ephemeral.
If the Ron Paul delegates were panning for credibility, they had a jackpot’s worth this weekend, imposing their will on the election of two seats on the national committee and on the delegation entrusted with wearing funny hats and waving colorful signs in Tampa, Fla. By erasing the two Establishment members of the Romney National Committee and having the discipline and numbers to get 22 of 25 eligible national delegates, the Paul forces showed they knew how to exploit the rules and subvert Romney’s overwhelming win at the February caucuses.
Even if they are destined to strike political pyrite in August, the Paul folks exposed here what is happening everywhere within the GOP — a RNC trying desperately to excite a base for an unexciting presumptive nominee while not alienating the hordes of Paulites who want ... something.
The RNC, represented at the Nugget and watching the Paul folks dominate similar conventions across the country, would prefer an uneventful (read: choreographed) national convention where Paul delegates don’t boo Mitt Romney as he accepts the nomination or start a resolution revolution from the floor. Similarly, they were hoping for a relatively sedate Nevada Republican Party event this weekend, with the Paul folks leaving happy and the Romney contingent fairly represented on the national delegate slate (3 of 25!).
Instead what transpired Saturday was a microcosm of the war for the soul of the Republican Party, with orange-capped Romney captains patrolling the convention floor, motivated by a desire to keep the sheep in line, while more colorfully dressed Paul delegates destabilized the convention, animated by either a love of liberty or a love of black helicopters (hard to tell percentages.).
There is a certain sameness to all of these political conventions, Republican or Democratic: Inane floor fights over minutiae, impassioned delegates who arise and act as if they are the Robert in the Rules of Order, goofy resolutions to do something to someone.
But the depth of the division between the Romney and Paul camps was revealed shortly after newly elected Chairman Michael McDonald bellowed at the assemblage for a few minutes with a unity message, only to have and the convention immediately dissolved into acrimony over who was a delegate and who wasn’t. It was midafternoon before they could even agree on the convention rules — should we vote by voice or with one or two hands? — and by then it seemed clear that the Paul folks, while not overwhelming the proceedings, had enough delegates to do what they wanted.
When The Man (who hates The Man) himself arrived to speak to the delegates, it only inspired the Paul delegates to a greater frenzy and soon thereafter, Republican National Committeeman Bob List and Committeewoman Heidi Smith were ousted in landslides to James Smack and Diana Orrick, respectively, both backed by the Texas congressman’s contingent. (Smith didn’t help her case when she patronized the Paul folks and then obliquely said Romany was the only one who could beat the “damn socialist in the White House.”)
Memories of four years ago came flooding back when the Establishment — i.e. Chairwoman Sue Lowden and convention Chair Bob Beers shut down the proceedings and ballots were “lost” when it appeared clear the Paul folks would populate the national convention delegation. But as the Paul campaign across the country employs similar guerilla tactics — it just occurred in Maine on Saturday — the Romney National Committee is trying to quell an uprising that may be no more than meddlesome — Romney is going to get the nomination — but could expose divisions within the party that could affect the outcome in November.
Team Romney wants to swat away the Paul revolution, But in so doing, the presumptive nominee doesn’t want the Texas congressman’s dedicated followers to sit on their hands or even work against the GOP nominee in the fall (where’s Gary Johnson?).
All of this notwithstanding, there are false conclusions that can be drawn from the events of this weekend — most importantly that the party’s central committee is reflective of the real world. These are the hardcore partisans, some of them zealots, who love the Sturm und Drang but sometimes care less about electing candidates than having their voices heard (often by themselves).
Considering how close the election is foretold to be here and in the country, though, what the Paul folks do come November is critical to Romney’s fortunes. And that is the delicate waltz the Romney National Committee is confronted with, one that it executed with two left feet with two letters threatening not to seat the entire Nevada delegation if the Paul folks didn’t play ball. (Net impact: Zero.)
The Paul folks want to “change the party from within,” as I heard so many of them say – while Team Romney and its RNC allies want to do what Al Davis always urged: Just win, baby.
It is the bloodless mind of the GOP vs. the passionate heart that wants to beat loudly in Tampa. And over at Obama for America, they are smiling that despite the economy and the president’s numbers, knowing that at this rate, the Republicans might just beat themselves.