“The great state of Alaska nominates …” and with that announcement from the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the 2012 Republican National Convention was underway.
Tropical storm Isaac has passed us by, and gathered speed to hurricane strength, heading for New Orleans. The lashing rains are gone, and the city shimmers in heat, standing thick. Good news and bad news for the Republicans — the convention will not now be Biblically scattered. On the other hand, by the time Mitt Romney gets up to speak, New Orleans may be suffering a re-run of Katrina — on the seventh anniversary of that event — and visuals of cascading red, white and blue balloons, may coincide with footage of sodden victims in a freshly damaged city.
Should the aftermath of Isaac be handled better than Katrina — and it is hard to see how it could be handled worse — it may serve as a platform to remind the public just how bad at government the Republicans are. On the other hand, should the Obama administration stuff it up — and they are pretty good at snatching defeat from the jaws of etc — then a lot of the post-Bush gloss will come off. Who knows which way it will go?
On the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, they don’t care much. The energy is up, and even the most boring convention, nominating the most boring candidate of recent times, cannot but have a certain carnivalesque ceremony to it. Some delegations are wearing the costume of their states — the West Virginians have miners’ helmets, to commemorate the evisceration of that state by mountaintop removal, for precious little local gain. Some Wisconsiners sport hats shaped like wedges of cheese, which makes them look even more idiotic than they are. But the prize goes, inevitably, to the Ron Paul contingent, in ten gallon hats and full Western rig.
In the hour or so of procedural moves, before the roll-call of votes began, the Paulites put up a hell of a fuss. Having worked assiduously for two years to take over state party apparatuses, they had hoped they could force a floor-fight. The party centre solved that by the simple expedient of changing the rules by fiat. Deprived of their chance to turn the convention into an actual political event, the Paulites put up a hell of a hullabaloo — especially when their man appeared on the Forum floor, garlanded in a multi-coloured lei for some reason. He has been offered no speaking role, which has only added to his outlaw glamour.
As one procedural motion followed another, the Paulites became even more vocal and angry, starting a chant of “U-S-A” and pulling out clothes pegs, covered in the stars and stripes, and putting them on their nose, which looked like it hurt. Suffer for the republic. From what, I and a range of other people could tell, they actually won a voice vote on ratifying the vice-president — or were loud enough to oblige a poll. No matter. House Republican leader John Boehner steamed on ahead regardless.
Ron Paul hadn’t won a single state at the actual primary vote — but the rules state that the state conventions set the final affiliations of the delegates. Paul’s supporters managed to grab five states by stacking out the office-bearer positions. That gave them nearly 200 delegates, or 10% of the total — and only one state short of the six required to get Paul onto the ballot. The party’s rules committee simply stepped in and rescinded their own long-standing statutes. The fix was in and good.
The roll call is the high point of the first day of the convention, because it is the moment at which the nomination is actually made, and the candidate crosses the line. Before and after we had the spectacle of Republicans at play — a tired band, who played like someone had told them they had long distance rifles trained on their foreheads, pumping out “Want You to Want Me”, “Eight Days a Week” (the GOP’s working hours policy, presumably) and other deathful elevator hits. Various minor functionaries had their one minute speech — the head of student Republicans, a kid who looked like he’d eaten Senator David Feeney for lunch, boasting “I have the best job in America” — watching everyone else get laid apparently. No, it was fighting at the frontline of liberalism. Then the head of young Republicans, another morbidly obese teen taking revenge on life, through vicious, old people’s politics.
With the roll-call done, and the band cranking out easy listening, we’re now waiting for the evening’s speeches. The Party has caught a break there too — they were pissing themselves, given that Mike Huckabee had poll position, before Monday’s events were cancelled. Huckabee remains the most high-profile defender of Senate candidate Todd Akin, the “r-pe does not cause pregnancy” guy — now joined by Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, who claimed that pregnancy out of wedlock was the same as that from r-pe.
Huckabee has said that the “conservative movement should not leave its wounded soldiers in the field”, and Democratic operatives will be hoping against hope that some will heed his call. But his speech is now buried in the extended Tuesday roll-call, and the GOP is hoping that he will be forgotten under the impact of Ann Romney and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who will be speaking tonight — sadly, after the Crikey deadline.
For the GOP to put a lot of faith in Christie is well warranted — the guy is phenomenal, a gutsy speaker, a sane northern right-centrist, quick-witted on the fly. Were the Republicans able to select someone like Christie as candidate, the Democrats would be in deep trouble — he’d be competitive in the New South (Virginia and North Carolina), the rustbelt Northeast, and he could bang a wedge into the Democrat stronghold of New England and the north, bring Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine and god knows what else into play. Thankfully, the religious Right regard him as no better than a Democrat. Will the party ever choose a Chris Christie again? Should Romney lose, will there be an internal party revolt against their strictures, in order to make the party competitive again? The party’s mind might be focused by the dire situation of their state-base.
With every Todd Akin style disaster, once-potential-swing states like Oregon or Minnesota are more securely folded into the Democratic base, on cultural-political grounds. But what really terrifies the Republicans is the prospect of a 2016 “southern surprise” — whereby the Democrats choose a white, male, personally conservative and religious southern governor or leading politician. At that point, the Democrats could bring Arizona into full play, nail down Florida, and even — prize of prizes — make Texas competitive.
But that’s 2016, and in 2012 the Democrats’ problems are phenomenal.
Though Obama continues to lead by a solid 2-3% in the vote — in the swing states, where it matters — they are being outspent in attack ads, coming from the soft-money SuperPACs let loose by Citizens United, and matched by relentless direct attacks from Romney himself. There is no question that these attacks, which at the moment centre around a false accusation that Obama has abolished the “welfare to work” component attached to welfare payments. The intent is clear, and is connected to the veep choice of Paul Ryan, the whitest man ever — it is to paint President Obama as a welfare raider, gaining the White House, so as he can dish out free stuff to his homies. It is disgusting stuff, based as it is on falsehoods, and is a measure of the Republicans’ desperation, in face of the momentous task in gathering six or so swing states into their fold.
Still, that’s all in the game. It’s worrying that the Democrats, having come out fighting about Bain Capital earlier on, have now substituted a pretty mellow line, with an ad from Bill Clinton, talking about rebuilding the middle class. Some sort of sly, well-researched strategy, a la “hey — we’re the sane party?” Or a fatal imperiousness, a la the worst of the Kerry campaign, an unwillingness to descend from the Presidency to the muck of politics? Hard to know. Team Obama is willing to get down to hand-to-hand combat, more so than past Democrat campaigns, but at crucial moments they seem to wig out, and duck the fight.
That may not be their major problem. That may come from the GOP’s concerted attack on voter registration, via the control that state governments – many of them Republican in Obama-voting states — have over the voting procedure. There is no problem with voter fraud in the US — time after time it has been shown that the minimal number of double-votes, or non-enrolled votes has not affected a single result. But GOP state governments are using the idea of photo ID as a de facto poll tax, to deter the poor, the poorly educated, and the simply marginal from even turning up. This move — through the pressure group “True the Vote” — may well be enough to finish Obama off.
Furthermore, in trying to fight that off, he is hamstrung by the lack of enthusiasm for his programme. Leaving aside his imperial foreign policy, the man has got through a universal health care policy that Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt on have been trying to pass. He has pioneered the DREAM Act, to take the pressure off “illegal” immigrants. He has done a thousand small things that make life less harsh for the forty per cent of Americans who live in a state of precarious existence — festooned with the products of a consumer society, but one pay check away from penury. And on and on. All this against a Congress that was hostile, even when it was Democrat-controlled. The “voter rights” demonstration that “besieged” the convention today, was three hundred people, if it was that.
But for all that he has done, Obama gets no respect. The poor have deserted him, and I don’t blame them. But so too has liberal capital — the George Soros’s etc, who see no difference between Obama and Romney, and will not stump up for his re-election. It’s a weird thing — it’s the billionaires who say that Obama isn’t left enough, while he’s been then most genuinely left President since FDR. I despair.
Back to the convention. We’ve had Rick Santorum, the forgotten man. He did a shtick about “his father’s hands” which went down only all right — sort of like an OK Springsteen song … got tepid applause, and then he said he wanted to protect “every child in America, the born and the unborn” and that got a roar and a standing ovation.
Now, as I file, we are midway through Ann Romney. And for a new England dressage matron, she is pretty goddam good. But will have to wait for tomorrow …
*Guy Rundle files each day from the Republican National Convention, before heading to North Carolina for the Democratic party next week. Sign up now for this subscriber-only content.