Bad blood within the Republican Party is threatening to spoil Mitt Romney’s big moment.
Flocks of Ron Paul delegates have been parading around the Republican National Convention in Tampa, taunting Mr. Romney’s supporters. They accuse Romney operatives of trying to silence them by pushing through rule changes that prevent Mr. Paul’s name from being entered for nomination at the convention.
The rift between the libertarian congressman’s delegates and the Romney people is a nightmare for convention organizers eager put on a show of party unity. And it adds to the pall cast over Mr. Romney’s coming out party as he rebounds from an untimely abortion controversy and griping from GOP moderates about the party’s rightward turn.
Perhaps most damaging of all, the effort to keep Mr. Paul under wraps is depriving the GOP of high-octane activists. Their youth and energy are badly needed in a party whose rapidly aging membership actually remembers when the United States used the gold standard. Mr. Paul’s push to bring it back has excited a new generation of would-be Republicans.
“I see all these young people and, to me, the Republican Party is shutting them out by shutting Ron Paul out,” said Kim Beneli, 57, a Paul delegate from Arizona. “If the Republican Party wants to talk about being the people’s party, we should have a voice instead of being censored.”
Mr. Paul amassed more than two million votes in the Republican primaries, or 11 per cent of all those cast. He finished fourth overall. But unlike runners-up Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Mr. Paul has not released his delegates to back Mr. Romney.
Convention organizers are so worried Mr. Paul’s delegates could make a scene during the official roll call – the moment when state delegations each shout out their support for the nominee – they have scheduled the vote for Tuesday afternoon. Normally, the roll call takes place at night so that the major broadcast networks can capture the hoopla.
Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan – a one-time libertarian disciple who once gave his entire staff copies of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for Christmas – tried to smooth things over with Mr. Paul’s supporters on Monday.
“We see eye to eye on a lot of issues,” he told Fox News. “So I think, in the final analysis, Ron and his supporters should be very comfortable with us.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, they’re not.
The 77-year-old Mr. Paul, who is not seeking re-election to his Texas seat this year, refused the conditions set by the Romney campaign for a speaking slot at the convention. They wanted to vet the speech and asked Mr. Paul to formally endorse Mr. Romney first.
“It wouldn’t be my speech,” Mr. Paul told The New York Times on Sunday. “That would undo everything I’ve done in the past 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president.”
Instead, Mr. Paul spoke for an hour on Sunday before an estimated 10,000 supporters at a nearby Tampa stadium, delighting the crowd of young followers with his call for limited government, an end to U.S. military intervention abroad and the abolition of the U.S. central bank.
Organizers announced that the convention will be shown a tribute video to Mr. Paul early Tuesday evening, before the main broadcast networks begin their coverage. Mr. Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, will speak afterwards. But the gesture has done nothing to placate Mr. Paul’s supporters.
“What they need to understand is that we are the future of the Republican Party,” said Paul delegate John Laurie, 36, a firefighter from Arizona. “In November, if Ron Paul is not the Republican nominee, I will write him in” on the ballot.
For his part, Ryan Dickerson, a 27-year-old Paul supporter from Dallas, said he is done with the GOP and intends to vote for Libertarian candidate Ron Johnson this fall.
“I would be willing to stay if they treated him fairly,” he offered. “But they just blew him off.”
Washington state delegate Paul Hess, a Romney supporter, said that instead of complaining, Mr. Paul’s supporters should be heartened by the influence they have had in the GOP. For the first time, he noted, the party platform includes a provision calling for a congressional audit of the Federal Reserve, a measure Mr. Paul has long advocated.
“I would say to the Ron Paul people: ‘That is movement in your direction.’ ”
Mr. Hess’s fellow Washington delegate, Hossein Khorram, concurred.
“Ron Paul brings a great deal of enthusiasm into the Republican Party,” he said. “But in any competition there are losers and winners. This is democracy in motion.”