Anyone who has ever read an Ayn Rand novel or George Orwell’s 1984 is familiar with the lifeless patterning of the propaganda state, where the big lie is repeated so steadily that it is eventually mistaken for truth. As speaker after speaker on the opening night of the Republican National Convention took their turns at spinning a “We Built It” fantasy—based not on what President Obama said or intended to say about small business but on an imagining of what might turn the maximum number of voters against the president—the Grand Old Party opted for repetition over revelation.
Aside from Ann Romney’s assurance that what she has with her husband of forty-three years is a “real marriage,” the only compelling speeches and storylines of the night came from the candidates the Republican Party rejected. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and, even more consequentially, the absent Ron Paul.
Paul was not allowed on the RNC stage because, of course, he does not back Mitt Romney. And because he says this his “revolution”—as opposed to Paul Ryan’s retrenchment—is “the future.”
Santorum got a prime-time speaking spot, in return for agreeing to pretend to be happy about endorsing the candidate he once blasted as the “worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.”
Despite his awkward circumstance, Santorum brought the crowd to its feet with a speech so rhetorically rich that delegates were instantly reminded that it was Mitt Romney’s money—not his personal appeal or his message—that won him the nomination. Santorum, the Anyone-But-Romney candidate who came closest to stopping Romney, tried to connect not just with the base but with a broader electorate that actually works for a living.
“I shook the hand of the American Dream. And it has a strong grip,” Santorum said, recalling the appeals to working Americans that distinguished his primary campaign from Romney’s regal run. “I shook hands of farmers and ranchers who made America the bread basket of the world. Hands weathered and worn. And proud of it. I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us. I gripped hands that work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks and grocery stores. Hands that serve and care for all of us. I clasped hands of men and women in uniform and their families. Hands that sacrifice and risk all to protect and keep us free. And hands that pray for their safe return home. I held hands that are in want. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job, hands growing weary of not finding one but refusing to give up hope.”
As Santorum spoke, not on the message of the night but on a deeper message of outreach to working-class voters delivered in the language both parties once employed, the crowd that packed the great hall roared with approval—if not entirely for the political point, then surely for the relief from the drab repetition that defined “We Built It” night. This was not the empty rhetoric molded by the mandarins who have managed the life out of the fortieth Republican National Convention.
The only speech that might have been more engaging would have been the one that wasn’t delivered—by Paul.
Unfortunately, Paul was not being allowed near any official microphones.
Paul was the Romney challenger who stayed in the race longest, and who won almost 200 delegate votes. (The actual delegate vote for Paul was hard to measure, as RNC officials only announced votes for Romney during Tuesday night’s roll call, but the Seatte Times counted 193 for Paul.)
Not that many years ago, coming second in the convention vote might have guaranteed Paul a convention speaking slot.
At this convention, it guaranteed him—and his supporters—treatment so rough that his supporters, the largest dissident block on the floor, openly accused party chair Reince Priebus and his team of “corruption.”
Paul backers had enough delegates and support in the states to have their candidate’s name put in nomination. But that didn’t count in the Priebus party. As the New York Times noted: “Delegates from Nevada tried to nominate Mr. Paul from the floor, submitting petitions from their own state as well as Minnesota, Maine, Iowa, Oregon, Alaska and the Virgin Islands. That should have done the trick: Rules require signatures from just five states. But the party changed the rules on the spot. Henceforth, delegates must gather petitions from eight states.”
But Priebus did not just rewrite the rules of 2012. More ominously, he and the Romney team rewrote the rules of 2016. The party brass engineered a fundamental change in the next nominating process in order to assure that neither Paul—nor anyone else as interesting, or dissenting—will ever again be able to beat the establishment at its own game and win substantial numbers of delegates. The Paul delegates, many Tea Party conservatives and a number of renegade Romney delegates objected, creating the only real drama of the day, and the convention.
As Priebus and his allies gaveled objections down, the Paul delegates shouted their disapproval from the back-of-the-hall seats to which states with substantial Paul contingents had been relegated. “It’s a coronation,” said David Aiello, a medical student from Rhode who, like many Paul delegates, complained that “the party leaders, the people in charge, they don’t want a real debate. That’s obvious this week.”
Aiello, 25 years old, savvy, smart and highly engaged, is precisely the sort of young person the Grand Old Party needs to bring into its ranks. “That’s what I thought,” said Aiello. “But I’m not getting that vibe.”
Some Paul delegates were so offended that they exited the convention. Others speculated about whether they would back the GOP ticket. And libertarian-leaning young voters across the country got a signal that they weren’t really wanted at the Grand Old Party. In a fall race where it is likely that many states will be decided by narrow margins, the disregard for these voters (who might sit the election out, might vote for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson or might even consider Obama and the Democrats) could come back to haunt the Romney campaign.
Paul said Tuesday that his delegates felt they had been treated “atrociously.”
And, no, Paul added, he will not be rushing to join the Romney team.
“I haven’t made up my mind,” he told Fox. “Put me down as undecided.”
Paul Ryan has tried to secure Paul’s endorsement, claiming that the Romney-Ryan ticket will appeal to Paul’s supporters. After all, the platform references the Gold Standard.
But Paul’s not so easily bought.
“I have not endorsed the ticket,” Paul explained Tuesday. “I endorsed the principles I have been talking about.… I endorse peace, prosperity, individual liberty and the Constitution. I am more intent on that than on the politics.”
Read more of The Nation’s coverage on the RNC:
Ben Adler, “GOP’s Ladies’ Night: Will It Work?”