This is not Mitt Romney’s first Republican National Convention. Forty-eight years ago this summer, 17-year-old Mitt went with his father, Michigan Governor George Romney, to the party’s 1964 convention in San Francisco. As the party prepared to nominate Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for the presidency, Mitt watched as his father fought to prevent the party’s lurch to the right.
George Romney, who traced the struggle for racial justice to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, believed that Goldwater’s opposition to federal civil rights legislation meant that the presumptive nominee’s “views deviate as indicated from the heritage of our party.” There is no place in either of our parties for “purveyors of hate,” Romney said, arguing that the GOP needed to embrace the civil rights struggle and reject the extremism of far-right groups such as the John Birch Society. But the Republican Party rejected platform planks proposed by the elder Romney and other moderates and went all-in for extremism. With that, George Romney walked out of the convention.
There will be no such effort to dial back the extremism of this year’s GOP platform, which includes a “human life amendment” banning abortion, support for voter suppression schemes, endorsement of Arizona-style immigration laws, and a full embrace of Paul Ryan’s positions on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus admits that the platform is frequently at odds with Mitt Romney’s stated positions. But isn’t Mitt Romney effectively the leader of the Republicans? Why isn’t he objecting to stances that “deviate…from the heritage of our party”?
The answer is not that Romney is some kind of right-wing purist. His lack of a coherent conservatism is what scared conservatives so much that they supported, literally, anyone else. Ultimately, Romney bent enough to the demands of the right to secure the nomination. Mitt Romney defers to the extremism that his father battled as a matter of principle.
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With Hurricane Isaac poised to brush Tampa Bay, Republicans postponed the start of their convention by a day. But sensitivity to the impact of major storms is little more than optics. Since assuming control of the House, Republicans have consistently played politics with disaster relief funds and slashed the budgets of storm-monitoring agencies, executing the same small-government-at-all-costs mentality that led to widespread destruction in New Orleans. When the GOP nominated Paul Ryan as its vice-presidential candidate on Tuesday night, they put a man who proposed steep cuts to disaster relief funds—reductions so radical that GOP appropriators in the House chose to ignore them—on the ticket.
Republicans have also starved the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the money it needs to respond to natural disasters, holding FEMA hostage to budget battles last summer until cuts were finally made elsewhere. They also passed a resolution in early 2011 cutting $450 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding that the president requested. The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, saw a $126 million reduction.
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It’s against Congressional ethics rules for lobbyists to throw parties for lawmakers at their national conventions, but on Monday night in Tampa, I learned how easily the system can be gamed. Only about a half-mile from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a front group called GOP Convention Strategies threw a party for transportation “leaders” in Congress. Since GOP Convention Strategies isn’t a registered lobbyist, it was free to do so. But it was clear to everyone involved who was paying for the party. That would be the big transportation companies whose logos were plastered all over party materials.
For $20,000, a corporation could “sponsor” the GOP Convention Strategies event, which would give it prominent placement on all advertising as well as twenty-five tickets to the party and a chance to address the crowd. “In reality, lobbyists are behind this party, but the ethics rules are too porous to recognize the reality,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen.
Representative John Mica, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was holding court on the patio. His committee passed a massive transportation bill this year that stripped rail-industry workers of federal minimum wage and overtime protections. I caught Senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking member (and potential future chair) of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a key figure in getting that transportation bill through the Senate, coming out of the party. When I asked who was throwing the event, he responded, “It’s a transportation thing. Transportation industry.” When I asked whether he spoke with any lobbyists, Inhofe answered, “It’s funny, I don’t remember meeting many.” Then his staff shooed me away (calling me a “punk” for good measure).