If you've been watching the news about the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Florida, allow me to offer you a perspective you may not hear every day - that of an American Ron Paul Republican.
I am a Precinct Committeeman in my local Republican Party (RP), which is a low-level party office. For the last six years I have been a Ron Paul supporter. For those politically homeless Americans who value civil liberties, scepticism of war, and social liberalism of the so-called 'left', yet want the smaller government, reduced spending, and sound money often preached about from the 'right', Ron Paul and his libertarian, classical liberal philosophy has offered a welcoming home.
Unlike in the UK, where you have viable alternatives to the two prevailing parties (I am particularly enamoured with the Monster Raving Loony Party), the Republicans and Democrats in America have created high petition thresholds for ballot access that make it next to impossible for third parties to compete. Until the 1970s, the RP was largely the party of "Peace and Prosperity". It championed individual liberties and freedom from state control. The Evangelical Christian neo-conservative movements came later.
I watched every Republican debate in 2008 and cheered for an unassuming man with strange beliefs about ending the Federal Reserve and bringing our troops home from not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but the roughly 900 other American bases around the world. I cheered while he openly challenged and contradicted eight years of Bush-era missteps, warned of coming economic calamity (which indeed came) and made his rivals on the Republican stage look like stooges by comparison.
I was so inspired by what this man was saying, I decided to get involved in politics. I ran for a delegate spot at my state's Republican Convention so I would have a chance to voice my concerns over the direction of the Party.
The way conventions work has been a source of confusion even for Americans. In short, conventions are a way for a large organisation to conduct business and give all members a say. Each state holds a convention, which is made up of delegates from each county and precinct. The delegates are elected by their Republican neighbours in their precinct. This is a fair process because it supposedly champions activism and ensures the higher ups play by the rules. Ron Paul supporters have used Conventions and rules to their advantage. Through diligent organization we've been able to offset his lack of media exposure by flooding the Conventions in each State.
The Indiana Republican Convention in 2008 was the first time I witnessed how party officials work to stamp out grassroots efforts. On the eve of the convention, against its own rules, a backroom committee made it so delegates could not nominate the people we wanted to become national delegates from the floor. All we could do was vote on their pre-chosen slate of delegates, people hand-picked by the party establishment to carry out their bidding without question. This was done specifically to thwart the Ron Paul grassroots.
Fast forward to 2012... The same shenanigans have occurred this election cycle at state conventions around the country. Ron Paul supporters who have followed all the rules to become duly elected delegates to represent the other Republicans in the conventions have seen their delegate status challenged and many have been arbitrarily removed by high party officials in the name of presenting a "united front" for the cameras. The Republican National Committee has violated its own rules on numerous occasions in this effort to quell dissent.
In a blatant attempt to prevent Paul supporters from entering his name into nomination in Tampa, a motion was made to change the threshold a candidate needs to be officially nominated from five states (a number in which Paul had a plurality) to eight states. They also arbitrarily removed 10 duly elected delegates from the state of Maine, all Paul supporters, and installed 10 new delegates of Romney's choosing ensuring that state could not make a motion to nominate him. There are videos circulating the net right now that show that motion and vote along with several other instances where the chairman refused to hear calls for "division" of the house, which is essentially a call for a paper ballot or roll call vote.
There are even reports from Ron Paul delegates at the convention they are being forced to first sign an agreement concocted by the Romney team saying they will not oppose anything to collect their credentials to enter the convention. Other reports charge that states in which Paul had a majority of delegates found their modes of transport to the convention were running late or were redirected.
I am convinced the efforts put forward by party insiders to quiet grassroots activism will ultimately be its downfall. Even if you don't agree with Ron Paul, it cannot be denied he has inspired a generation of young Americans to become active in politics, and in the RP. His campaigns have been beset on all sides by media obfuscation and party roadblocks, yet he has commanded the most fervent and loyal following of any American political candidate for decades outside Barack Obama. While Paul routinely spoke to overflow capacity crowds of four, six, and eight thousand supporters, Romney had embarrassing turnouts where he had to reposition cameras in empty stadiums to create the illusion he had support.
In my home state of Indiana, Ron Paul spent no money or time campaigning, yet still mustered about 16% or 100,000 votes in the primary. This result was about average for the country. The problem for Romney is that 16% of hardcore Republican voters could easily cost him the election. Ron Paul could exacerbate his problems with four simple words: "I endorse Gary Johnson," who is the Libertarian Party (LP) candidate for President.
The LP is the third largest political party in America after the Democrats and Republicans. They have traditionally found themselves on the margins of the American political conversation, but in this age of anger over ballooning debt and government bailouts, the LP has never been more popular. Many of its supporters are disgusted former Republicans. With the margins of victory in most states for Presidential candidates under 3%, a lot rides on how marginal groups like independent voters and libertarians swing. The antics at the RNC may have just sealed Romney's fate. By spitting in the faces of the Ron Paul delegation, the Romney people have burned the very bridges they should have been reinforcing, and they have proven to many of us we were right in not supporting him in the first place.