UPDATE: As of 11:40 a.m., RedState’s Erick Erickson is reporting that there is another rules fight that could shut out grassroots conservatives.¬† Click here to read.
TAMPA, Fla.‚?? Less than 24 hours before a highly controversial rules change threatened to cause a serious fight before the full Republican convention, a counter strike by conservatives diffused the measure that would have surely marred Mitt Romney‚??s triumphant week‚??and, almost surely, raised fresh doubts about Romney among the party‚??s grass roots conservatives.
The rules change adopted by the full convention Rules Committee at its meeting last Friday (August 25), would have given presidential candidates, rather than state parties, the last word in deciding just what individuals would be delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention. With opponents arguing a heavy‚??handed power play and poised to take their opposition to the full convention Tuesday afternoon, Human Events learned last night that the first major convention floor fight in years had been averted at the last minute.
In large part, sources told us, this was the due to the part played by Indiana Republican National Committeeman James Bopp, Jr., himself a veteran conservative activist and authority on party rules.
Under the proposed rules change, a presidential candidate in 2016 would have the right to disavow national convention delegates from any state after they were elected by state party conventions or state committee meetings. Even if those delegates were committed by a primary to that candidate and simply affirming what voters had decided, the revised rule (officially Rule 15/16) would have given the presidential candidate the power to reject those individuals and require selection of another slate of delegates.
‚??It really would have given tremendous power in the party to an incumbent president and greater control of the convention to a nominee,‚?Ě Michigan‚??s GOP National Committeeman Saul Anuzis told Human Events, ‚??Although delegates are bound to vote for the choice of the primary, convention or caucus at the national convention, they are not bound on matters such as rules, credentials, and the platform. So when you give the nominee control over who the individuals are, who are convention delegates, you give him or her new power over a lot of things.‚?Ě
Sources we talked to said that Rule 15/16 was the work of Washington D.C. attorney Ben Ginsburg, who is associated with the Romney campaign. The measure was passed by the full, 116-member Rules Committee at its meeting in Tampa on Friday. But since opponents gathered the signatures of 29 members of the Rules Committee, party by-laws required a debate and vote by the full convention when it convened the following week.
Revolt on the right
Clearly smelling a rat and an assault on the rights of state parties, conservatives mobilized opposition to Rule 15/16 over the weekend. Party leaders in Texas spoke out against the plan, and were quickly followed by opposition from party organzations in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, and Virginia. At one point, the phones at the Tennessee GOP state headquarters were shut down after a flood of irate calls protesting Rule 15/16, one source told us.
There was some talk among convention delegates arriving in Tampa Sunday that the rules rewrite was not a power grab but rather a reaction to the actions of Ron Paul‚??s supporters. In several states, including some where Romney had won the primary, Paul people had taken over conventions and won the delegates slots themselves over Romney supporters. But several opponents who were not Paul supporters told Human Events that their opposition was based solely on national party insiders infringing on the autonomy of state organizations.
Delaware State Chairman John Sigler seemed to speak for many when he told Human Events,‚??I don‚??t know who‚??s behind this or who it‚??s aimed at, but when you start telling state parties what to do, I get mad.‚?Ě
Averting the fight
With Republicans poised for their first fight over party rules on the convention floor since 1972, supporters began reaching out to opponents early in the week. At noon on Monday (August 28), Human Events learned, a closed-door meeting was held on the tenth floor of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Tampa between Republican National Committee members Henry Barbour of Mississippi (nephew of Haley), Ron Kaufman of Massachusetts (a close associate of Romney), John Ryder of Tennessee, and Bopp. After considerable discussion, Bopp took out his own legal pad and wrote a substitute rule.
‚??[Proponents] wanted delegates bound to a candidate, and I wanted the state parties to have the complete say over who was a delegate,‚?Ě Bopp later told us, ‚??That was agreed to.‚?Ě Bopp‚??s words were then put in the language of party rules and Romney campaign lawyer Katie Bieber Chin, was contacted to give her approval.
But to call this the ‚??Bopp compromise‚?Ě is a bit of overstatement: since state party rules have long required delegates to be bound to candidates who win primaries, the new rule simply stated the obvious but now made clear that who those delegates would be was up to state parties and no one else.
Put another way, the rules change that threatened the party with so much controversy was gone and the goal of conservatives was put on the books. In the process, a debate and a distraction was avoided that would have caused nothing but problems for Republicans‚??notably Mitt Romney.