Where do Ron and Rand Paul fit in at the GOP convention?
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has announced an initial list of seven prominent Republicans who will speak at the party’s national convention in Tampa later this month.
But the list, which includes five current and former governors, a U.S. senator, and a former secretary of state does not include either Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) or his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The list will be built out in the coming weeks, but it’s still worth exploring where the Pauls – two figures with intense national followings – fit in at Mitt Romney’s nominating convention. They can’t be ignored entirely, but featuring them too prominently is also a risky proposition for the GOP.
For Republicans, there are both benefits and drawbacks to including either of the Pauls on the list of convention speakers. Generating enthusiasm among a vocal base of activists is an argument in favor of promoting them. Ron Paul attracted strong support at numerous GOP presidential straw polls in 2011 and his loyal legion of fans often travel across the country to back him. Before Romney won the straw poll at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Paul was the victor there two years in a row.
One could also make a compelling argument to include the younger Paul as a speaker. Rand Paul’s unlikely 2010 Senate campaign victory, which the opthamologist won in the face of establishment opposition, has made him a popular figure in the tea party — and one who is well-positioned to inherit the mantle of his father, who is retiring at the end of the current Congress.
Ron Paul’s supporters, meanwhile, are eager for him to have a visible presence at the convention. Throughout the 2012 primary campaign, the former presidential candidate continued push for delegate support in individual states brought the Texas congressman within range of securing a speaking slot at the convention on his own. He ultimately fell short in Nebraska, where he failed to get the number delegates he needed to guarantee a spot.
But Republicans planning the convention are actively trying to keep the representative — who wasn’t embraced warmly by planners of the 2008 convention — in the mix. They have helped him secure a venue for an Aug. 26 rally in Tampa and are keeping his platform committee delegates involved in the platform assembly process.
That said, a speaking role would be several steps above offering organizational help. It would mean direct exposure to a national audience — which would be a political risk for convention organizers. Political moderates, for example, could be turned off by the congressman’s out-of-the-mainstream views, which include the desire to allow states to legalize some drugs and a push to end the Federal Reserve.
Perhaps most notably, although he stopped actively campaigning for the presidency months ago, Paul has not officially endorsed Romney for president, which makes justification of a speaking role a hard sell for organizers. Unless his position changes, Rand Paul, who has offered the presumptive nominee his official backing, would be the likelier bet to snag a speaking slot.
“I can tell you that both Ron and Rand will have an important role in the convention and their supporters and ideals will be well represented,” said Jesse Benton, who managed Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Benton did not provide further details of what specific role the Pauls want to play at the gathering.
Kyle Downey, a convention spokesman, would not comment on whether either Paul would have a speaking role, and said “we plan on announcing more speakers in the days and weeks to come.”
The extent to which Ron Paul has influenced Republican politics has increased in the last four years. And the emergence of his son as a U.S. senator with a national profile is strengthening the reach of the family’s political profile. Whether their brand has grown powerful enough to merit a coveted speaking slot at the convention is a decision Republican organizers will be forced to grapple with as they plan their party’s biggest event of the cycle.