Glinda the Good Witch was actually Helen Vanetta, 57, a Topeka doctor who serves on the rules committee, which had been in tense talks with supporters of Rep. Ron Paul and other grass-roots activists. This was the big issue of the day Tuesday, the new rules that would give party elites more power over delegate selection. No problem, Vanetta said, it’s been worked out. The Paul camp would be satisfied, she said.
“Point of order! Point of order!” the Paulites shouted in a fruitless protest as party bosses pushed through the adoption of the rules.
Political conventions in the modern era are group-hug spectacles, particularly on television. There is one main purpose, which is the canonization of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. But conventions are rowdier down on the floor, in the corridors, in the hotel bars.
The Republicans collectively are far more conservative these days — moderates are a mere rumor — but the GOP is hardly homogeneous. Party elites find themselves in charge of an unruly and unpredictable coalition.
Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, standing in his state’s delegation on the forum floor Tuesday, ticked off the elements of his party: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, tea party patriots, libertarians, evangelicals, neocons.
“I wish we were as homogenized as the Democrats. But we’re not,” Gilmore said. “Our party — my God — they’re all over the place. Makes it harder to win elections.”
By and large, the GOP delegates seem to be fired up and optimistic. Like Linda and Calvin Dykstra of Michigan, who were finishing each other’s sentences.
But Mitt Romney’s and Paul’s delegates speak different languages. Although Romney and Paul personally seemed to have a strategic alliance of sorts during the campaign — they took pains not to criticize one another — their supporters have not meshed seamlessly at this convention.
Ask a Paulite about the ticket and his response is lukewarm at best, followed, almost reflexively, by references to Romney running mate Paul Ryan’s votes in Congress for the Patriot Act (which the Paulites see as the heavy boot of government squashing personal freedom) and the bank bailout.
In an interview with Fox News, Paul himself declined to endorse Romney. “Put me down as undecided,” he said. He added that he wouldn’t try to rein in his followers. “They’re going to do what they want to do,” Paul said.
Many Paul supporters feel shoved to the periphery and threatened by rules changes.