TAMPA -- Mitt Romney -- and the broader Republican party (still) have a Ron Paul problem.
That's nothing new. After all, the prospect of what the Texas Republican -- and his fervent supporters -- would do at the Republican National Convention has long been an issue for the presidential nominee and a party establishment that wants Romney's nomination to proceed as smoothly as possible. (Way back in January we wrote that Paul was the most dangerous man in the Republican party.)
But the lingering divide between Romney and Paul supporters broke into open display on the convention floor Tuesday afternoon in the moments before the formal program for the day began.
As Paul toured the convention floor -- wearing a white dress shirt and green lei (yes, you read that right) -- shouts of "Ron Paul" broke out. They were answered by shouts of "Mitt Romney". The Paul people then began chanting "let him speak" -- Paul is not included in the official convention speaking schedule -- and demanding that the full Maine delegation be seated. (Last week, the RNC re-oriented the Maine delegation to exclude some Paul delegates citing irregularities in how they were elected.)
Then came a very public fight on the floor over rules changes favored by the national party establishment and opposed by the Paul forces. Grassroots activists and Paul supporters came up shy in their effort to beat back two major rule changes, but the back and forth led the Maine delegation to walk off the floor in protest.
Optics matter at conventions. In fact, given the lack of actual news made at these conventions, optics may be the only thing that matters. And Paul messes with those optics.
To be clear, none of the attention Paul has drawn today impeded Romney from being formally nominated as the presidential nominee or will rival the amount of press attention that the speeches by Ann Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will get tonight. Even so, people at a Republican national convention chanting "President Paul" is not exactly a dream scenario for the party big wigs.
Establishment Republicans can comfort themselves with the fact that the GOP convention will almost certainly be Ron Paul's last hurrah in national politics. (He has already run for president three times and is retiring from Congress at the end of this term.)
Of course, there's little doubt in anyone's mind that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- Ron's son -- has his eye on a national candidacy sometime in the next four or eight years. So it may be trouble delayed but not dodged for the party from its Paul faction.