Inter-party tension exposed at RNC

TAG: writing sample; journalism

Piece originally published Sep. 2012

In living rooms across the country, people watching the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., saw a party united behind its presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Congressman Paul Ryan, D-Wis.

But what most Americans did not see may be the biggest takeaway from the convention.

Tension between Republicans who supported the Romney-Ryan ticket and the vocal minority supporters of iconic Texas Congressman Ron Paul was palpable and reflects the realities of a diverse party oftentimes at odds with itself.

Thousands of Paul supporters, a significant number of them in their teens and 20s, descended on Tampa in late August, bringing with them Ron Paul signs, Ron Paul T-shirts, Ron Paul pins and lots of Ron Paul noise.

While Paul ran for President as a Republican, his ideas diverge from the established GOP platform in several key areas. He is Libertarian, meaning he does not think government should interfere in issues like marriage, drugs and abortion. He is also anti-war and has advocated for certain fiscal and monetary policies that do not have unanimous GOP backing, like a return to the gold standard.

Known for his lone-wolf politics, only one of the 620 bills Paul has sponsored during his more than 22 years in Congress has been signed into law.

However, the recent emergence of the Tea Party movement has brought many of his ideas into the mainstream political spotlight, and some of his previously contentious proposals, like the “Audit the Fed” legislation which would investigate the activities of the Federal Reserve, are gaining traction.

Still, Joe Diedrich, Director of Operations for the UW-Madison chapter of the libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty, says there is a big difference between the Tea Party and Ron Paul.

“A lot of Tea Partiers are right along with the Republican party in terms of foreign policy and in terms of civil liberties issues, where Ron Paul is different in those respects,” Diedrich explained.

Even though Paul supporters, Tea Party supporters and party line Republicans all fall under the umbrella of conservatism, the differences are often stark and were on full display in Tampa.

At a Paul rally outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum the night of Romney’s speech, a Romney supporter screamed at a Paul supporter, “This is bull sh**! Ron Paul is talking non-Republican!”

The Paul supporter quickly responded, “We are the Republican Party.”

Diedrich said this November, a lot of Paul supporters will not vote for Romney because “they think Romney is not much different than Obama.” Diedrich said the GOP presidential nominee has not yet earned his vote.

“The Republican Party would have been, and would be going forward, wise to include a lot of what Ron Paul stands for,” he said. “Not only in the platform but in their actions in congress and other governmental spheres.”

However, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said he thinks such inter-party conflict is not anything new, nor is it bad for the party.

“Both political parties have a pretty broad spectrum of individuals with a broad spectrum of beliefs,” Johnson told The Daily Cardinal at the RNC. “What pulls a party together are the main issues, the big priorities that people agree on.”

If those issues, which are the size of government and increasing national debt, according to Johnson, are what’s pulling the party together, then differing stances on social issues seem to be driving it apart.

Paul has a huge, enthusiastic youth following, and University of Wisconsin-Madison College Republicans Chair Jeff Snow said Paul’s libertarian social views and fiscal conservatism is what attracts a loyal youthful following and the party may have to adapt its platform in the future to keep up with the social leanings of the coming generation.

“That’s the trend that’s happening,” Snow said at the RNC. “More youth voters tend to be more fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

Early this summer, Paul held a rally at the Memorial Union Terrace that attracted thousands of excited and enthusiastic UW-Madison students.

Time will tell what the long-term impact the Paul movement and its youthful following will have on the Republican Party, but his influence within the Republican Party at the convention was hard to ignore.