Since when did Republicans start acting like Democrats?
In the late 1970s, when the New Left activists grew into power, the Democratic Party became a sloppy mess. National conventions, such as the one held in San Francisco in 1984, devolved into spectacles of infighting and floor fights. The scene was, in a word, democratic.
Republicans, meanwhile, possessed an astonishing party discipline. A Barry Goldwater or Pat Buchanan may have threatened the establishment once in a while, but the GOP’s leaders invariably whipped everyone into line. Even Ronald Reagan, once seen as an ideologue and outsider, wove himself into the party’s leadership with a minimum of fuss. Everyone knew the script.
This year, the Mitt Romney campaign has barely been able to put on a convention. The awkwardness began two weeks earlier, when Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin made his comments about “legitimate rape,” and the Republican establishment did everything it could to drive him out of the race, wasting a week in an effort to dislodge a tea partier who, it discovered, didn’t care what it thought.
And then there’s the convention itself. The GOP can’t be blamed for Hurricane Isaac, but the decision to reschedule Ann Romney’s speech for Tuesday, and follow her with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was catastrophic. Ann Romney’s speech, which was designed to address Mitt Romney’s low standing among female voters and alternated between encomiums to womanhood and Hallmark memories of Mitt Romney’s courtship, was almost immediately obliterated by Christie’s hypermasculine contempt for love. In fact, Christie barely mentioned Romney or President Barack Obama at all, seeming to hype his own presidential run in 2016.
Romney’s people had seen a transcript of Christie’s speech. They knew what he was going to say. And they let this happen anyway. Karl Rove would never have blundered like this.
Romney’s message was further derailed by an intraparty squabble over who had was the power to seat delegates, which designed to minimize the influence of outsiders such as Ron Paul, but mostly led to angry chants and parliamentary bickering.
The snafus continued. Condoleeza Rice was given a choice speaking slot, but didn’t mention George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, which only led viewers to wonder why they stayed home. Sarah Palin got the cold shoulder, and Fox News banned her from appearing on the network, prompting her to complain on her Facebook page.
This is a party in disarray. The GOP, which once enjoyed lockstep obedience, now faces a tea party it unleashed but cannot control. The Republican Party is afflicted with the democratic impulses it used to contain so well. Now it can’t even put on a decent dog-and-pony show.
This is bad news for Romney, who has banked his election chances on the notion that he knows how to get things done. He did his best on Thursday night, but all anyone can talk about is Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing conversation with an empty chair, the extravagant hype leading up to it, and why anyone didn’t think this through.
The cavalcade of mishaps will do little to convince voters that Romney is the no-nonsense businessman he says he is. The Republican’s base has spoken, and its message is, “We don’t really know what we’re doing.”