Tampa platform's 5 flashpoints
By: James Hohmann
August 21, 2012 04:30 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney’s motto during two days of marathon meetings here to craft the 2012 Republican platform could be: Do no harm.
In order to keep the peace, his team must concede some things to the conservative base. But the former Massachusetts governor, who will be formally nominated here next week, needs language in the platform crafted broadly enough that he doesn’t end up having to distance himself from unwanted controversies.
This is easier said than done. In the week before the formal opening of the Republican National Convention, Ron Paul supporters, social conservatives and tea partiers all have their own ideas about what today’s GOP stands for — and this year’s platform is likely to be the most conservative in years.
“The document will reflect the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a loyal Romney surrogate picked to chair the platform committee, which will unofficially finalize a platform Tuesday night.
Republicans are basically working on retrofitting a 2008 platform written during George W. Bush’s presidency and full of John McCain’s fingerprints to reflect the party’s shift to the right since its last convention in St. Paul, Minn.
Platforms don’t matter the way they once did. Strom Thurmond, for instance, walked out of the 1948 Democratic convention to run as a third-party candidate after the party passed a civil-rights plank. But they nonetheless remain canvasses on which each party paints its principles.
“They’ve gotten pretty conservative over time,” said American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, who has been attending Republican conventions since 1976. “The conservative community has been more demanding in terms of what the product has to look like … In terms of the last three or four platforms, this one gets the highest score — from me and the ACU.”
During 12 hours of meetings Monday, platform committee co-chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (a Tennessee congresswoman) emphasized electability.
“The end in the near-term is winning in November,” she said. “That is a worthy goal for us to have.”
Eager to avoid controversy, leaders from the Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign spoke extensively with Paul supporters in advance of the platform meeting. They opened a website to take ideas from the public. A professional staff closely tied to the GOP establishment drafted the platform. Copies were distributed to members of the platform committee when they arrived Sunday afternoon.
Draft discussions are public, but the RNC is withholding the platform text from reporters in an effort to prevent the media from disseminating language that hasn’t been agreed to. A final copy will not be released until next week, even though the platform committee will wrap up its business Tuesday.
On Monday, the delegates debated economic, energy and foreign policy. Today, they will debate sections regarding hot-button social issues, government reform and health care.
Below are POLITICO’s guide to the flashpoints of contention as the platform gets drafted:
The Republican platform will once again support the concept of “traditional marriage,” defining it as between a man and a woman. But there are signs that the turning tide of public opinion on the topic might even pervade the GOP after Tuesday’s debate wraps up.
Many of the 11 who won slots on the platform committee and support Paul don’t think it’s government’s place to regulate private behavior. They’re backed up by the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that supports gay rights.
(PHOTOS: 20 gay rights milestones)
The draft being considered does not call for the reinstatement of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a law repealed by President Barack Obama. Instead, it broadly rejects “the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation,” according to a draft approved by a subcommittee Monday.
Though powerful groups like the Family Research Council helped draft the language, the libertarian crowd amended as section on traditional marriage to add a line preaching tolerance.
“We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity,” the working document says.
Another subcommittee added a line “to commend the United States House of Representatives” for fighting the Obama administration on the Defense of Marriage Act.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins expressed confidence that he might still toughen up the language on DADT.
“Let’s wait to see what the final document is,” Perkins said. “You should read the entire plank on marriage, which I wrote. I’m very happy with it.”
Some things have become so enshrined in party orthodoxy that they’re not fundamentally up for debate. Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, a delegate from Missouri, is proud that there’s been no serious push to expand abortion rights in the platform for several years.
The 2012 draft includes support for a Human Life amendment — which would give constitutional protections to the unborn — just as the past three did. “It’s not a controversy anymore,” Schlafly said. “We’ve won that battle.”
But as the committee prepares to consider that language on Tuesday, the blowup surrounding Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” could generate debate about whether the party should allow abortion in the case of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.
Romney is walking a tightrope because he needs the strong support of activists like Schlafly and Perkins, but he also must appeal to independent women if he’s going to win in November. And fueled by comments like Akin’s, which Romney and many Republicans have denounced, Democrats are already trying to paint Romney as a creature of the ’50s who wants to take away women’s rights.
The Bush era saw the ascendance of the neoconservatives, and Romney’s coterie of foreign policy advisers is chock full of defense hawks. But Paul found traction during the primaries with his push to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also has support from a contingent of civil libertarians, who want to limit the government’s police powers in dealing with terrorism. The Paul campaign got much of what they wanted in the platform fights — including a call for an audit of the Federal Reserve — but they could not get support for a ban on indefinite detention of suspected terrorists or a repeal of the National Defense Authorization Act. They’re planning to push for a debate on it Tuesday, even though they know it’s futile.
The Paul folks and some hardened fiscal conservatives unabashedly believe that tackling the deficit requires getting military spending under control. Christopher Stearns, a pro-Paul delegate from Virginia, defends sequestration as necessary and spread out over a long period.
“I don’t want to be looked at as not telling these people the truth,” Stearns said, arguing against language attacking the cuts set to go into effect automatically at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan American Legion has sent leaders to lobby in both party platforms for defense spending. A past national commander of the group urged Republicans Monday not to include any language that limits troop deployments overseas.
“We’re stretching them to the breaking point, and we can’t continue. So we need a bigger force,” said John Brieden, now a Republican county judge from Brenham, Texas. “At this point, if you’re going to be cutting something, it should come from somewhere else.”
Stearns’ effort to remove language opposing automatic cuts failed on a voice vote.
But there was one motion in the foreign policy section everyone could agree with, an error in the draft flagged by North Dakota delegate Kyle Handegard.
“Czechoslovakia,” she said, should be the Czech Republic.
The platform drafted by the RNC for the committee to consider spoke in generalities about tax reform, saying the system should be simplified. That’s the way Romney wants it.
Surprisingly, several platform committee members spoke out in favor of specific tax deductions.
And several supported an amendment that would include special language to preserve of the mortgage interest deduction. Their push failed.
“Anything we can do to incentivize and encourage home ownership matters,” said Clarence Mingo, a delegate from Ohio who works by day as a tax assessor in Columbus.
After multiple delegates spoke, former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (Romney’s point man on the platform committee) pushed back. He said the broader statement was more powerful.
“It avoids getting into specifics about specific areas of the code that might be reformed or changed,” Talent explained.
McDonnell chimed in, warning against picking and choosing breaks in the Tax Code. “Leave that up to the candidates,” the governor said.
Gone from the 2008 platform is support for long-term energy tax credits to support the development of wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower energy. The goal is to make the platform compatible with Romney’s recently expressed opposition to wind tax credits, a stance that’s hurting him in Iowa.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, co-chairman of the committee, said members instead decided to speak in generalities about an all-of-the-above energy policy.
“The language we have is more general,” he said. “How you get there perhaps can differ, but I think it’s consistent with Gov. Romney.”
The GOP platform used to call for the elimination of the Department of Education. It was a centerpiece of Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. Then George W. Bush massively expanded the federal department with his No Child Left Behind Act, which set federal standards and implemented mandates. Over the past decade, the GOP has shifted back toward its traditional views that states best run schools.
This change has mirrored a larger rhetorical embrace of the 10th amendment, which limits federal power. By the count of Paul’s campaign, 32 state Republicans parties have now included 10th amendment-focused provisions in their platforms.
FreedomWorks, a tea party-linked organization run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, offered 12 priorities they wanted in the platform. Ten got included in the initial draft by the RNC staff. Eliminating the Education department was one that didn’t, along with inclusion of a flat tax.
“But despite that, we are incredibly pleased with the language,” said Ryan Hecker, a legal adviser to the group. “It’s very strong in terms of restoring local control.”
During a Monday session, Nevada delegate Cynthia Kennedy introduced an amendment that would have eliminated the Education department altogether.
After much argument, the subcommittee voted to replace the word “eliminate” with a mundane call to “support the examination and functions of.”