The Republican National Convention had already been buffeted by the winds of Isaac. Then, when its business session finally got under way a day late, it was rocked by waves of loud, angry protest from supporters of Rep. Ron Paul and their allies.
The targets of their ire were the pre-convention decisions of the Rules and Credentials committees that stripped the Paul forces of delegates in Maine, and buttressed the party establishment against insurgent challenges in the future.
Resolving a longstanding dispute over procedures in the Maine caucuses, the Credentials Committee last week decided to split the Maine delegation between allies of Mitt Romney and those of Mr. Paul. The effect was to deprive Mr. Paul of the majority that would have given him control of the Maine delegation.
A variety of rules changes also angered the Paul adherents who had artfully exploited party rules in Iowa, Nevada and Minnesota to gain control of those delegations even though the Texas libertarian had not finished first in any of those contests. Under revised rules approved last Friday, such states will have to change their procedures to ensure that their delegations to future conventions reflect the vote totals of their nomination contests.
Another change, perhaps the most controversial in the package, would empower the Republican National Committee to change party rules at any time, as opposed to the having to wait for the next national convention.
The rules changers were perceived as strengthening the hands of the party establishment in general and Mitt Romney in particular. Should Mr. Romney win in November, they would also help shield him from an intra-party challenges in 2016.
Before the roll call of the states that would formally nominate Mr. Romney, Republican officials muscled through those changes over the loud and angry objections of the Paul forces. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus presented the credentials report and supervised its adoption in a voice vote, while dissenters chanted, "Seat them now; seat them now."
House Speaker John Boehner, the honorary chair of the convention, then called for a voice vote on the rules package. To the layman's ear, the volume of "nays" was indistinguishable from the volume of the shouted "ayes." But the practiced parliamentarian's experienced ears had no trouble as he immediately declared the rules approval, prompting a cascade of "boos" across the floor.
On one level, the disputes were inside baseball, affecting issues irrelevant to the vast majority of voters. And there is no doubt that the rules and credentials reports would have been overwhelmingly approved had they been put to a roll call of the delegates. But the noisy wrangling was a reminder of the challenge the Romney campaign has faced in maintaining the allegiance of the intensely loyal Paul forces, who, like their candidate, hold views well outside the mainstream of the GOP.