These days, political conventions are no longer where the two major parties select their presidential candidates. The selection process purports to be a democratic one, in which the grass roots have the opportunity to choose a candidate through the complicated series of state primaries and caucuses, although the reality is that the grass roots is usually choosing between one and three candidates preapproved by the party establishment.
While in 2008, Barack Obama did manage to upset Hillary Clinton, not even the complete lack of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney on the part of the Republican grass roots was enough to permit any of his nominal competitors for the nomination to effectively compete with him in 2012. While they turned in desperation to options ranging from Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry on the semi-serious side to Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich on the overtly ridiculous one, none of them had any hope of succeeding against a party establishment determined to put forward a principle-free investment banker with executive hair.
It cannot be reasonably disputed that Barack Obama has been a travesty, an embarrassment and a disaster as a president. If the Republicans had nominated a Ken doll to run against him, the doll would probably win in a landslide. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney is more plastic and less principled than Barbie’s trusty companion, which is why he is barely leading in the national polls against a president presiding over an economy that is actually worse, by some important metrics, than the Great Depression.
This doesn’t mean that Mitt Romney won’t win the election in November. I fully expect him to do so, even though Nate Silver of the New York Times is now giving Obama a 73.1 percent chance of winning the Electoral College. Silver also asserted that the convention will “produce only a modest bounce in the polls for Mitt Romney.”
But even if it didn’t provide a big boost in the opinion polls, the Republican National Convention did provide Americans with extraordinarily important information about Mitt Romney and the sort of leader he is likely to be. Unfortunately, for Romney, that information was very different than the message that he was hoping to send over the course of the vibrant and heavily scripted convention in Tampa.
What we learned from the convention is that Mitt Romney is a dictator who expects obedience and does not tolerate even the mere appearance of dissent. More ominously, he is also a rules lawyer who is more than willing to smash the spirit of the game while rewriting its rules any time it appears to suit his interests. From keeping important party figures such as Ron Paul and Sarah Palin off the podium to refusing to recognize the duly-elected delegates from Maine, from changing the party rules on the fly to indulging in a Soviet-style vote count in which only votes for Romney were reported, it is clear that Mitt Romney is even more inclined toward authoritarian rule than Barack Obama has ever shown himself to be.
It is deeply ironic that paranoid Republicans, who suspect Obama of secretly planning to circumvent the law in order to rule the country with an iron fist, should turn to Mitt Romney to save them when Romney has already shown his ready willingness to do the very thing they fear. Romney’s ruthless actions at the Republican convention show every sign that in turning to him, America will be jumping out of the frying pan and right into the fire.
When attempting to understand what truly motivates an individual, it is always important to pay more attention to his actions than to his words. This is particularly true in the case of Mitt Romney, whose words are often in direct contradiction to those he has uttered in the past. In this light, perhaps we should appreciate Mitt Romney’s dictatorial actions at the Republican National Convention, as they have provided America with a fair warning about the kind of president he is likely to be.