David Frum

01.13.12

Let Ron Paul Speak at the Tampa Convention?

Should Ron Paul speak at the GOP convention? Only if he agrees to certain conditions.

It’s conceivable that Ron Paul could arrive at the Republican Party Convention in Tampa with the second biggest block of delegates. If Gov. Romney wins big in South Carolina and Florida, as the polls suggest he likely will, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich will be forced out of the race by lack of funds and pressure from supporters. Jon Huntsman also seems unlikely to continue past South Carolina.

That will leave Rick Santorum and Ron Paul to battle for the ultimate second place, and it’s anybody’s guess who does better.

Suppose it is Paul? What would a second place finish entitle him to?

Hint: It does not entitle him to the right to do damage to the Republican brand.

The Republican party paid a price for Pat Buchanan’s prime-time “culture war” address in 1992, a speech by a candidate who did not win a single Republican primary.

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Why repeat a past mistake? There is no entitlement to convention slots, certainly not to prime-time convention slots, and extra-certaintly not to unvetted and unedited convention slots.

In 2008, nominee John McCain’s defeated rivals—Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee—got time only after Sarah Palin’s prime time speech, when audiences had shrunk. They delivered speeches that were glowingly loyal and relatively brief: 15 minutes for Huckabee including applause, 12 minutes for Romney, ditto.

The usual motive for inviting defeated rivals onto the platform is to achieve a symbolic show of party unity—and ideally gain active non-symbolic support from that rival and his or her followers. But it’s hard to imagine Ron Paul giving Mitt Romney the endorsement that Huckabee and Romney gave McCain—and even if he did, it’s dangerously easy to imagine that such support would, like Buchanan’s in 1992, do the ultimate ticket more harm than good.

If I were negotiating for a victorious Mitt Romney, I’d have some asks of Ron Paul before even considering a speaking slot:

* Will you mail your mailing list asking for donations to the Romney campaign?

* Will you share your mailing list with the Republican National Committee for future RNC use?

* Will you submit your speech for pre-approval and will you refrain from provocative comments?

If not, then the right answer is to invite Ron Paul to speak for as long as he likes to the platform committee on the Thursday before the convention’s formal open.