Former Gov. Mitt Romney may help his national campaign with the Republican National Convention, but his shabby treatment of Maine delegates just about guarantees that our state is lost to him.
While the contentious wounds that have turned Republicans on one another may not be permanent, they are deep and significant.
Maine was always going to be tough for Romney, and now it might be impossible.
Controversy has engulfed Maine’s delegates to the convention since they were first selected.
It’s hard to imagine a delegate selection process handled more poorly – from start to finish – than what the GOP managed.
And at the end of the day, the biggest accomplishment was to completely fracture the fragile truce between establishment Republicans and Tea Party/Ron Paul Republicans.
The trouble started back in May, when Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster bungled the state’s convention. He had plenty of help from folks determined and organized to turn the convention into Paulapalooza.
In a damning report, the national Republican committee said Maine’s convention was “riddled with serious credentialing, ballot and floor security issues.”
The chaos was apparent back in May even as Paul’s supporters successfully out-muscled Romney’s supporters to capture 20 of 24 Maine delegates.
I’m convinced if the irregularities had resulted in pro-Romney delegates, or if the Paul delegates promised by way of a blood oath to play nice, that things could have been worked out and all the elected delegates could have been seated at the national convention.
Instead, Paul’s supporters stuck to their guns and many of them got the boot, and others walked off the floor of the convention in protest.
It’s such a disaster that Gov. Paul LePage, in Florida on vacation anyway, is skipping the convention in Tampa. Other prominent Republicans are also taking a pass.
The damage will hurt Romney in Maine and may hurt ballot Republicans in ways nobody anticipated.
The conventional wisdom is that Paul’s supporters, with nowhere else to turn, will hold their nose and vote for Romney in November.
Some of them will.
But the Tea Party means more to the Republican Party in Maine than votes: It’s the base, the energy and many of the volunteers. It’s the phone bankers and the canvassers. The people who put signs in the yard and write letters to the editor.
Without the energy of the base, does the GOP have the juice to deliver the votes on Election Day, not just for Romney but other Republican candidates?
LePage managed to ride that energy into power in a split-decision win over Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler.
Without that energy and dogma-driven determinism, can the state GOP hold out against a united Democratic Party – at least in State House elections (the U.S. Senate race is another ball of bees) – bent on regaining control to slow down the governor’s dangerous agenda?
Even Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District was going to be a challenge for Romney. The state leans left, even though the current state of government rule suggests otherwise.
Many Maine Republicans wrongly took U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe for granted. Along with her colleague U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, the two moderates have historically bridged the gap between the different camps in the Republican Party and held off advances by Democrats in a state trending their way.
But if the Tea Party couldn’t see the wisdom of supporting Snowe in a sure-fire re-election bid that could have delivered the U.S. Senate to a Republican majority, it’s unlikely that they will forget the wrong done to them by the RNC and Team Romney.
I’m sure there are pragmatists among the Tea Partyers, but it seems that the majority would prefer to lose rather than compromise on their principles.
Bad news for Romney.
Majority coalitions come and go. As a political party grows large enough to capture control of government, the groups who put aside their differences to gain power tend to fray around the edges.
Republicans have been trying to create a “permanent majority” for several election cycles. But the fragile coalitions of voters that brought together establishment Republicans and the Tea Party will be tough to hold, especially this year.
Perhaps it can be knitted back together in time for LePage’s re-election campaign, or perhaps a third-party candidate or two or five will change the math all over again, and the eventual victory will rely on a new, equally delicate coalition.
As stalwarts try to mend intraparty fences, they may hear a familiar refrain: Remember the Convention.
David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.