What Lies Beneath 

GOP ambitions beneath the Mitt Romney facade: a report from the Republican National Convention.

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Speaking to the Unity Rally about the official party positioning, Bachmann declared: "The Tea Party is all over that platform." It was a sentiment echoed by the event's keynote speaker, former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who cited vigilance and the unification of conservative voices as the key to defeating Obama.

"Stay informed," Cain implored the crowd solemnly, "because stupid people are ruining America."

For all the rewards — and risks — that the Tea Party provides to Republicans, arguably no individual holds more power in keeping the conservative alliance intact than former GOP presidential candidate and Libertarian idol Representative Ron Paul of Texas. You'd be hard-pressed to find a legislator with a more passionate, quixotic, and flat-out perplexing political fan base. We're talking about a guy whose platform of limited government and individual liberty had his supporters flocking to a three-day P.A.U.L. Festival in Tampa leading up to the RNC. I repeat: A three-day festival. For a member of Congress.

The night before the convention, Paul loyalists gathered at a waterfront bar called Whiskey Joe's for a late-night event hilariously titled "Ron Paul's Liberty Rocks Beach Party" featuring Blues Traveler frontman John Popper and blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. In a bizarre scene, dudes sporting goatees and cargo shorts threw back Coronas on the beach alongside guys in full suits and discussed the merits of the Keystone Pipeline, how the tax system is institutional thievery, and why the Federal Reserve should be investigated — all while being pelted with swirling wind and rain brought on by Tropical Storm Isaac.

"We're all very independent-minded, and that's one of the great things about the liberty movement," said Bryn Dennehy, a 24-year-old college student who traveled from Eugene, Oregon, to support Paul. "On the flip side, that means everybody kind of wants to do their own thing, so it can be kind of hard to get everybody organized and all in one place."

Nevertheless, Paul supporters had the second-most visible presence on the streets of Tampa beside the thousands of khaki-clad law-enforcement deployed during the convention. The city had braced for upwards of 5,000 protesters. Instead, they got a whole lot of weak sauce.

The convention perimeter was fortified for an invasion. But the only "activists" to show were Ron Paul supporters, bored street kids, a few curbside preachers, two anti-gay groups, some Scientologists, and a couple of scattered groups advocating assorted causes. The only protesters to show any balls, so to speak, were Code Pink activists wearing giant vagina costumes. Members of the women-led social-justice organization also managed to infiltrate the Tampa Bay Times Forum disguised as prim partisans. When they stood up and began shouting "People over profits!" in an attempt to disrupt Romney's acceptance speech, they were quickly subdued and led away amid arena-wide chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

The lack of dissent expressed at the RNC by virtually anyone not affiliated with Ron Paul wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement for Romney. It quickly became clear — in the way people chose their words like it was their last meal — that few were completely enamored with the nominee.

"It's hard to find the perfect candidate," said Jerry T. Miller, a Kentucky delegate and Louisville Metro Council member. "If I could, I'd probably take a quarter of Romney, a quarter of Ron Paul, a quarter of Rick Santorum, and maybe a quarter of Newt Gingrich."

But while unbridled enthusiasm for Romney may be lacking, complete vitriol for Obama — supplemented by the selection of Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the VP nominee and the adoption of a conservative-friendly party platform — is clearly fueling the campaign.

"There has always been a passionate sense of need and urgency to defeat this president," Cardenas said. "But you also want to be excited about the ticket. I think with the selection of Paul Ryan, the adoption of the platform, and that sense of urgency, we're getting a confluence of factors that are really energizing people."

Make no mistake, partisans thrive on red meat. Talk meaningfully about bipartisan compromise and you'll receive irritated silence. Mention 9/11, freedom, The American Dream, and Barack Hussein Obama in the same sentence and your likeness will be carved into Mt. Rushmore by sundown. George W. Bush may be gone, but you're still either with us or against us.

"This isn't the time for middle-of-the-road politicians," Cardenas said. "The only way Congress is going to move forward is if either party has the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress. Our focus is on a Republican majority."

That much was apparent at a screening of the documentary Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, part of an RNC film series operated by a company called Citizens United Productions offering such titles as Occupy: Unmasked (introduced by Bachmann) and The Hope & The Change (a film about Democrats and independents who've turned on Obama).

During the screening of Reagan, the audience cheered when the Gipper intoned, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" and was practically giddy when he said, "There is no substitute for victory." The room was silent when the documentary — narrated by Newt Gingrich and his unblinking wife Calista — mentioned Reagan's record of achieving across-the-aisle accords.

After the screening, I asked Gingrich — who was on hand to introduce the film and hawk merch — what the bipartisan prospects were for a Romney administration. He echoed the aspirations of a clean Republican sweep in November. "Look, if we win control of the Senate, he'll be able to put together a majority coalition and there will be a handful of Democrats who will vote with him," Gingrich said. "If that doesn't happen, it's much harder. If Harry Reid is still the majority leader, it is going to be very hard to get things done that we want to get done."

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