If conservatives had any doubt that a win by Mitt Romney this November would only be the beginning of their struggles, it was confirmed last Friday when the Republican National Convention Committee on Rules unveiled eleventh-hour changes that many believe would have undercut conservatives in the party.
Introduced by Romney campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, the rule changes were designed to limit the mischief that insurgent candidates like Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas -- who still has not endorsed Romney -- can inflict on the party's nomination process.
Currently, most delegates to the Republican National Convention are selected by party activists at local and state nominating conventions. Many of these delegates are then obligated to vote for their respective presidential nominee at the national convention, but many are not. There was some worry this summer that Paul supporters at many state conventions were packing delegations with activists who would not support Romney.
Ginsberg's rule change, launched without warning Friday morning, would have given the presidential campaigns the power to replace any of the delegates pledged to them, functionally giving them the power to select every state's delegation. Many in the conservative movement saw this as a power grab by party insiders at the expense of grassroots conservatives, with the Paul threat serving merely as a bogeyman.
South Carolina delegate Drew McKissick, who voted for Romney in 2008 and 2012, told The Washington Examiner's Byron York that the rule change as first proposed would "diminish the influence of conservatives in the Republican Party." Not only would it rob state parties of the power to select delegates, it would also give candidates the ability to form the entire party platform committee from the top down.
A broad coalition of conservative activists ended up joining McKissick in opposing the rule change, including Paul, radio host Mark Levin, author Michelle Malkin, FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe, Leadership Institute founder Morton Blackwell, Indiana Republican National Committeeman James Bopp, Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly and Sarah Palin.
Facing an ugly fight on the convention floor, the Romney campaign relented Monday night and agreed to a compromise rule that maintains local control of delegate selection. The new rule also obligates all delegates to vote for the candidate they are bound to on the first ballot, addressing the insiders' original concern. But some conservatives, upset about a separate rule change that empowers the Republican National Committee chairman to alter party rules between conventions with a three-fourths vote, forced a floor vote. Party leaders faced an awkward moment as they steamrolled this small rebellion with a quick voice vote.
Romney had no business springing such enormous, last-minute rule changes on the conservative movement that built his party. Party unity is a virtue, but fights like these are good and necessary, and conservatives were right to push back. As they learned in the Bush era with the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, conservatives often achieve better results by holding a Republican president's feet to the fire. In the event of a Romney administration, conservatives must learn from this small fight and keep up their efforts. We hope Romney learns from it, too.