Some of them believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Others want to force raped women who become pregnant to have their child. There are those who vilify Obama as a socialist and want to do away with most of the federal government. A fair few doubt the theory of evolution or hold that gays can be “cured”.
As Mitt Romney arrives at the Republican national convention in Tampa, Florida, where he will be nominated to run for president, he faces the difficult task of dealing with a party base that has become one of the most radical in recent American history.
Convulsed by the rise of the anti-government Tea Party and dominated by socially conservative Christians, the Republican party has continued to move right in recent years. That means the carefully laid plans for a Tampa convention aimed at introducing a voter-friendly version of Romney could easily be upset by the party’s more extreme elements.
“They don’t want anyone to look behind the curtain,” said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside. “You want the party base to turn up, give money and keep quiet. But it is hard to keep them quiet.” However, the curtain has already been lifted to some degree.
The week leading up to the convention was supposed to see a media rollout of Romney as a president-in-waiting. Instead it was dominated by an ugly row centred on a Republican Missouri Senate candidate, congressman Todd Akin, who used the phrase “legitimate rape” while talking about denying abortions to pregnant rape victims.
Romney called on him to leave the race and the Republican national committee chairman, Reince Priebus, asked him not to come to Tampa. But in a sign of how little control the party’s elite has over its base, Akin refused to step down and last week was spotted in Tampa meeting social conservative groups. At the same time it was revealed that Akin supporters had coughed up $100,000 for his campaign funds in two days.
But party bigwigs should perhaps not be surprised. Though Akin’s language was shocking, his views are not too different from the party’s official policy platform – in defiance of Romney. Indeed that extreme position on abortion is one historically shared by Paul Ryan, the outspoken Wisconsin conservative picked by Romney as his running mate.
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