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SPOTLIGHT
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The platform of the Republican Party

Published on -8/31/2012, 9:27 AM

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A constitutional prohibition on abortion, even in cases of rape and incest?

No federal funds for universities that allow undocumented students to pay the same tuition as other students who live in the state?

A commission to study a return to the gold standard and audit the Fed?

A "double layer" fence at the border?

Welcome to the Republican Party of 2012. This is the platform agreed to by the platform committee and adopted by the convention delegates this week in Tampa, Fla.

It's not surprising that some Republicans are trying to disown the platform before the ink is dry. Even the platform committee chairman is downplaying its significance.

"This is a bottom-up political process, where the grassroots people in both parties get to have their say about what they collectively believe in as a party," Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said. "I think it's a marvelous exercise in democracy for both major political parties."

A marvelous exercise in democracy?

Get serious. Mitt Romney's top aides were in the room for the two-day marathon session -- his top policy and political people. The room was full of men and women who are, at least as delegates, committed to Romney. This platform wasn't adopted without their participation. And if it was, it's a major sign of a weak nominee in trouble.

If Romney can't run his own party's platform process, how can he run the country? If he can't stand up to the hotheads in his own party, how is he going to stand up to the real hotheads on the world stage?

The purpose of conventions these days is not to make decisions on anything. It is to put on a good show for the cameras. A convention is a television show and a fundraising event, with some parties thrown in to reward and invigorate the troops. Even vice presidential nominees are now selected in advance, removing the last vestige of drama, lest anything go wrong. They are scripted down to the minute.

During a break in the committee meeting, one former congressional aide, in a clear effort to dismiss the significance of the train wreck in front of them, reportedly told journalists, "I cannot remember, once in two decades, the committee chairman saying, 'Let's look at the platform.' "

I'm sure that's right.

Committee chairmen don't look at platforms. Candidates don't look at platforms once they are elected.

But believe me, all those talking heads on television with nothing to talk about will talk about them and look at them. And rightly so. Platforms are significant political documents.

A platform that doesn't reflect the candidate's views is a sign of his weakness -- and a weapon that the other side will use against him. The platform is the leading indicator of a convention that could end up hurting the candidate more than it helps him. It puts the spotlight on the divisions within the party and the power of the ideological extremes, which is the very last thing you want to do at a convention.

That's what happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Now those were some good fights. And it's also what happened to George Bush in 1992, when the platform committee wanted to take out Abraham Lincoln's "better angels" because they thought it was anti-Christian.

Things got so bad Ronald Reagan had to use his convention speech to plead for tolerance from, and among, his fellow Republicans.

The fact that Republicans would pass a platform that Romney cannot run on -- a platform that throws federalism to the wind (telling states who pays what to go to college), forces rape and incest victims into maternity wards, and reads like a complete pucker-up to libertarian Ron Paul rather than the Wall Street-savvy nominee -- means one of two things.

Either Romney wasn't strong enough to stand up to the ideologues who could drag down his campaign, or he didn't dare try.

No one expected Romney to be able to control the stormy weather that battered Tampa, although it gave him a chance to show some leadership in a crisis -- something that didn't happen during the deliberations of his party's platform committee.

Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.

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