Editorial: Contentious convention could be a good thing

Editorial Board

In the midst of one of the Republican Party’s longer primary races for the presidential nomination, some party leaders have called for unity. So far, it is seriously lacking. Even after it became clear Mitt Romney would be the party establishment’s choice (the party faction that is the most entrenched and, thus, matters the most), the remaining candidates refused to drop out.

Rick Santorum soldiered on until April 10, at which point he suspended his campaign. Newt Gingrich has vowed to carry on until the convention at the end of August, and Ron Paul has not yet dropped out either.

Some higher-ups in the party, such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, seemed worried about fracturing their party by endorsing a candidate too soon. After Santorum dropped out, both endorsed Romney, stating that it was clear that he would be the nominee. Their delays in doing so show an anxiety about the prospect of further cleavages among Republicans.

Those cleavages increasingly vocal. After the rejection of John McCain in 2008, the party establishment was discredited. The first two years of President Barack Obama’s term witnessed the development of the Tea Party and its vocalization of concerns about fiscal responsibility and taxation. With Santorum’s candidacy, the religious Right was revived, and it seemed as if the neo-conservatism of George Bush’s presidency was returning.

Boehner, McConnell and similarly anxious Republicans are probably right to fear disunity. They need to offer voters a unified vision that has some originality to it, rather than a repetition of the ideological talking points we have all heard before — fast.

The rationale Santorum, Gingrich and Paul have for not dropping out is, to that end, reasonable. They anticipate that the refusal to end their campaigns it will give their delegates more say at the convention in crafting the party platform. While a convention divided on a presidential nominee might be bad, having to reconcile widely different policy priorities would require convention delegates to do some soul searching and find out exactly what they want, why and how they should get there.

In other words, Republicans might be ready to lead again, rather than just reiterating their message that we suffer from a leadership deficit in the Obama administration.

Joining together simply as opposition to Obama doesn’t count, either. Voting against him on election night and dispersing afterward means that, in the coming months of his second administration, Republicans would be disjointed and unable to offer any meaningful policy alternatives.