With the start of the Republican National Convention (the Democrats convene on 3 September), Act Two of the Show of 2012 has begun. Thanks to domination of the process by early primaries, and to a paucity of viable contenders, we already know the results, and we will have to look for excitement elsewhere. It may come in the form of the speeches, but they are infrequently notable for their content and instead only for their employment of satire, derision and alliteration. But the most interesting products of these affairs are the parties' platforms, and the Republican platform will be a particularly heavy burden for Romney.
Platforms are usually not worth considering, principally because little of what they contain ever becomes law. Nevertheless, they are constructed for a number of reasons. First, they seek to demonstrate that the party actually has some utility, which is otherwise difficult to prove. In the United States, we have very weak political parties, and, unlike in the UK and other parliamentary countries, you don't need the party's permission or money to run for office, nor, once elected, do you require its imprimatur for much except committee and office assignments. Once elected, you may vote with your party, against your party, or---as some do---not vote at all. Second, the platform seeks to reassure the rank-and-file party members that their concerns, fears and aspirations will be addressed by those who get elected, and this ostensibly serves to secure their votes in the election.
But all the talk about keeping faith with "the base" is quite nonsensical. Although the Congressional election is somewhat different, hard-core Republicans will not be voting for Obama, no matter what the platform is. Romney's task is to glean the vote of the undecided voter, the middle-of-the road voter, the swing voter. And to that end, perhaps the platform should be as catholic as possible. It isn't.
Among the political engineering feats are planks that do not make much sense in an election which, at the moment, is a tossup. Nobody likes taxes, but insisting that there will be no tax increases unless there is a war is pretty silly, since we are already engaged in several wars and are deploying naval and marine assets against a number of genuine threats to peace in the Gulf and the Pacific. It is similarly hard to understand why the RNC wants to make an issue of women in combat, since in the last decade women, although not permitted to be assigned to combat units, have been killed and wounded at the same rate per capita as men. Put the US back on the gold standard? If you want an unmanageable instability of prices, a run on banks and general economic catastrophe, that's a good way to do it.
But if the Republicans want to lose the election by losing the vote of moderates, they are proposing two things that will almost guarantee it: Medicare vouchers and a strict prohibition of abortion. You can argue all you want about the drain of the elderly on the coffers of the Treasury because their medical care is expensive, but old people vote, and they vote in huge numbers. If you want to lose those votes, tell people who are getting an unlimited amount of medical care for a fixed cost that you will change the system so that they will get medical money they have to manage themselves. Do that, and you can kiss their votes goodbye.
As for abortion, there are many women who are opposed to it in principle, but a plank that calls for the abolition of abortion will lose the votes of the majority of women. Women vote in large numbers, too.
There is plenty that is being said in favor of a change in the White House, and there are voters who were ecstatic when Obama was elected but are now disappointed and would prefer to see him retire. And Romney is collecting huge sums of campaign money, tough to counter with anything but more money, but so far Obama hasn't attracted it. It almost looks as if the election is Romney's to lose, but if he doesn't distance himself from his party's platform, the voters who really decide elections will insure he does lose it.