Romney seeks to define himself amid prayer, pigs, parties

tampa, fla.  |  Whole barbecued pigs, cheerleaders and elegies to skinny-dipping farmers’ daughters. Those made up some of the organized noise Aug. 26 at the opening bash of the Republican National Convention.

For those seeking Jewish content, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, scion of a distinguished rabbinic family who has opined on conservative issues, delivered the convention’s opening invocation Aug. 28. And scattered through the rain-drenched towns in the area were a number of events addressing the pro-Israel community’s foreign policy concerns.

At the opening party, delegates availed themselves of free wine and dug into the roasted pigs, a Cuban delicacy, while watching cheerleaders grind to Rodney Atkins’ “Farmer’s Daughter“ and “What I Love About the South” (“Hot women skinny swimmin’, barely belly button deep”).

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann at the GOP National Convention, on Aug. 28 photo/ap-pbs newshour-mallory benedict

There was political noise, too: Tea partiers met at rallies to protest what they depicted as an attempt by Mitt Romney to marginalize the hard-line conservatives as he attempts to steer the party toward the center ahead of November’s elections.

Supporters of Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the only contender from the primaries who had not formally relinquished his nomination fight, unleashed their anger on the party’s establishment at a packed rally on the University of South Florida campus that same night.

The rally was structured as a passing of the torch from Paul, 76, to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), 49, who is expected to vie for the GOP nomination in 2016.

The younger Paul has avoided expressing outright hostility toward Israel, something that has contributed to his father’s multiple failed bids for the presidency. He has, however, embraced Ron Paul’s isolationism, opposing foreign assistance, including to Israel. At the rally he posited a new challenge — an audit of the Pentagon — to a Romney campaign that has pledged increased defense spending.

“Republicans need to acknowledge that not every dollar is sacred or well spent in the military,” Rand Paul said.

There also were remnants of the moderate Republican Party nipping at the edges of the convention. Events were planned for the Log Cabin Republicans, an umbrella for gays in the GOP, and Republicans for Choice, an abortion rights group.

The convention schedule, constantly shifting because of the weather, was a template of Romney’s struggle to define himself and accommodate the party’s multiple strands.

The party’s conservative wing was present, with speeches by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who was Romney’s most pronounced social conservative challenger during the campaign, and Rand Paul. Also scheduled was a video tribute to Ron Paul, an event that Jewish Democrats derided.

Notably absent on the speaking circuit was any remnant of the past decade’s GOP bids for the presidency. Former President George W. Bush was not present, nor was his vice president, Dick Cheney.

Romney has, however, surrounded himself with foreign policy advisers from past presidents. Most notably for the pro-Israel community, his top Middle East adviser is Dan Senor, who has close ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and was the U.S. spokesman in Iraq in the period following the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.

AIPAC, as it has at past conventions, was running a number of closed events with top campaign advisers during the convention, and is planning to do the same when the Democrats meet next week in Charlotte, N.C. On the pro-Israel lobby’s agenda in Tampa was a bid to understand how Romney would distinguish himself from President Barack Obama in confronting Iran and a broader Middle East roiled by change — the principal source of tension between the president and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One signal of consistency with the Obama presidency emerged last week during platform debate when Romney surrogates, led by Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), pushed back against bids to remove a commitment to Palestinian statehood from the GOP platform. Talent noted that two states remains the official Israeli position.