At GOP push for unity, plenty of difference

Alex Casetta, from Denver, Colo., holds up a Ron Paul sign following the abbreviated first session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. AP

Alex Casetta, from Denver, Colo., holds up a Ron Paul sign following the abbreviated first session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012.
AP
(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. -- The Republican National Convention is supposed to be an opportunity for the Republican Party to showcase its unity. But despite the GOP's best efforts, the many divisions within the party were on full display even before the convention was(oh-so-briefly) gaveled into session on Tuesday.

Supporters of Ron Paul on Sunday angrily complainedthat the leader of their movement was being denied a voice at the convention, after Paul refused to "fully endorse" Romney. On Monday, a group gathered to celebrate Asian-American & Pacific Islander electoral clout in conjunction with a convention where there will be few Asian-American or Pacific Islander faces. And on Tuesday, a gay Republican group is gathering to celebrate despite the fact that the GOP's standard bearer supports a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the party is putting forth a string of prominent Latino Republicans even as it adopts a platform that critics say alienates Latino voters. Tea Party lawmakers are pushing a hard-line fiscal agenda at odds with the dwindling coalition of moderates in the GOP. And while many Republicans have distanced themselves from Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's comments concerning "legitimate rape," social conservatives -- including Mike Huckabee, who speaks here Wednesday -- have defended Akin.

Republicans have strived to project an inclusive image at the convention. In addition to giving prominent speaking roles to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and other prominent Latino leaders, it has offered prime time speaking slots to Utah's Mia Love, who would be the first African-American female Republican in Congress, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, born to Sikh immigrants from India.

But the divisions within the party go deep. On immigration, for example, the GOP is divided between a desire to reach out to Latino voters and the strong opposition to illegal immigration from within its traditional voter base. The platform adopted by the party prior to the convention called for the completion of a fence on the Mexican border and opposition to "any forms of amnesty."

"It's reflective of that internal dissention within the party," said Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "You have voices, led by people like Jeb Bush, who has been the leading voice on moderation on some of these immigration issues. And on the other side there's some of the stuff that's reflected in the platform."

Republicans say that they don't need to be unified on every issue so long as they are unified on one: Replacing President Obama with a Republican who will move the nation toward smaller government, work to cut taxes and reduce the deficit.

"I share a vision for government with Gov. Romney, and it's a fundamentally different vision than President Obama," said Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a gay Republican group. "It comes down to who most matches your philosophy of government."

LaSalvia says Romney's support for an amendment banning same-sex marriage is not a disqualifier.

"I disagree with him on that issue," he said, "but overwhelmingly this election is about bigger issues than any single issue."

Akin's comments - which included a since-retracted claim that women have the ability to shut down their reproductive system during a rape so as not to get pregnant - played into Democratic efforts to portray Republicans as hostile to women, particularly on health issues. They also exposed a split in the party. Top Republicans called on Akin to leave the Missouri Senate race, and moderate Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe lamented the "stunningly insensitive" comments as the latest controversy to "alienate a large segment of the female population" from the GOP. But social conservatives defended Akin, with Huckabee comparing his critics to "union goons" who want to run him out of the party over a mistake.

"I will join Todd as often as I can, in his fight for our Party's pro-life policies, traditional marriage and our efforts to rein in the massive expansion of government under President Obama," Huckabee wrote supporters last week. In the wake of Akin's comments, Romney acknowledged that he supports abortion rights for victims of rape and incest. That put him at odds with his party platform and with his running mate, Paul Ryan, who opposes abortion rights in all cases.

In a letter objecting to a GOP platform that took a strong stand against abortion rights, moderate Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts wrote that "if we are to grow and succeed in all parts of this great nation, we must be a 'big-tent' party."

"There are people of goodwill on both sides of the abortion issue, and we need to send a message to voters that there is room in the Republican Party for differing perspectives," he added.

For the Tea Party, meanwhile, this week's festivities will include a few highlights: Among the speakers are Tea Party-backed Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. And the GOP platform includes many Tea Party-backed positions, and party leaders have wholeheartedly embraced the Tea Party's anti-tax principles.

But the convention is very much an establishment affair, and some in the sprawling Tea Party movement complain that their leaders have been shut out by a party concerned about alienating independent voters. If Romney wins the presidency, he will likely struggle to work with a Republican Congressin which traditionalist lawmakers like House Speaker John Boehner are increasingly at odds with Tea Partiers largely hostile to compromise. 

"There needs to be a solid appreciation for the role that the Tea Party has played in really changing the debate in this country," said Bob Adams, Washington liason for Teaparty.net, who is calling for the Tea Party to "be given a larger voice at the convention."

On the convention floor Monday, Ron Paul supporter Chris Howe, a national delegate from Texas, said he does not know if he could support Romney in November. Asked about party unity, he responded, "unity over what?"

"When it comes down to policies that have been put forward by Romney and Ryan so far, there's nothing to unify around," he said.

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