TAMPA, Fla. — Top Republicans are fighting one another over what one party leader called "one of the biggest power grabs" in the party's history.
Senior GOP officials are accusing the Romney campaign's chief attorney, Ben Ginsberg, of pushing through a rules change for delegate selection that would give Mitt Romney enormous power over the primary process should he win the White House and seek re-election in 2016.
"It shifts the power to select delegates from the state party to the [party's presidential] candidate," Republican National Committee Vice Chairman Jim Bopp told The Washington Times on Sunday. "And it would make the Republican Party a top-down, not bottom-up, party."
Conservatives, as well as some moderates, said Mr. Ginsberg persuaded RNC Rules Committee members to let Mr. Romney — if he becomes president — decide which delegates will be seated at the 2016 GOP presidential nominating convention. It also calls for letting future presidential hopefuls decide who gets to take the delegate slots they win in each state.
Even though changes won't take effect until 2016, senior officials fear that it will dampen the enthusiasm of rank and hamper this year's bid to unseat President Obama.
Mr. Bopp, who called it "one of the biggest power grabs in the history of the Republican Party," said the issue emerged because of a fight this year over Ron Paul delegates. He said that has been worked out and minor changes can address similar issues in the future.
"Those of us in states where the Republican Party is thriving have a problem with people from states where the Republican Party is on life support telling us how to run our business," a ranking Southern delegate said in obvious reference to Boston (where many of Mr. Romney's closest advisers hang their hats, as well as to Massachusetts and the Northeast in general). "They would be better served by taking lessons."
"It's not just conservative RNC members heading home and sharing their new reasons to be skeptical, but every grass-roots conservative leader who catches wind of this and understands it," former Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick said. "Conservative leaders with their own broad channels to communicate [will have] new evidence that the narrative of doubt on Romney — whether he will be 'radically conservative' (his words at CPAC this year) as he has promised or whether he'll be more like the Massachusetts Gov. Romney we all remember."
Romney advisers have argued in private that Mr. Ginsberg instigated the rules change and that the issue has become irrelevant.
Mr. Ginsberg could not be reached for comment. He has served as the behind-the-scenes enforcer of the desires of the GOP establishment for decades.
"This is an abuse of power that we hope will be changed when the full Republican National Convention adopts our minority report that will restore the old rules that let states decide on delegates," said Carolyn McClarty, chairwoman of the Oklahoma delegation to the national convention.
Opponents of the move said Mr. Ginsberg "blindsided" RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Mr. Priebus, considered the most conservative national chairman in recent memory, has been put in a difficult situation. If he sides with the grass-roots proponents on the national committee, he butts heads with his party's presumptive presidential nominee, which is unprecedented in both parties.
"We can't let them undo, with one bad change in the rules, the two years of good work Reince has done in opening up this party to the grass roots," Mrs. McClarty said.
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