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Tampa 2012: Pas Devant Les Enfants!

That Republican primary season you thought you witnessed? Just a figment of your imagination. That's the message the Romney people hope to convey later this month at the GOP convention in Tampa,according to Jeremy Peters in the Aug. 9 New York Times. Almost none of the leading Republican contenders for the nomination will be offered an opportunity to speak. Newt Gingrich? They've got him sidelined running workshops. Rick Perry? Herman Cain? Michelle Bachmann? Ron Paul? They've been given no role at all. The Donald's been stiffed as well (not that he was ever a particularly serious candidate). I could have sworn someone called Sarah Palin was on the presidential ticket four years ago, but that must not be true, because she hasn't been asked to speak either. Rick Santorum is the only major primary contender who will be permitted to speak.

If I were Mitt Romney I'd do the same. The 1992 Republican convention was so frightening that some people blame it for President George H.W. Bush's defeat that year--and that was with just one gargoyle, Pat Buchanan, at the podium. The prospect of half a dozen or more is potentially catastrophic for Romney's chances. But think about it. Today's Republican party is so out of control that it cannot afford to put most of its primary presidential candidates on television. The GOP's leading lights are so extremist, or weird, or just plain dim, that they must be stashed away in the attic, like the first Mrs. Rochester. 

One interesting question is whether the party will stand for it. Republicans are usually better at the obedience thing than Democrats, but the hard right is unusually restless this year. Romney's already drawing ire from the knuckle-draggers because a spokesperson had the bad judgment to praise Romney's health care bill in Massachusetts, and if Romney doesn't name Paul Ryan (a genuinely bad choice) for the veep slot they'll come to the convention ready for mutiny. That could take the form of defiant extremism in the speeches of those who are permitted to mount the podium; it could even take the form of Chicago 1968-style unrest outside the arena (though I'm trying not to get my hopes up).

Romney once said that the only appropriate place to discuss income inequality was in "quiet rooms." That's where his primary competitors will be the week of Aug. 27. I hope the walls are padded.