WaPo stirs the pot on a "platform fight" at the GOP convention

The Washington Post tries to inject a little drama into the GOP convention by conjuring up a fight over the party platform between John McCain and conservative activists.  They give this Page One treatment, but the entire issue is speculative, and probably will amount to little more than a tempest in a teapot.  Michael Shear reports that the activists have girded their loins for battle over a document hardly anyone will read, and which doesn’t bind candidates at all:

Conservative activists are preparing to do battle with allies of Sen. John McCain in advance of September’s Republican National Convention, hoping to prevent his views on global warming, immigration, stem cell research and campaign finance from becoming enshrined in the party’s official declaration of principles.

McCain has not yet signaled the changes he plans to make in the GOP platform, but many conservatives say they fear wholesale revisions could emerge as candidate McCain seeks to put his stamp on a document that currently reflects the policies and principles of President Bush.

“There is just no way that you can avoid anticipating what is going to come. Everyone is aware that McCain is different on these issues,” said Jessica Echard, executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. “We’re all kind of waiting with anticipation because we just don’t know how he’s going to thread this needle.”

How will McCain thread the needle?  Probably by allowing the activists to get what they want from the platform, while maintaining his own positions in the campaign.  It would be an easy way to allow conservatives to demonstrate their stewardship of the party, without binding McCain in any way for the general election.  A man with McCain’s military experience knows the value of a tactical retreat, allowing opponents to occupy essentially meaningless ground.

How many Republicans bother to read the party platform?  Most of the delegates won’t make the effort, mainly because it does nothing to bind candidates to the party positions.  Few if any voters of either party will even skim the party platforms, and even the media will use it only as a reference.  It’s a document meant for activists within the parties to stake out ground and for factions to demonstrate influence over the direction of the whole.

The convention will produce an updated and modified platform, one that de-emphasizes George Bush and pays more heed to John McCain, as the party leader.  Don’t expect significant changes in direction, however.  Where disagreement exists, the McCain campaign will opt for ambiguous language that gives conservatives a sense of primacy, and where everyone agrees, bold language that can create some buzz in the Xcel Center during the final hours of the convention.  McCain will still go his own way, in part to emphasize how he can differ from the party and stand on his own.  A conservative-controlled platform actually helps in that regard, and it will help build badly-needed enthusiasm for the upcoming Congressional races.