TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the few off-script moments of the Republican National Convention came on Tuesday when supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) loudly protested new party rules by booing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and rushing the hallways to voice their dissent. It was a discordant moment at an event meant to display party unity around GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Republican officials are insisting they're unfazed by the protest and that they aren't worried about the effect it could have on the November election. Convention-goers, however, aren't so sure.
Speaking with The Huffington Post on Wednesday after a luncheon on job creation, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) dismissed the notion that there was division in the Republican Party.
"Listen, if there was a divided Republican Party, you would know it. A few people squawking in the back does not cause division," he said, adding that it was all just "noise."
When asked whether he believed Paul's backers would come around and eventually vote for Romney in November, Kasich replied, "I can't predict how people are going to vote, but I don't think it's a big deal."
Paul's supporters are upset over new RNC rules that dictate how delegates are chosen and apportioned. Under the new rules, convention delegates would be bound to vote for the candidate who won statewide at the ballot box, essentially barring the sort of insurgent takeover that Paul supporters tried to pull off in 2012.
Paul backers aren't the only ones concerned about the new rules and the effect it could have on grassroots activism. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook page recently that it was "a direct attack on grassroots activists by the GOP establishment."
Former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Wednesday morning that he believed Paul backers would come back to the Republican fold in time for the election.
"I think in the end, the idea of reelecting Barack Obama will be totally unacceptable to every conservative in the country," he told The Huffington Post outside his daily Newt University lectures.
John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and prominent Romney surrogate, similarly told BuzzFeed that he believed Paul supporters were "going to vote the right way in November."
But some GOP delegates aren't as certain.
Gladys Lemley, an alternate delegate from West Virginia who is backing Romney -- although she originally supported Newt Gingrich -- said she believed the divide could hurt the party in November and that she wished Paul backers would join other Republicans and focus on defeating President Barack Obama.
"By now, we need to unify the Republican Party and go after Obama. He is our enemy, not members of the Republican Party," she said.
When asked whether the divide could help Democrats win in November, she added, "It could. I remember back when Ross Perot ran. It hurt the Republican Party."
In addition to the controversial new rules, 20 Paul supporters from Maine were stripped of their spots as official delegates Tuesday after the RNC concluded that their election was invalid.
"After the way they treated us, treated the state of Maine, treated us Republicans, they should be worried about how this is going to affect the election," said Erin Gail, a stripped Maine delegate.
"This is a sign this man [Romney] will take our country down a much worse path than the guy who is currently in office. And I can't stand the guy who is currently in office," said John Jones, another rejected Maine delegate.
Paul will not be speaking at the convention this year because he denied the RNC's two conditions: that he allow his remarks to be vetted by RNC officials and that he fully endorse Romney.
“It wouldn't be my speech,” Paul told The New York Times. "That would undo everything I've done in the last 30 years. I don't fully endorse him for president."
On Tuesday, Paul told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that he was "undecided" on whether he would vote for Romney.
Several convention-goers, including some not supporting Paul, said they were concerned that the GOP was becoming too top-down.
When asked what he would like to see changed about the Republican Party, Jim Rooney, a Missouri delegate backing Gingrich, said, "Give more of a voice to the grassroots and don't attempt to shut out people."
"I'm used to the old-time conventions where there were multiple candidates being voted on, and you've got the tally for all the candidates," he said. "I think they should have done that. Don't get me wrong though -- I would not have voted for Ron Paul."
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
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