TAMPA — Was this the last grand party for the Grand Old Party?
It's 90-plus degrees here. There's a 30-minute walk through a near vacant downtown past scores of cops to get to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. And that doesn't even count the hour-plus bus rides some delegates have endured to get back to their hotels after a long evening of speeches.
TV networks had already announced they would skip Monday's planned Ann Romney speech, so when organizers canceled the day entirely and moved her to Tuesday due to Tropical Storm Isaac, there wasn't much lost. And with many lawmakers skipping the convention entirely or headed for the exits before Mitt Romney's big speech Thursday night, prominent members of both parties say it's time to rethink the whole convention setup.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said it has been 45 years since there was a convention when the outcome was in doubt, and with the minute-by-minute news cycle, there's little need for several days of speeches and orchestrated events.
"From my point of view, from having chaired two platform committees producing documents that were totally unread and having attended many conventions where everything was known ahead of time, it is reaching a point where money could be better spent in another way that would engage the American people in a more effective way," Durbin said. "This big gathering . . . I'm not quite sure that it quite does it."
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said that while it's important for lawmakers to meet with party delegates and activists, it's "probably time to cut it back a little bit. I certainly wouldn't mind cutting back the cost."
Scrapping the event entirely seems unlikely, but several lawmakers and operatives said it is time to condense the schedule, which Republicans were forced to do anyway because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
"We can do it in three days, the Democrats have already moved it to three days," said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman. "The networks are only going to cover an hour each day, so let's get the real, the here and the now."
"The only question I would say, 'Do you want to do it over the middle week, or do you want to do it over the weekend, which would save delegates a lot of money," Steele said.
Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, who worked studiously on the GOP platform and has been a Romney surrogate, said there needs to be changes to the whole nominating proces, which he said is overly cumbersome and unnecessarily expensive.
"Having now gone through this, not as a candidate, but as a person who has been heavily involved in the race, it's very long, it's very expensive," Talent said. "And it's very exhausting for everybody. And I don't know anybody who thinks differently."
Expense is a concern, not just for the parties, but for taxpayers.
The Senate and House have passed similar versions of measures that would prevent future conventions from receiving federal cash through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund — which amounted to more than $18 million for each party's conventions this year — whether it's on housing arrangements for staff, balloons, catering or the design of the stages.
Congress also appropriated $100 million for law enforcement and other security costs here at the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention, which begins next week in Charlotte, N.C. And all that money comes as both parties rail about the debt, something the Republicans are doing to great fanfare here with a running "debt clock" in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But while the lawmakers and professional operatives are ready to throw the towel in on the old convention formula, several of the party faithful remain steadfastly behind the four-day event.
"I'm just sort of soaking it all in, in between being soaked by all this humidity," said Dr. Ada Fisher, the Republican National Committee member from North Carolina. And, while Fisher noted that there is "enough security to amass a small army" on hand for the proceedings, she believes the quadrennial events remain important.
"I think the conventions are the one occasion for people to paint their candidates, particularly when your candidates are not in the White House," Fisher said.
Even delegates like Barbara Paulus and Cecilia Sanaie from Kansas, who spent hours on the bus Tuesday night before finally returning to their hotel after 2 a.m., said they want the conventions to stay four days.
"Any organization that I have been in that decreased their meetings, they decreased their members," Sanaie said. "When someone is really committed, they want to go, and it's costly to go, so they want to make the most of it. I think this is a good number of days."
And while the national debt is a top priority for Republicans, Paulus defended publicly financing the conventions.
"Every dollar that is spent here goes into some businesses pocket. That's good for business and good for the economy," Paulus said. "I would say make it bigger if you can."