MICHAEL CUZZI: The Romney campaign shows its obsession with image-making as it squashes any dissent.

Last week, half of Maine’s Ron Paul delegates to the Republican National Convention were unceremoniously stripped by party officials of their “duly elected” status and told they were no longer invited to the Tampa party.

The Paul delegates have a right to be indignant. They were disenfranchised in the name of political tidiness and a desire for a superficial display of unity at the made-for-TV event.

Notwithstanding the claims of credentialing, ballot and floor security issues, the decision to replace Maine’s Republican delegates was a matter of cold political calculation. The delegates were treated like expendable cogs in the national GOP political machinery because that’s exactly what they were.

Romney didn’t need Maine’s delegates to reach his nomination threshold. Maine is not a battleground state and its four Electoral College votes are nearly certain to go to President Obama. The Romney campaign has little more than a symbolic on-the-ground presence here. To the extent that Romney ads are running in the southern Maine media market, it is to influence eastern and coastal sections of New Hampshire, a real battleground state.

Maine is about to lose a Republican-held U.S. Senate seat to an independent former governor.

Put it all together and, for the Romney campaign, it was a political no-brainer to strip Maine’s Paul delegates of their status and replace them with compliant Romney supporters, rather than risk political embarrassment at the convention.

The resulting local hue and cry is — from a national campaign perspective — a tempest in a political teapot.

But the whole affair lays bare that national political conventions — Republican and Democrat alike — are now scripted messaging events that have a single purpose: to powerfully launch the major parties’ candidates into the fall campaign.

Conventions are no longer grassroots, party-building affairs. The days of messy floor fights, multiple ballots and vociferous platform debates are long past.

Delegates are basically extras in a large television production, expected to wave signs and cheer on cue. As Maine’s Ron Paul delegates learned, anything that injects unpredictability into the proceedings is squashed.

Even so, Romney’s campaign has taken run-of-the-mill image-making and risk management and elevated it to an almost pathological obsession with power consolidation.

The Romney campaign went so far as to propose a Republican National Committee rules change that would allow future Republican presidential nominees — presumably Romney in 2016 — to veto any delegates sent by any state.

In other words, Romney’s campaign sought to enshrine in the Republican Party’s own rules their ability to subject any delegation to the treatment they’ve meted out to Maine. One prominent GOP operative called it “the biggest single power grab in the history of the Republican Party.”

The Romney campaign’s power grab is no less visible at the local level. It’s hard to imagine the February caucus irregularities — where all of Washington County and many Waldo County Republican caucus-goers were initially disenfranchised — didn’t reveal the strong arm of Romney operatives pressuring Charlie Webster to deliver a win after three consecutive primary-season losses to former Sen. Rick Santorum.

It’s also unlikely that Romney’s Maine campaign chairman, Peter Cianchette, filed the original complaint against Maine’s slate of Ron Paul delegates without the direct participation and consent of the Romney campaign.

Romney’s maneuverings within his own party and his policy flip-flops reveal that he is capable of saying and doing whatever it takes to become president.

He was for a woman’s reproductive rights before he was against them. He instituted reforms nearly identical to “Obamacare” when he was governor of Massachusetts before calling for the Affordable Care Act’s repeal. He once promised to be better than Ted Kennedy on gay rights issues before tacking right to win his party’s nomination.

So when faced with the prospect of a potentially messy Ron Paul circus at “his” convention, the decision to shake up Maine’s delegates (like, say, an Etch A Sketch) and replace them with a Mitt-friendly slate was an easy one.

In the end, Romney had the convention he so desperately wanted, but left Maine Republicans to repair the divisions and heal the wounds he inflicted on them. What a guy.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @CuzziMJ