Ron Paul’s Secret Primary
He keeps on racking up delegates. What will they do when they lose?
No, the action is in the states. In the second-to-last weekend of April, Paul supporters overwhelmed Minnesota’s congressional district caucuses—the events that actually picked delegates. There were 24 delegates at stake, and Paul’s people won 20 of them. One week later, Republicans in Massachusetts got to assign 19 delegate slots from the state’s congressional districts. Paul won 16 of them, denying one to the woman whose last resume item was “lieutenant governor under Mitt Romney.” Four time zones away, Paul supporters were getting their man elected chairman of the Alaska Republican Party—a voting RNC delegate. Next week, the rolling coup moves to Nevada. The mostly binding February caucuses were disappointments for Paul supporters. They think they can win 65 percent of convention delegates anyway.
Paul’s supporters pulled this off in some 2008 conventions and caucuses. They ended up arriving at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., holding their own rally in Minneapolis, and getting totally screwed out of nominating Paul on the floor.
But they have learned. In order for Paul’s name to be put into nomination at the Tampa convention, according to RNC Rule 40(b), the candidate needs a plurality of delegates from five states. They’re sure they can pull that off. They won’t say how. “We have a hard delegate count,” says Benton, “but we keep it internal.”
It’s hard to get a solid delegate count. Most media outlets that publish these counts base them on estimates on how they’d break down if state convention-goers behaved like primary voters. It’s also in Paul’s interest to keep this mysterious. When Republicans have prepared for the Paul takeover, they’ve defeated it. In Massachusetts, for example, party rules require the Paul-friendly delegates to vote for the guy who won the primary—Mitt Romney. In North Dakota, according to state director Jared Hendrix, Paul’s forces had “quadrupled” from 2008 to 2012. But chicanery cost them the delegates they thought they earned. A list of RNC delegates, provided by the state party, suggests that most of them support Mitt Romney. He only came in third place in the Super Tuesday vote.
“They required people on the convention floor to write down delegate names on their own, on their ballots,” explains Hendrix—for whom “they” are the Republican establishment. “They’d flash the names on a screen, but the screen kept changing, and they didn’t account for a number of old people there who had trouble seeing. They didn't follow rules … they cut off the mic … it was not a fair process.”
The right amount of Paul-blocking techniques will prevent Romney from getting embarrassed. Too much of it will tick them off. Paul had actually gone easy on Romney during debates and primaries, neglecting to mention the front-runner in negative ads. The payoff (no quid quo pro, just talkin’) was supposed to be prime convention speaking slots and serious input on GOP platform planks—not too difficult, because the much-ignored platform is usually more right-wing than the nominee. Four years ago, feeling a little stiffed by the party, Paul waited until after the convention to endorse a slew of third party candidates. How do you keep his supporters from leaving the GOP again? You start by letting them stage a few successful coups.
The rest of the GOP has to plan for this. Paul’s people aren’t stopping. Another item for sale on RonPaulForums is a documentary titled For Liberty, a well-made insider’s look at the 2008 campaign, with friendly interviews of volunteers. Its third act is full of cable-news reports on Paul’s many, many losses. It’s a popular item, one that inspires Paul’s people to call their friends about showing up at the next caucus.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.