What is Ron Paul’s Secret Primary Strategy?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 1 2012 7:10 PM

Ron Paul’s Secret Primary

He keeps on racking up delegates. What will they do when they lose?

Ron Paul.
Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul is still accumulating delegates

Photograph by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images.

RonPaulForums.com is just the sort of earnest samizdat that people joke about when they remember to joke about Ron Paul. It was founded during Paul’s 2008 campaign, and the look and topics have barely changed. There are nearly 25,000 active threads about “economics and sound money.” Nestled at the bottom of the page are ads for the Ron Paul Milk Chocolate Standard (“the Ron Paul chocolate bar is here!”) and Ammo.net, which promises an “automatic donation” to Paul for every bullet you buy.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Laugh too hard and you’ll miss the posts about how Ron Paul is actually winning. On April 30, a Louisiana Paulian named “Darguth” penned 1,826 words (not counting emoticons) about how, over the weekend, the movement took four of the state’s six district conventions. Darguth explained how he’d tutored himself in Louisiana’s Byzantine delegate-selection Hunger Games—a primary, followed by caucuses, followed by a convention—and how he “diligently made calls” to keep fellow Paulians engaged.

“We set about doing exit polling at the primary,” Darguth wrote, “and we identified Ron Paul voters who we could contact afterwards (to avoid any illegal electioneering at the primary site on election day) to give them details on the caucus.” Later, he was spending “probably at least 5-6 hours a day” crunching data to put together a Paul faction at his caucus. On the fateful day, as the votes were counted, “our pile grew so much you could visibly see we'd won.”

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What was actually achieved by Darguth and his fellowship? Not much, not yet. The final Louisiana delegate selections will happen at a June convention. What was proved? Activist-for-activist, Paul’s people make the Republican Party look like pikers. And there will be some consequence—we’re not sure what yet—when the Paul diehards inevitably lose.

The Paul campaign’s “delegate strategy” is no secret. In January, as they stared down a month of popular-vote losses, the campaign talked of its 10 state campaigns, some in places that would not start caucusing until March. “We're a delegate-focused campaign,” said campaign spokesman Jesse Benton on January 10, explaining why a second-place finish in New Hampshire would be perfectly all right.

They kept talking and the media turned out. The turning point came in Maine’s weeklong series of caucuses. Paul’s team, hyperaware of how the media wanted to switch the colors of states on election night maps, suggested that the candidate might win the caucus straw vote. He didn’t. “[Paul]’s campaign may have blown its best chance at winning a state in the Republican presidential contest,” sighed Aaron Blake in the Washington Post.

Paul only polled second in Minnesota and North Dakota. It didn’t really matter that these were nonbinding caucuses. The press found other stories to cover, such as whether Rick Santorum dropped a meaningful clause in a speech, or whether Hilary Rosen was Barack Obama’s running mate. Paul lost his last full-time “embed” on March 14.

Let’s give the media some credit: The mass embed exodus made sense. After Super Tuesday, Paul’s campaign has consisted, mostly, of “massive town halls” (the campaign uses this term in press alerts) in college towns. There’s not much for the press to cover, vis-a-vis the candidate.

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