If you thought Ron Paul’s story was over, you need to think again. The Republican presidential candidate has once again found himself in the headlines - only this time it’s because he’s winning. The libertarian Congressman from Texas swept the Republican conventions in Louisiana, Maine and Nevada this past week, picking up a majority of the delegates in states that most people thought Mitt Romney had already won. This confusing - yet perfectly legitimate - strategy has many GOP insiders worried that the Paul campaign could cause some problems at the Republican National Convention in August. With the media having all but crowned Mitt Romney, the idea that Ron Paul could still take the nomination requires some explanation.
What on earth is going on?
While most people think that the Republican nominee is determined by state primaries and caucuses, things are not that simple. The nominee is chosen by delegates to the Republican National Convention, who are themselves chosen by voters at various state conventions. Generally, the candidate that wins a particular state’s primary or caucus also wins the most delegates at the state convention, but this does not have to be the case. An organized and committed group of people can “hijack” a state convention and use the complicated voting process - which changes dramatically from state to state - to acquire a substantial number of delegates for their candidate. This is exactly what Ron Paul’s supporters have been doing, and there’s no sign they’re going to stop any time soon.
Take a look at Iowa. Mitt Romney was declared the winner there on caucus night back in January. That honor was then passed on to Rick Santorum after a recount a few weeks later. Yet despite all of this, Ron Paul managed to come away from last week’s state convention with a majority of the delegates. At the end of the day, it’s these delegates that really matter.
The Paul campaign has pulled off the same feat in Maine, Nevada, Louisiana and Minnesota, and it looks like they’re setting up to do the same thing at other state conventions throughout the summer. If you thought the battle for the Republican nomination was over, you were wrong.
What does it all mean?
While it’s highly unlikely - though by no means impossible - that Ron Paul will manage to pick up the Republican nomination in August, this doesn’t mean that he can’t create some major headaches for the Romney campaign. Despite what you may have been hearing from the rest of the media, Mitt Romney does not have the Republican nomination “locked”. The former governor of Massachusetts is still a few hundred delegates shy of the total needed to guarantee the nomination. On top of that, the delegates Romney does have are not exactly “his” either. Many of these delegates are “unbound,” which means they aren’t really chosen until the state conventions, and it’s these state conventions that the Paul campaign has been dominating. If Romney is unable to acquire enough delegates to secure the nomination, then there is the potential for a brokered convention - and nobody likes the sound of that.
Brokered, and almost-brokered, conventions have historically turned out poorly for the party involved, and many see a split in the Republican convention as a sure way to get Obama reelected. Nevertheless, Ron Paul’s people are hoping they can use the leverage they’re acquiring with all these delegates to force the GOP to take a more libertarian stance on a variety of issues. Even if Paul doesn’t come close to getting the nomination, he can still define the terms of the discussion and put Romney in some uncomfortable positions.
Regardless of how Ron Paul’s “delegate strategy” works out, the fact that it’s become an issue at all is a sign that the GOP is facing an identity crisis. The libertarian wing of the party has grown stronger with every election cycle, as hundreds of thousands of (mostly young) people have made it clear that the party’s embrace of social conservatism has no place in the 21st century. These Ron Paul oriented Republicans can’t reconcile their belief in fiscal responsibility and small government with the GOP’s support of intrusive and expensive policies like the War on Terror, the War on Drugs and the Patriot Act. They also don’t seem to be as terrified of cultural shifts regarding things like homosexuality and abortion as their older counterparts. Ron Paul might not be around for too much longer, but his ideas aren’t going anywhere. There is a battle brewing for the soul of the Republican Party, and if the Paul supporters have their way it’ll be fought sooner rather than later.