Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Search of Ron Paul Delegates, 2012 Edition

Look, FHQ agrees with Jon Bernstein: Ron Paul will not be the Republican presidential nominee. However, I think that he is underestimating the impact of the not-so-secret Paul delegate strategy that is being talked about in some quarters today. The only problem is that no one has any way of knowing by how much.  Let me explain.

Way back in the halcyon days of 2008 when the Clinton-Obama nomination battle was all anyone was talking/writing about, FHQ got bored and briefly shifted our focus to the settled Republican race. It was on the Republican side where a steady stream of anecdotal evidence continued to come out of any number of states about how Ron Paul advocates were -- there's no way to say this without offending someone -- infiltrating the back end of the Republican nomination process. Ron Paul was, after John McCain had surpassed the number of delegates necessary to become the presumptive nominee on March 4, 2008, competing not for wins and delegate pledges so much as the Texas representative and his supporters were delegates. See, there are two parallel processes that are happening in any presidential nomination race. One is the primaries and caucuses that we all love to analyze to death; the part that binds the delegates in most states. The other, however, is the process of -- from the participants' perspective -- becoming a delegate or from the party's perspective, identifying delegates.

Ron Paul hung around in 2008 losing the first process -- rarely breaking the 20-25% barrier in the votes in late primaires and caucuses -- and while he still lost the second process also, it was by a smaller margin. The most extreme example of this was when Paul and Paul delegates to the state convention in Nevada were able to parlay a very distant second place finish in the January caucus in the Silver state into a cancelation of the state convention. The process in Nevada had been derailed to such an extent that the Nevada Republican State Central Committee eventually selected the delegates to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.1 There were similar stories of lesser chaos elsewhere.

But I don't think the Paul campaign is after that same goal this time around. Well, not that same type of chaos anyway. Two points:

First of all, the Paul folks are VERY organized. FHQ has something of an inside view of this. For months now, FHQ's 2012 presidential primary calendar has been used by at least two or three Ron Paul sites in either efforts to get the word out about when the various states are actually holding votes or in lengthy tutorials on how to become a delegate. These folks -- whether directly coordinating with the Paul campaign or not -- know the rules and are focused on what I call the back end of the process; the selection of actual delegates (not the binding of them).

Secondly, the business casual orders that came down the line within the Paul campaign to its young volunteers in Iowa hints at something bigger. The campaign, in other words, wants to appear to and actually be a part of an orderly delegate selection process, but a part that gets more Paul supporters a step further in the process in 2012 versus 2008. To the convention in Tampa.

And this gets back to Jon's point. Do a hundred or two hundred Paul delegates in Tampa disrupt the nomination of, say, Mitt Romney? No. Do they influence the platform to any great degree? Perhaps, but probably not. Yet, if I'm a betting man -- and I'm not -- I'd take the over on that estimate of Paul delegates in Tampa. The Ron Paul campaign is built to last both financially and organizationally. It won't be a conventional campaign. The field should winnow down to most likely Romney and Paul with similar dynamics to 2008 heading down the stretch of the primary calendar, but with Paul folks focused more heavily on the back end of the delegate selection process rather than the front end of winning contests.

We could conceivably, then, end up with an unknown but fairly sizable number of Paul delegates pledged to Romney or some other candidate in Tampa based on the rules in the various states. Romney in that scenario wins the nomination but the Paul folks become increasingly likely to hold some sway over some planks in the platform. [And just because, I'll add this: They may also influence the nomination rules for 2016.]

Now, none of this is happening in a vacuum. The Romney campaign and presumably the RNC if Romney becomes the presumptive nominee can organize against this. They could and can get people out to the caucuses/conventions that decide who becomes delegates just as easily as the Paul campaign if the latter shows signs of dominating or influencing the back end of the process.2 This may or may not be a story in a month, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

It is an unknown just how many delegates the Paul campaign can get through to the convention in Tampa. If the over/under is 200, take the over.

...on January 4. The dynamics can and likely will change.

1 It should be noted that this is a completely acceptable -- sanctioned -- method of allocating/selecting delegates according to the RNC rules on delegate selection. Man, I should have brought up this midstream shift in the rules when Republicans in Texas were adamant that the RNC would not allow the state party to change the rules after the October 1 deadline to have finalized them.

2 Now, lest you say to FHQ that Paul would only really have an advantage in caucus states, recall that even the primary states have parallel caucus/convention systems in place to select the actual delegates to the national convention. The primary part only binds the delegates in states that choose to bind their delegates to candidates.

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