The above is not the question that FHQ specifically received, but neatly encapsulates the breadth and depth of the questions that have rolled into either the comments section or my inbox concerning the Ron Paul campaign's continued efforts to amass delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. As opposed to answering them one by one, I figured that I would take a step back and provide an overview of where the so-called delegate strategy is and what if anything it is likely to yield Paul and/or his supporters before, during or after the August convention.
First of all, as far back as January 4 -- the day after the Iowa caucuses -- FHQ was expounding upon the the Paul strategy and how it compared to/differed from the approach the campaign had in 2008. Periodically, I have also revisited the strategy in the Race to 1144 posts and when necessary on Twitter. Still, the matter really has not received the attention it probably deserves. [Yeah, on that point I respectfully disagree with Dave Weigel. Yes, there are realities/constraints to media coverage, but for selfish reasons, I sincerely wish this story had been followed more closely.] The point then, as now, was to point out that the Paul campaign and its supporters were, have been and are organized. They have thus far been more successful in winning delegate slots to the national convention than they were four years ago.
Paul, for instance, looks very well positioned to control not just the bare minimum delegation pluralities in states unbound caucus states like Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota, but majorities of those delegations at the Tampa convention. That is on top of the news from over this past weekend from Massachusetts, that despite being bound to Mitt Romney on the first ballot at the convention there are at least 16 Paul supporters elected to the Bay state Republican delegation (of 41 total delegates).
But the question remains, so what? What does any of this mean (...especially if it is highly unlikely to derail a Romney nomination in Tampa)?
Well, as FHQ pointed out in January, if there was or is an over/under on the number of delegates Ron Paul's campaign is likely to get to the national convention, take the over. The Paul coalition has and will continue to see varied success across the remaining states to select delegates. There are, after all, two parallel tracks in a Republican presidential nomination race: 1) the contests that we have all followed the results of on nearly every Tuesday (and sometimes Saturdays) for much of the year and 2) the actual delegate selection. The former in most cases only binds delegates to particular candidates, but that leaves the later selection of delegates. That process does not necessarily entail selecting folks who are supportive of the candidate to whom they are bound.1 In fact, the Paul campaign and/or its supporters on the state level are turning that logic on its head.
Again, what does any of this gain for Ron Paul and/or his supporters? I fundamentally disagree with Dave Weigel that these delegate victories are an attempt by the RNC or state parties to give the Paul coalition some "wins". That "own goal" mentality is misguided because those wins are not likely to abate any time soon. There is no giving. The Paul folks are using superior organization -- in some states -- to take Romney-bound delegate slots (or delegate slots bound to or prematurely allocated by the AP and other outlets to other candidates).
Is Paul after the nomination? I don't know. But his supporters sure are.
And procedurally, they have a legitimate albeit longshot strategy to get there. That strategy first involves the continued accrual delegates; delegates bound to Paul through the remaining May and June primaries and delegates bound to any other candidate but carrying a Paul preference in the congressional district caucuses and state conventions yet to be held. Of course, having a fair number of Paul supporters as delegates does not keep Mitt Romney under the 1144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination at the convention when they are Paul supporters bound to vote for Romney on the first ballot.
That triggers the second part of the strategy: Paul-supportive but Romney-bound delegates abstaining on the first vote. This is a tricky maneuver, but not one that is prohibited by the Republican Party delegate selection rules. It does, however, run up against state-level delegate rules that in some cases legally bind delegates to a particular candidate through one or more ballots at the national convention. But that is uncharted waters in this process. How does one take such a challenge of the rules to court in a way that resolves the issue expeditiously within the window of time in which the party is meeting in Tampa? It doesn't. The result is probably a huge embarrassment for Mitt Romney and the Republican Party; not something it wants when attempting to successfully challenge a vulnerable incumbent president.2
The question that emerges from that is the same as the questions that faced all of the other non-Romney candidates throughout primary season: Can Romney be kept under 1144 (but at the convention)? To do that Paul and his supporters would indeed face an uphill climb. That doesn't mean that they would have to amass 1144 delegates on their own. It would mean a combination of Paul-bound delegates, Paul-supportive but other candidate-bound delegates and those delegates won by candidates who have since suspended their campaigns. The Paul-bound delegates are easy enough, but those other two groups of delegates are shrouded in questions marks. Concerning the delegates bound to other candidates, the state of those campaigns are important. Well, it is not the state of the campaigns so much as the distinction they bear at that point in the race. A suspended campaign at that point is still a campaign that is active; active in terms of not having released its delegates. None of the candidates that have withdrawn from contention and have been allocated delegates (or bound delegates) has formally withdrawn from the race. Huntsman and Santorum have both suspended their campaigns which protects their delegates (...in most cases, but with exception). Gingrich appears to be doing the same.
There is the potential for a great deal of overlap between the delegates bound to other candidates and those that are Paul-supportive but bound to another candidate. But they are distinct enough from each other if only because in the event that they are ever released by the candidates to whom they have been bound they are free to unite behind Romney or join an effort to oppose the nomination. The district and state conventions in the coming weeks will likely settle that matter. As selected delegates are going to come from either the Paul or Romney camps -- more bound to the former than the latter.
It is that process -- the selection of delegates -- that so significantly clouds the outlook on this though. There is no one good independent source tracking the preferences of delegates actually selected to attend the national convention. As such that is the great unknown not so much of the Paul strategy but of the prospects for this materializing in any overt way that causes headaches for the Romney campaign and/or the Republican Party; both of which are merging their efforts with November in mind.
To some extent, then, the question of how much leverage Paul or Paul's supporters have is unanswerable. Are there enough of those "secret" Paul delegates to prevent Romney from getting to 1144 on the first ballot at the convention if they abstain? We don't and probably won't know with any level of certainty until sometime in June or even later. That is a while for Romney -- the presumptive Republican nominee -- to live with some level of even under the radar uncertainty. But that also presents them with a decision: Make some form of concession to Paul now(-ish) or wait and see Paul's cards later and make concessions then. Waiting is a gamble. Paul could show his cards close to the convention and really present some problems for Romney; forcing a larger concession (VP slot, cabinet position, convention speaking spot, etc.). The best indication of the level of threat the Romney team perceives in Ron Paul will be the efforts it makes in the remaining district and state conventions. If they counter the Paul organization it is a pretty clear signal that there is an issue. If not, it indicates either they are blind to this issue -- particularly if Paul continues to win delegates bound to other candidates (Romney) -- or don't view it as a problem at all (or both). Obviously, the level of threat the Romney team perceives affects the extent of any concessions it feels are necessary to satisfy Paul and/or his supporters.
Now, procedurally, none of this is likely to matter. There are seemingly enough failsafes in the RNC rules to prevent an outcome that does not have Romney as the nominee. But that doesn't mean that Ron Paul or those delegates aligned with him have to make it easy for Romney. The rules regarding the abstention strategy are not unlike the rules of keeping Romney under 1144 generally. For the sake of the exercise, let's assume that Romney has at least 1144 bound delegates in Tampa, but that enough of those Romney-bound delegates are Paul supporters to keep the former Massachusetts governor under that number on the first ballot through abstentions. Given the unknowns above, that is a fairly sizable assumption.
But let's look at the structure of this anyway.
Many want to focus on RNC Rule 40 that requires a candidate to have plurality control of at least five state delegations to be nominated. As stated above, Paul is in good shape to do that. But that isn't really the concern here. The roadblock to this being a more significant threat to Romney is Rule 37 regarding the procedure for roll call voting. Rule 37 gives a certain amount of power to the individual state delegation chairs. If the state delegation chairs see abstentions or the potential for abstentions, they are very likely to pass on their vote with the roll call progressing to the next state alphabetically. This is why the election of state delegation chairpeople is so important and why the reports that a Paul-aligned candidate in Colorado defeated Colorado Republican Party chair, Ryan Call, for the distinction are consequential. Passes are less likely to come from Paul-aligned delegation chairs than Romney or establishment-aligned chairs.
What is not clear in the RNC is rules on the roll call procedure is whether states can pass more than once if bound delegates do not vote in accordance with their "commitment". The rules indicate that no state can change votes until each state has had a second (post-pass) opportunity to vote. What is less clear is whether that constitutes a second ballot. FHQ's reading is that it would not. That is a secondary concern to the multiple pass question though. If the chairs from "problem state" delegations -- those with Paul-aligned but Romney-bound delegates threatening abstentions -- can pass more than once, then the roll call can quickly devolve into a feedback loop where the convention gets stuck. Again, that is embarrassing for the party and Romney. It is not a desired outcome.
Of course, if it gets to that point, that will be the true surprise. If Paul-aligned delegates are a threat, the RNC and the Romney campaign will undoubtedly have done some sort of informal delegate whip count ahead of time and have other failsafes set up in the credentialing process or something else to prevent convention floor chaos.
Look, I don't want to make too much of this. As I said, it is a legitimate strategy, but it is a longshot to work in terms of preventing a Romney nomination much less creating a Paul nomination. However, it is a unique strategy worth exploring. The main thing moving forward will be to watch how the Romney campaign operates in the upcoming state conventions and district caucuses/conventions where delegate selection is on the agenda. If the Paul folks continue to nab delegate slots -- bound to Paul or not -- it could prove to be a headache at some point over the summer for Romney. But we won't know how much leverage Ron Paul and his supporters may have until we have a firmer handle on just how many bound delegates the Texas congressman has and more importantly how many "stealth" delegates he has.
1 It should be noted that this is mainly how it has worked in the past. People who are elected delegates are either supporters of the candidate to whom they are bound or are folks just happy to be selected as delegates and thus willing to go along with the party's choice of nominees.
2 Of course, if that happened, it might very well overshadow the Democratic convention in Charlotte the following week. [Silver lining?]
Question Time: What Happens to Santorum's Delegates?
Massachusetts Republican Caucuses: Sigh and Questions that Need to Be Asked/Answered
Question Time: Big [Early] States & Future Primary Calendars
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