Does Ron Paul Plan to Turn the GOP Convention into a Food Fight?

UPDATE, MAY 7, 2012: The Ron Paul mischief-making continues, with the Paul forces having won 22 of the 25 delegate slots up for election at the Nevada Republican Convention last weekend. Add to that three "automatic" delegates in Romney's column and the Nevada delegate balance is Paul: 22, Romney: 6. In Maine, a similar scenario played out over the same weekend; Paul forces there captured 21 of the available 24 delegate slots.

Mitt Romney may have the Republican presidential nomination all but locked up, but if Ron Paul has his way, Romney will either cut a deal with the iconoclastic Texas congressman, or face an ugly scene in Florida at the party's national convention. It's still a long march to Tampa, and in the final leg, Paul might just plant his foot in Romney's "Happy Nomination!" cake. Today in Nevada, the statewide Republican convention may offer a glimpse of what Paul has in store for Tampa.

With Newt Gingrich now gone from the GOP presidential race, Romney faces only one challenger, Ron Paul, who has vowed to stay in the race until the bitter end. And lest you think his quest quixotic, word on the street is that the latest antics of the Ron Paul campaign have Romney operatives "in a panic," according to a Paul adviser quoted in the right-wing Daily Caller. For while the political media focused on the Romney-Santorum smackdown and the penguin that attacked Newt, Ron Paul's zealots have been quietly maneuvering to stack the delegate slates in certain states in favor of the John Birch Society's favorite Republican.

Delegate Stratgery: Paul Forces Gain Control of State Parties

After Paul's initial focus on the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary failed to pan out, the Paul camp began focusing on the mechanics of delegate apportionment. In order to officially win the nomination, Romney needs the votes of 1,144 delegates to the Republican National Convention. But in many states, winning a primary or caucus doesn't automatically guarantee that the delegates chosen by the winner will be seated at the convention. In Romney's home state of Massachusetts, for instance, the former governor won 72 percent of the primary vote. But delegates had yet to be chosen, and in the state party's delegate-chosing caucus last week, fewer than half of the delegates designated by Team Romney won the right to be seated at the convention. The rest of the seats went to Ron Paul supporters. 

Similar scenes have played out in Minnesota and Louisiana and may well do so again today in Nevada. In fact, the Republican establishment is so concerned with the Paul camp's delegate strategy that Republican National Committee general counsel John R. Phillippe, Jr. sent a letter to the Nevada state party chairman not to mess with the delegate process, or risk "jeopardizing the seating of Nevada’s entire delegation to the National Convention." (Phillippe did, however, acknowledge that his letter was "not binding," according to Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun.) 

In Louisiana, the Paul forces swept the delegate election process last weekend, winning upwards of 70 percent of the slots, according to Policymic. (That process actually chose delegates to the June 2 statewide Republican convention, where more hijinks are likely.)

At a Minnesota delegate-selecting contest based on congressional districts two weeks ago, Ron Paul won 20 of the 24 delegates available in that contest. 

In Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses last January, Ron Paul finished in a respectable third place, but his supporters now control the state Republican Party, and Iowa's entire delegation comprises "unbound" delegates, who can vote for any candidate for the nomination.

Iowa's unbound delegation, however, is something of an outlier. Yet that doesn't mean that delegates bound to Romney, but who not-so-secretly heart Paul, can't cause a heap of trouble. Under party rules, Ron Paul enthusiasts, such as those in Massachusetts, who won their convention spots on a Romney slate are bound to cast their nomination vote for Romney at the convention. But they can choose whomever they want for convention chair, and vote any which way on platform issues. And they can vote for any vice presidential candidate they care to. It's long been suspected that what Ron Paul is really after is a place on the ticket for his son, Rand, the U.S. senator from Kentucky, so those Paul-allied Romney delegates could make trouble for the nominee, should he choose a different running mate. Or they might just defy the rules altogether, and deliver a sh*t show for the television cameras.

What Does Ron Paul Want?

During the spate of primary-season debates last winter, pundits occasionally made note of the fact that while Ron Paul forcefully attacked most of his opponents, he never laid a glove on Romney. Speculation abounded that Paul was seeking something special for his son, Rand -- maybe a prime-time speaking slot at the Republican National Convention, or even the vice presidential nomination. The younger Paul, for his part, has done nothing to tamp down such prognostication, telling a Kentucky radio station in February, "[I]t would be an honor to be considered."

Earlier that month, Ron Paul for President national campaign chairman Jesse Benton told the Dallas Morning News, "Any Republican should be looking at Rand Paul as a potential running mate, because he’s the smartest guy in the room. And he has tremendous credibility with conservatives. Any Republican should have Rand Paul on his short list."

However, Benton claimed, "We're not negotiating for that."

So, falling short of some sort of Rand-a-palooza at the convention, what else might Paul win through his delegate-stacking exploits?

In 1996, Patrick J. Buchanan shocked the political world by winning the New Hampshire primary. Though he didn't get very far in subsequent contests, he did accumulate enough delegates devoted to his far-right ideals to cause Republican nominee Sen. Bob Dole a major headache. It wasn't until the eve of the convention that Buchanan announced he would not run a third-party challenge to Dole. In exchange, he won control of the party platform, which was largely written by Phyllis Schlafly, a Buchanan campaign co-chair, and Buchanan's sister, Bay, who managed his campaign. 

That may not sound like a lot, but it forced Dole to run in the general election on a platform that not only trumpeted an anti-abortion policy with no exceptions for rape or incest, but also called for U.S. withdrawal from U.N. forces and all sorts of other paranoid proclamations. (The seating of the Buchanan delegation also led to the booing from the convention floor of Gen. Colin Powell, then just retired from the armed forces.)

A Ron Paul platform though, would be so very far out there, that the GOP just might decide it's safer to put Rand on the ticket. Okay, so it's not so hard to imagine a Republican Party platform that calls for an end to Medicare and affirmative action, or that features a monetary policy plank that calls for the return to the gold standard. But planks that call for the end to the war on drugs, or the end of U.S. military engagements around the globe? Maybe a little Randamonium is a small price to pay to avoid that platform fight.

In the meantime, reports the Daily Caller: "Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul declined to comment on the record about whether or not Romney is indeed in a panic."

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