Four years ago, Nevada State GOP insiders so disliked Ron Paul supporters that they actually walked out of the state convention and turned off the lights behind them. In a windowless assembly room with some 2,000 people in it, one might imagine the terror this might cause. In what had been an otherwise orderly meeting, this move took place when it became clear that Ron Paul would sweep the Nevada delegation to the Republican National Convention. A bunch of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington types, inspired by Ron Paul, got involved in their party to effect change, and the party insiders didn’t like having these idealists around.
This year looks a little different. Ron Paul’s supporters have assumed a significant portion of the Republican Party leadership and Ron Paul’s supporters seem like they will show up in droves as delegates to assure their candidate is the best represented in Nevada. At the Nevada Republican Convention this year, 25 of the 28 Nevada delegates will be decided.
A showdown is ahead at the convention in the western corner of Nevada in the town of Sparks, where on Friday and Saturday, Ron Paul supporters will culminate their takeover of the Nevada GOP at all levels after being so brazenly rebuffed in 2008.
That showdown will be between the old guard of the Nevada GOP – the Romney-supporting, McCain-supporting, Bush-supporting neo-conservative establishment – and the more numerous and active conservative and libertarian base of the Nevada Republican Party.
Scheduled to speak the afternoon of May 5 at the state convention is Ron Paul himself.
The harder and more violently the GOP establishment fights the organized grassroots of the Republican Party, the more fervently those grassroots seem to fight back. “Blowback” is how the CIA refers to this phenomenon when referencing political struggles abroad. That same type of blowback seems to be taking place across the GOP. Another notable recent example being in Alaska, where the conservative and libertarian base of the Republican Party are pushing back against a moderate and corporatist establishment.
Alaska Republicans held a state convention last weekend that Politico hailed as “more evidence of the political maturation of the Paul forces, who are beginning to seize the levers of powers from within the state parties.” A Paul supporter was elected state chairman and Paul took at least a quarter of the delegates with him out of the Alaska Republican Convention. There is likely to be much controversy around this transition, however, as the Alaska Dispatch reports that the former state chairman took some $100,000 in party funds with him as he was removed from office by transferring it to a Republican organization that is friendlier to the state’s old guard.
The more intense these fights get, and the more success Ron Paul’s supporters see, the more notice they are generating around the county. “I just came back from the national (Republican National Committee) meeting and everybody was talking about the Ron Paul, well-organized takeover,” said Heidi Smith, Nevada national GOP committeewoman.
There is little question that Ron Paul is pushing hard for delegates and that his plan is starting to succeed. Focusing on delegates is the strategy that Barack Obama used with success against an opponent with greater name recognition. The strategy worked for Obama and it seems to be working for Paul. At the Republican National Convention on August 27 in Tampa, Paul will be a force to be reckoned with. The RNC convenes \to choose a nominee and conduct the business of the party. Like any meeting convened under Robert’s Rules of Order, it is the delegates of that meeting who are the ultimate authority.
While the media and Republican establishment have concluded that a Romney-Obama race is a given, Republican voters do not yet seem to agree with that conclusion. After an estimated $80 million spent by the Romney campaign this election cycle and after five years of campaigning for the presidency, Romney has yet to appeal widely to Republican voters and bridge the divides in the party.
Voters are still left, therefore, with a two man race for the Republican nomination - either a moderate challenger (Mitt Romney) running against an incumbent president, which has been an unsuccessful option since at least 1976, or an ideological challenger to an incumbent president (Ron Paul). In the years 1976, 1980, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008, national elections were either lost by moderates or won by principled candidates. It’s still not clear who the Republican delegates will rally around in 2012.
To win on the first ballot at the RNC, Mitt Romney needs 1,144 delegates to vote for him. If he doesn’t get that, he ends up in an ugly scenario where a floor fight is sure to take place. If Colorado, Missouri, or Minnesota are any indication, Santorum supporters and the religious right are likely to side with Paul over Romney.
National conventions are usually a coronation for an established candidate. That is not always the case, however. During a convention, anything can happen. Any political junky of a certain age remembers the drama inside and out of the 1968 Democratic convention. Political historians know that Warren Harding walked into the 1920 Republican National Convention with the support of only 7% of delegates, before being chosen as the Republican nominee at that convention on the tenth ballot, and elected president later that year.
According to an unnamed party official, a less principled candidate may fare better in a brokered convention: “An important difference between Paul and Romney is that Romney can horse-trade by promising sweetheart deals, influential positions, and government contracts, should he be elected. Ron Paul has only the promise that he will work his hardest to scale back the unconstitutional growth of government…. [Paul’s] philosophy on the role of government may limit how influential of a horse-trader he can be.” Results over the last few weeks from states like Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Alaska tell us that that the Republicans don’t yet have a guaranteed frontrunner and guarantee us only one certainty at this point.
On the floor of the RNC, in late August, on primetime television, the American people will watch a political drama unfold in which the Republican old guard tries to horse-trade its way out of the pressure that has built up around it for years. The Mr. Smiths of the Republican Party are angry and organized and have worked their way into the highest levels of the Republican Party. They are the delegates of the highest legislative body of the Republican Party – the RNC. They have voice and vote to change the direction, structure, and leadership of the GOP, and in 2012 the Mr. Smiths of the GOP seem to like Ron Paul a whole lot better than they like Mitt Romney.