Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in his run for the Republican Party's presidential nomination was famously following a "delegate strategy" aimed at caucus states, rather than striving for mass popular votes in primary states. The advantage of this strategy is that its results were more malleable and less cut and dried than "you earn delegates based on the popular vote."
Now the disadvantages of that delegate strategy are becoming clear: The results are more malleable and less cut and dried than "you get delegates based on the popular vote."
In four states, the question of how many delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa in late August will end up dedicated to Paul is embroiled in challenges and appeals to the national party.
Last week, the Paul campaign challenged all 46 delegates sent to the RNC by the state party in Louisiana. The party honored the delegation of a small, rump anti-Paul faction that broke from the Paul majority during the state party's June convention. As CNN reported:
"We believe that they grossly and blatantly and repeatedly violated their party rules and elected a delegation that was improper," said Paul's campaign chairman Jesse Benton. "We believe that our rump convention is the legitimate delegation and they have a right to be seated at the Republican National Convention."
Even some Romney partisans from the state are telling the RNC that the delegation the Louisiana state party is trying to send to Tampa is illegitimate.
Earlier in July, the Paul campaign challenged the Oregon Republican Party's attempts to unseat—illegitimately, the campaign insists—some Paul alternate delegates.
Sixteen duly elected Paul delegates from Massachusetts who had their status stripped from them for refusing to sign affidavits (or in some cases supposedly filing them too late or with insufficiently specific language) swearing to vote for Romney even though they prefer Paul are challenging that action by the state party with the RNC. An affidavit from a stripped delegate, Brad Wyatt, explains that he was told by the state GOP chairman that he just didn't trust Wyatt and that the Romney campaign had "just cause to refuse to certify you."
From the other direction, in a state whose delegation Paul firmly controlled, Maine, a prominent Republican, Peter E. Cianchette, last week filed a challenge with the RNC to de-Paulify the delegation. He claimed, as the Associated Press reported, that "there were illegal votes at May's state Republican Convention, that a quorum wasn't present when votes for delegates were cast, and that convention officials violated party and parliamentary rules."
These various challenges go before the national party's contest committee in the next couple of weeks, and can be then considered by the credentials committee. What does all this state delegation tumult say about relations between the Paul campaign and the rest of the GOP? Clearly, on the state level, existing party apparati are not afraid of fighting Paulians outright. Paul fans are collecting grievances about sketchy party actions that worked to Romney's favor across the nation.
USA Today a couple of weeks back ran a story—whose theme was supported by on-the-record comments from Paul's political director Jesse Benton—spinning without much substance the idea that "the national party is welcoming Paul and his supporters to the event with open arms."
The story didn't have many concrete facts to support the thesis. It spun as a big favor to Paul that the party didn't use its control over most of the available gathering spaces in Tampa to prevent Paul from holding a rally but in fact helped him find a venue. As Paul activist (he was the mastermind behind the famous Ron Paul Blimp in 2008) Trevor Lyman wrote in reaction to the USA Today story:
The RNC is offering Ron Paul a location for his own rally one day before the actual convention. This is NOT a speaking role, nor any kind of role, at the convention itself. This is NOT an offer to influence the party platform, nor an opportunity to influence the debate. Rather, this is an offer to put Ron Paul and his supporters into a 'Freedom of speech zone', a place where you're allowed to protest and speak out, and that also happens to be at a location where no one can hear you.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, head of the platform committee at the RNC, told the Washington Times that he expects to see great influence from both Paul and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in terms of ideas in the platform. Yet McDonnell also says there's "about 80 percent overlap of ideas between traditional conservatives within the party and the libertarian wing," which elides both foreign policy and strong and immediate cuts in spending, areas where Paul's people believe in a far smaller and less activist government than Romney does.
Investor and Paul fan Mark Spitznagel wrote at Forbes this week about the ancient Chinese pedigree of Paul's strategy, which Spitznagel identifies as "shi"—"cultivating the influence of the present on the future" like the slow flow of water rather than a full frontal assault. Spitznagel says that strategy manifests in Paul's slow accretion of support among the young and on local and state Republican parties without forcing the sort of big all-or-nothing fight that many Paul fans dreamed of seeing in Tampa.
Many Paul fans decided that rather than fighting the RNC in Tampa, they'd just make a show of political and ideological force demonstating that the Paul movement is bigger than whatever does, or doesn't, happen on the convention floor.
Tracy Diaz is on the planning committee for Paul Festival, a three day convention of dozens of Paulite speakers and bands, including the Mises Institute's Lew Rockwell, Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt, and Meltdown author Thomas Woods. This Fest is organized and run by the grassroots, outside the official campaign apparatus. (Paul himself is not scheduled to appear.) Diaz says it's meant to be a "tribute to what we've been working so hard to do—fundamentally change the GOP platform and infuse it with freedom and liberty" and to show "that we're not going anywhere." Even if not on the convention floor itself, "this is us, we are strong and we are here."
The Tampa Fairgrounds where the event is being held can hold up to 100,000, though Diaz says they currently expect 25,000. Diaz, while not using the term, also frames the Paul movement's strategy from here in "shi"-like terms—not about open tumult in the streets of Tampa (though Veterans for Ron Paul are in Tampa planning a march on the RNC) but about slowly moving through politics and culture as a continual peaceful revolution.
The GOP has a big problem when it comes to keeping Paul fans on the reservation, a man who is one of the honored guests at the Paul Festival: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who is making a concerted effort to win over Paul fans to support his LP run.
A Paul grassroots analyst at Liberty Chat looked at the Alexa website rankings of sites around the Paul world since the Paul campaign started winding down in May, and found that Paul-fan specific sites such as Ron Paul Forums and Daily Paul are seeing readership plummeting (41 percent for the former, 14 for the latter) while Gary Johnson's website views went up 110 percent.
"There's a large contingent" among Paul fans, Diaz thinks, who will vote for Johnson believing he's the best option "even if he has a little bit of compromise." She also thinks many of the hardcore will either write in Ron Paul or sit out the presidential race. Despite the Paul grassroots desire to influence the GOP moving forward, she thinks pretty much none of them will vote Romney for president.
Andrew Boucher, former national political director for Rick Santorum's campaign, has been watching Paul's delegate strategy unfold with interest, saying it's the same strategy his team would have pursued if his candidate had stuck it out. Every delegate dedicated to Paul in Tampa is important, even if they can't win on the floor. (A group of Paul partisans working without the support of the official campaign have filed a federal lawsuit to get the RNC to admit that no delegate is "bound" to vote for Romney, and hope such a declaration could still leave it open for a Paul victory, something the campaign itself gave up on months ago.)
"Being a delegate is a resume builder, it shows you paid your dues," says Boucher, who is himself an alternate delegate from South Carolina. "When the Party reorganizes in the next couple of years, these delegates will make up the backbone of the Party moving forward."
"This entire system rewards people who show up, and what we learned through the state convention processes is that Ron Paul's organization has been showing up," Boucher says. But in doing so, as these various delegation fights prove, they've been butting heads with the party's entrenched powers.
"There's a certain amount of hostility because a lot of the inroads the Ron Paul organization has been making has been at the expense of the folks who came into county party headquarters and turned the lights on every day for 20-30 years, folks who every year lined up for lifetime achievement awards at annual Lincoln Day dinners," Boucher says. "All of a sudden they are being told, look, you're doing it wrong. The Paul activists tend to be younger and come in with guns blazing, and in a system built on hierarchy and tradition that's going to ruffle some feathers."
But Boucher thinks the long game is more important than the delegation fights happening right now. "For the small-l libertarian movement to be a large force within the Republican Party they have to convince a lot of those people working and volunteering for the Party for decades to get on board. Not an us v. them thing, but them joining us. All those people setting up folding tables at chili suppers will be necessary to the Paul movement if it's to be successful."
It's with that understanding that the Paul campaign has mostly talked a game of cooperation and friendship with the Romney camp and the Republican Party at large. But as their willingness to challenge the Louisiana delegation shows, they are trying to walk the line Paul himself laid out in a June video to his fans: "We should not be disruptive, but should also not be pushed around and that to me is very very important." With a pincer manuever of Paul delegates on the floor and potentially tens of thousands of Paul grassroots elsewhere in Tampa, the Paul Revolution is spontaneously trying to walk that delicate line.