For some Nevada Republicans, this is the nightmare scenario: “Mr. Chairman, the great state of Nevada — home to fabulous Las Vegas; the Biggest Little City in the World, Reno; beautiful Lake Tahoe; and the proud home of our Navy’s Top Gun and our Air Force’s Air Warfare Center, proudly casts its 28 votes for … Texas Congressman Ron Paul!”
For other Republicans, that’s not a nightmare, it’s a dream come true. And it’s all going to play out tomorrow in lovely Sparks at the Nevada Republican Convention.
They’ll fight over the rules! They’ll fight over the agenda! And they may even have some ideological purity tests: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a follower of Ron Paul?”
Best of all: Ron Paul himself will be in the house, firing up the faithful and challenging those delegates who may be otherwise committed.
At stake isn’t just whether Nevada sends a pro-Paul or pro-Mitt Romney delegation to Tampa in August for the GOP national convention. It’s also a fight over the soul of the party, a fight animated by principle but joined in the arcane language of rules, from the Republican National Committee to the state party. It’s a fight between a front-runner who has amassed states and votes and delegates and an underdog without a single state to his name but a legion of committed, smart followers who’ve learned to work within the system, often to the consternation of the establishment.
Witness the primary struggle at Saturday’s convention: A letter from the general counsel of the RNC makes it clear that the convention must elect delegates of whom at least 50 percent not only say they will support Romney, but actually do. And just to be sure, writes RNC Chief Counsel John R. Phillippe Jr., “… An authorized representative of the presidential campaign that the delegate or prospective delegate professes to support should be allowed to confirm whether or not the delegate is an actual supporter.”
And if they don’t? Phillippe again: “I believe it is highly likely that any committee with jurisdiction over the matter would find improper any change to the election, selection, or binding of delegates, thus jeopardizing the seating of Nevada’s entire delegation to the National Convention.”
First the RNC pressures Nevada to move its caucus date, then they tell us how we can elect our delegates. The nerve!
Carl Bunce, leader of the Ron Paul supporters in Nevada, says it’s the Republican establishment which is trying to change the rules. Under Nevada’s plan — submitted without objection to the RNC in October — delegates should be elected by self-nomination, and then later told for whom they must vote, based on how those candidates performed in the February caucus.
(Romney took 50 percent of the vote, while Paul took third place with 18 percent. Newt Gingrich took second with 21 percent and Rick Santorum earned 10 percent, but both have suspended their campaigns.)
“They’re worried, and that’s why they’re changing the rules,” Bunce said. “You’ve got to look at the trends. They are concerned.”
Paul backers have earned top spots in several key states, including Iowa and Massachusetts, Romney’s home state. They envision a convention where Paul supporters — sent by states where his followers have infiltrated state party conventions — outnumber those for Romney, and their man comes with far fewer delegates but leaves with the nomination.
While Bunce himself says he would vote for the candidate to whom he’s bound by party rules (at least on the initial vote in Tampa), “I can’t vouch for every Ron Paul supporter who makes it to the Republican convention.”
And that’s the stuff of establishment nightmares.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.