Many of Ron Paul's supporters are currently abuzz with a letter that was written by Jennifer Sheehan, the RNC's legal council in 2008, which appears to state that no state delegate to the GOP convention is bound by his state to vote for a particular candidate. The excitement derives from the fact that if it were true, an outright Romney victory in the first round of voting at the convention in Tampa would be rather unlikely. But if it is not true -- and I am sure the GOP will change rules if necessary to make it untrue -- there may be just as much excitement to be had in the possibility of something that is rather more in the control of Paul's supporters.
It's the big "What if?" question that the letter begs but that few have asked.
What if Paul's supporters just ignore the binding rules and vote their consciences? What if, in Tampa, all those Paul supporters who are bound by state rules to vote for Romney put the ball firmly back in the GOP's court, and say, "Your move"?
One's first reaction might be to point out that if that were possible, it would have happened before.
But that would be a mistake. The GOP is now in uncharted territory.
Romney's support has proven so shallow and Paul's so deep that, all over the country, at GOP meetings in which delegates are selected to represent a county at the state convention or a state at the national convention, there are too many Paulites in the room to allow pro-Romney party officials to get their favored slates pushed through without underhanded shenanigans. This is having important effects. The most immediately important of these is that, in states where delegates are bound to vote for the candidate who won the state's primary vote (often Romney), the delegates who care enough to actually participate in the process are Paul supporters, and they are selecting Paul-favoring delegates. For example, whereas of the 28 delegates that Nevada will be sending to Tampa, eight are bound to Paul and 20 are bound to Romney, 14 of Romney's 20 are really Ron Paul supporters who'd only be voting for Romney because they are "bound" to. And in Colorado, where 14 delegates are bound to Romney, and only two to Paul, what the official numbers don't say is that the 16 uncommitted are probably all Paul supporters.
So if the Paul supporters were not bound, they may indeed have the numbers, and therefore the means, to stop Romney in the first round of voting. But would they have the chutzpah to unbind themselves -- and a reasonable expectation that if they caused such creative chaos, the outcome could be favorable? I think they do -- courtesy of the GOP itself.
Romney's Achilles' heel is a moral one. It is the sum of all of the cheating that has been done in his favor by the party. For example...
In Oklahoma, party officials pulled out a ballroom divider to cordon off Ron Paul supporters and shut them out of participation. Later they turned out the lights. Voice votes that were clearly lost were declared won.
In Alaska, party officials defeated the majority by retaining the committee which "interpreted rules" and later, after taking the delegation, reluctantly gave up the party control to the new majority but transferred all of the money out of the Republican Party accounts.
In Virginia, at a district convention, officials coaxed the Ron Paul delegation outside and then locked the door. The pastor of the church that was hosting the event was, himself, locked outside.
In Missouri, officials had all the delegates sign up at county conventions and then had their county chairman take the rolls outside and lock them in their car trunks so they could block roll call voting and have their chairman declare lost voice votes as won.
And so on, and so on.
The full list, of which the above is a tiny part, not only provides a moral justification for Paul's people to refuse to play ball at the convention: more importantly, it explains why such hardball could actually work. After all, which fair-minded American wouldn't like to see powerful partisans punished for their arrogance? Which Democrat or Independent or even average American who doesn't care much for politics but feels seriously let down by a political elite who act out of a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of service -- which of them wouldn't think the Paul people were doing no more than giving as good as they had gotten... especially when the nation is reminded that the GOP wasn't bound by its own rules when it chose to provide material support to Romney while the race was still ongoing.
Imagine it. At last, their rEVOLution would have to be televised, and what good TV it would be -- the very stuff that cable infotainment is made of.
When a reporter from CNN interviews a delegate from Nevada with faintly disapproving confusion, the delegate might say, "We wish we didn't have to do it, but at the state convention in 2008, the party officers turned out the lights and left in the middle of the meeting just so our vote for Ron Paul wouldn't be counted. So we think it's payback time."
And when that airs, I don't think many Americans would disagree with him. Yet, plenty would think that in a small way, the Paulbots had just landed a punch on behalf of a nation that has wondered for too long how to get through to that special elite that long ago forgot who works for whom.
What could the GOP do about it?
If it were to disqualify all those self-unbinding delegates, the fracture -- and more importantly, the story that it told -- would be huge. The Democrats would eat it up and the GOP would have just told 20% of its own base that they are not wanted. Even if Romney could still win the nomination, the GOP would have just lost the election.
So the better course would be for the GOP to count Paul's delegates' votes, and Romney would be unlikely to win on the first round. His mantle as the one who could obviously beat Obama would be tarnished if he couldn't clearly beat his one Republican rival. Not only the liberty Republicans, but also the social Conservatives who never really trusted Romney anyway, would be in a position to choose a candidate they really cared for in the subsequent rounds.
And that's when the narrative would really change.
Everyone knows that in a second ballot, Romney's vote would fall, making him less credible, and (here's the safest bet in American politics) Paul's rises, making him the most exciting ticket in town.
Once the inevitability of Romney's nomination disappears, everyone will be free to admit that it was only the illusion of inevitability that made him look like, well, the inevitable nominee in the first place.
If the Mormon halo flickers, that very human capacity that has so far served Romney so well -- the post hoc justification of something believed to be in one's self-interest -- would swing, in short order, in Paul's favor. People get very excited about an underdog who can win -- especially if he is an underdog that was kept down by nefarious means.
Is this possibility or fantasy? At the time of writing, the official bound state delegate counts out of the few states that have already held their state conventions are 33 for Paul and 73 for Romney, but the number of delegates from these states that are known to favor Paul and Romney are 65 and 59, respectively. All other delegate numbers are at this point projections or speculation.
Those who look at the mountain that Ron Paul has to climb and wonder, "How?" might find their answer by looking at the mountain that Romney has to tumble down, and asking the very same question.