RNC Rules to Stifle Ron Paul in 2012 Could Come Back to Bite in 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Reno Ballroom and Museum in Reno, Nevada, Sunday,
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Reno Ballroom and Museum in Reno, Nevada, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Lance Iversen)

The Republican National Committee, or RNC, may use the tactics it used to stifle Ron Paul in 2012 to handle a possible floor fight over Donald Trump.

The first order of business at the Republican Convention this coming June will be to ratify new rules. What this means is that the rules the RNC agreed on after the Convention in 2012 will expire as soon as the gavel drops to open the new meeting.

Now, usually this is mainly procedural -- the party affirming the parts of the Convention rules that are still applicable, maybe changing around some things for the benefit of also-rans or the standard bearer.

However, in recent years there's been a push to use the rule changes to undercut the party's more extreme, populist and anti-government wings.

In 2012 there was a very real chance that Ron Paul's supporters would upend the entire Convention by forcing a fight over their candidate. Rick Ungar has a good breakdown of what happened, but here's a quick play-by-play of the situation.

Paul's supporters were going to use pluralities in five states to force Paul's name onto the ballot through Rule 40 (B). The rule specified that that be the threshold for placing a candidate's name on the ballot.

In other words, 40 (B) said that any candidate with the largest share of delegates in five states could be placed on the ballot for nomination. If Paul, for example, had 30 percent but no one had higher, he would have a plurality.

As a way to stop the insurgency against Romney and ensure his victory, the RNC changed the rule to a majority of delegates in eight states. Now a candidate needed to win at least 50.1 % of delegates from eight states to be on the ballot. And that's still the way it is, and the way it will be until the 2016 Convention.

Under these current rules, there's no way of determining a clear delegate winner until Super Tuesday, at least. By switching from plurality to majority, it makes New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina relatively meaningless. All three states will see a roster of candidates over ten deep. Getting a majority of those delegates is near impossible by primary voting.

The problem for the RNC only gets worse when you consider the threat of Donald Trump's poll numbers. If there's one candidate right now who seems poised for majority delegate dominance, it's Trump. This leaves the RNC with two options, and neither are good.

First, the RNC can leave the nominating rules in place. This would either put Trump forward as their sole nominee, or, in another twist, would put no-one forward if no-one reached the berth.

Second, the RNC could change the rules in an attempt to get another nominee. This would make a Trump independent run at least more probable.

Either way, the Republicans don't get the White House in 2016 if these are the RNC's options.