TAMPA, Fla. -- The key to the Ron Paul movement's insurgency this year hinged on one thing: It could pick off delegates to the GOP national convention through the state convention process.
This process allowed supporters of the Texas congressman to end up with control of states where Paul did not actually win the popular vote. Paul, in fact, never won a state outright, but ended up controlling the majority of delegates in Iowa, Nevada and Maine. In each of those states, Paul finished second or third in the popular vote, but ended up controlling the majority of the delegates. How?
The Huffington Post wrote about the process in detail back in March. Basically, Paul supporters learned the party rules, played by those rules, and outhustled other campaigns in order to control the states they ultimately took over.
If a candidate has a majority of eight states, they can be nominated from the floor of the convention, and that would prompt a roll call vote of all the states on that nomination. In fact, Paul forces potentially wrested control of six states, but lost their delegate majorities in Massachusetts and Louisiana in procedural fights earlier this week.
Well, now the rules have changed. The GOP's convention committee on Friday passed a rule stating that when there is a statewide popular vote, if the result is not winner-take-all, each candidate must get delegates in proportion to their percentage of the popular vote. The rule was proposed and pushed through the committee by lieutenants loyal to presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
This means a small but motivated group of activists cannot work through the mind-numbing process -- caucus vote, county convention, congressional district convention, and then state convention -- to overturn the results of the popular vote at the caucus.
Paul supporters took this path. Supporters of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa) also tried to do this, with less success, when their primary candidate gained momentum in February.
But many in the GOP felt this way of accruing support, even if it was within the rules, was undemocratic.
"If you want to tell voters that their vote doesn't count, this is a way to do that," said Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), speaking at the rules committee meeting about the system as it existed over the past year.
The convention rules committee also made a less noticed change that might eliminate another element of the 2012 primary that caused the Romney campaign great heartburn, and that helped Paul and Santorum. It loosened rules that kept states from moving their primary up in the calendar, meaning that in the future, the primary might become more condensed instead of the extended, lengthy primary calendar this year.
Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett opposed the change, and was still contesting the rule late in the day.
"If we hadn't passed the rules we did two years ago, we would have had 37 states voting in the first Tuesday in March. That's a de facto national primary. I think that's bad for the system," Bennett told The Huffington Post. "We need the opportunity to vet our presidential candidates and Mitt Romney today is a much better candidate than he was on Feb. 1."
Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker, a longtime Paul supporter, said the change in proportionality rules "penalized" candidates like Santorum.
"Santorum had the opportunity to go to all 99 counties, talk with all Iowans, visit with them, and he ultimately won the state. If you frontload the calendar you take away the ability for somebody who doesn't have a tremendous amount of money to compete," Spiker said.
Romney legal adviser Ben Ginsberg, who pushed through the other changes mentioned above, also helped steer another change through the convention rules committee. This third change raised the threshold, from five states to eight states, for candidates who want to be nominated for president or vice president from the floor of the convention. A similar change was rejected by the Republican National Committee rules committee on Wednesday.
Morton Blackwell, a committeeman from Virginia, called the rule change "another of Mr. Ginsberg's centralizing proposals," and said it was another move that would turn off new blood coming into the Republican Party, such as Ron Paul supporters and other first-time participants in the party process.
Spiker said the threshold change was "not politically wise."
"Ron Paul doesn't have five states, and to the people out there that support him who think he does, now it looks like, 'Oh he had those five, and they're going to think the RNC and Romney raised the bar to eight to prevent Ron from speaking and from being nominated," Spiker said.
The changes following are pending a vote by the entire convention on Monday.
UPDATE: 6:30 p.m. -- After the Rules Committee adjourned late in the day Friday, Drew McKissick, an RNC delegate from South Carolina, circulated what is known as a "minority report" that seeks to undo a part of one of the rule changes.
Ginsberg proposed that the party's nominee be empowered to pick all delegates bound to them earlier in the day. That was weakened somewhat when committee man Henry Barbour amended it so that the nominee can only disavow, or eliminate, a potential delegate from attending the national convention on his or her behalf.
Such powers are still more than state parties want to grant to the national GOP, and so McKissick's minority report states that delegates will be disqualified if the nominee has "disavowed" them or an alternate delegate.
A minority report needs 28 signatures to be submitted, or 25 percent of the 112-member Convention Rules Committee. McKissick said he has 29, and will continue to recruit more names to prevent opponents of his measure from picking off key votes.
The full convention will vote on the rules package on Monday, but an RNC attorney told reporters Friday evening that any minority report requires the approval of the majority of delegates in eight states in order to come to the floor for a vote.
UPDATE: 4:42 p.m. -- Romney legal adviser Ben Ginsberg, asked by reporters to comment on the day's proceedings, said he did not want to talk about it.Minority report