COMMENTARY | Ron Paul has announced he has stopped actively campaigning for the Republican nomination. Sounds like he's done with his bid for the presidency, right?
Not so fast.
The thing is, the Republicans are doing a delegate dance, one you may not know is even going on. If you recall, way back in January, our first announcement out of Iowa was that Mitt Romney had won. Then we learned, mea culpa, it was actually Rick Santorum.
And then it was Ron Paul, as discussed by Rachel Maddow. Raw Story broke down her commentary: basically, the head of the Iowa Republican Committee is a Paul supporter, and the central delegation is populated with Paul supporters, so by Maddow's calculation, Paul will get at least half of the Iowa delegates. How? The primary in Iowa is non-binding, meaning that the delegates are not required to vote for the winner of the primary at the national convention.
Are you still with me? It's fine if you're not; this system is mind-bogglingly confusing.
See, even though the members of the Republican Party may dutifully go out and cast their votes for their choice for the GOP nomination, those votes may work out to be effectively meaningless because of the way the system is structured. As reported by the New York Times, the delegate process is incredibly complicated, varying greatly in how delegates are selected and whether they are required to vote for a certain candidate when they get to the convention.
But that only tells part of the story, and Ron Paul is betting that his strategy -- taking delegates that are not bound to vote for the winner of the state -- will pay off. In fact he's betting so strongly that he's announced he'll no longer campaign in new states.
Here's the idea, far more artfully explained by Maddow than I can hope to, but I'll give it a shot. Paul is counting on wheeling and dealing at the convention, wooing delegates that come from states where they can, effectively, change their minds, regardless of the candidate selected by the voters. In fact, as per the Maddow piece, the dealing's already begun. though it sounds strange, it's happened successfully once before, with Warren G. Harding, who was nominated after the 10th round of voting at the 1920 convention.
All of this is perfectly legal and provided for by the rules, and yet, do you, like I do, feel like this whole thing is a little, well … undemocratic?
In a way, the primary voters going to the polls -- in states where delegates are not bound -- is a pantomime of the democratic process. Since the delegates can effectively choose whomever they want, the voting means nothing. The candidate could be selected on the whims of just over a thousand individuals in a perfectly sanctioned mini-coup.
And this is the way Paul plans to win the race.
It's a little uncomfortable to think of someone who calls himself a Libertarian gaming the voting system for his benefit, though the system itself allows it. Nonetheless, no one should take Paul's announcement that he will no longer be campaigning as an indicator that he's out of the race.
No, we won't know for sure until the convention. Who will come out the GOP nominee? Don't put all your eggs in the Mitt Romney basket just yet; to borrow a phrase, the game is afoot.