TAMPA, May 10, 2012 – With his wins in Maine and Nevada last weekend and imminent wins at state conventions in six more states, it appears that some of us were correct when we said over a month ago that rumors of Ron Paul’s campaign demise were greatly exaggerated.
The media continues to insinuate that there is not only something underhanded about Paul’s strategy, but something fundamentally wrong with what Politico describes as “the country’s cumbersome and arcane system for nominating presidential candidates.” According to this narrative, Paul’s supporters are “undermining democracy” by using said “arcane rules” to nullify the wishes of the electorate.
One could argue that Paul’s strategy is perfectly legitimate and that the process is deliberately set up the way it is to ensure that only informed and committed voters become delegates and choose the nominee. It is a republican rather than a democratic electoral process.
This process doesn’t disenfranchise anyone because everyone has an equal opportunity to become a delegate. The rules are not “arcane.” Arcane means that the information is only available to some people. The rules for how one can become a delegate and how the nominee is chosen are published on the Republican Party website in each state and are equally available to everyone.
That brings us to the real question, representing the other side of all of the passive-aggressive attacks on Paul’s strategy and the nominating process itself.
Why can’t Romney simply employ the same strategy as Ron Paul? Why can’t he win delegate majorities in states where he won the popular vote?
As far as I know, no one has conducted a poll of primary or caucus voters asking them why they did not participate in the delegate selection process. That means that one can only speculate as to why people who support Romney in the popular vote don’t tend to go on to become delegates. However, there are things we know about the requirements for participating in the popular vote versus the requirements for becoming a delegate.
The rules vary from state to state, but for the most part, one need only be registered to vote in the primary or caucus. In some states, one must be a registered Republican to participate in the popular vote. In others, Democrats and independents can participate.
If one meets those minimal qualifications, one may cast a vote in the primary or caucus. One does not have to be informed on the issues or even know who is running. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all or even most participants in popular votes are uninformed. However, there is no requirement that they are informed and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this may be a problem.
For example, a CNN poll following the 2008 Republican primary found that John McCain had strong support from voters who said that they disapproved of the Iraq War, even though McCain had recently said that it would be fine with him if the U.S. stayed in Iraq for a hundred years. Were these voters unaware of McCain’s position?
More recently, 40% of Democratic primary voters in West Virginia voted for a convicted felon who is currently serving a 17-year sentence for extortion in a federal prison in Texas. While this was clearly a protest vote against Obama, voters interviewed by the Charleston Daily Mail said they didn’t even know who Keith Judd was.
This could never happen in the delegate selection process. By the time that a candidate for the RNC delegation has participated in the local caucus, the district or county conventions, and finally the state convention, he not only knows who all of the candidates are but can likely recite their policy positions. He’s heard them over and over during that process.
During all of that debate and campaigning, he may also have learned that the other candidates are right about a few things, even if he disagrees with them on most others. Sometimes, supporters of competing candidates even form coalitions to achieve common interests.
Delegates are also required to be more committed to their candidates than primary voters. Those local, district, county and state conventions aren’t exactly exciting. In fact, they’re downright boring, unless you really care about U.S. domestic and foreign policy and your candidate’s positions.
So, Romney does overwhelmingly better in contests that don’t require the participants to be informed on the issues or even know all of the candidates. They can say they’re against a war but vote for its biggest proponent. They can vote for a candidate even if they are unaware that he is doing time in a federal prison. Their candidate may be the only one they’re aware of because he gets far more coverage by the media and far more advertising money from Wall Street and other special interests. They aren’t required to know that or even be curious about it. All they have to do is register and make a 15-minute commitment to pull a lever behind a curtain.
Ron Paul does overwhelmingly better in contests that require delegates to commit months of their time to the process, to hear the arguments of the other candidates ad nauseum and make arguments for their own candidate in return, and sometimes even form coalitions with the delegates supporting other candidates in order to achieve common goals.
Which process would you rather see determine the nominee for president?