The Paul campaign definitely isn’t winning first ballot. But there's still much to win.
Still, because of the unbound nature of 197 extant delegates from caucus states, and his campaign’s diligent efforts to ensure that their people rise through the convoluted GOP state convention process, it’s likely that he has many more committed delegates in hand than the media counts.
And as still-excited Paul partisans will tell you: Paul can’t go into Tampa with enough to win on first ballot. As The Daily Beast points out, it seems unlikely that Mitt Romney, clearly in the lead now, can do so either.
This raises speculations about a brokered convention, and Paul’s campaign chair Jesse Benton sees that as hopeful for Ron Paul—in fact, it’s the only hope he’s got to actually get the nomination.
Anything can happen at a brokered convention—in our imaginations at least. Given the general attitudes of the average GOP stalwart, though, it’s hard to imagine Ron Paul coming out of one a winner. Ronald Reagan in 1976 made quite the push to deny leader Gerald Ford the nomination when Ford lacked a clear majority going into the convention, and even Reagan, god-saint of modern Republicanism, failed. Former GOP superstrategist Roger Stone, who lived through those days, reminded me that Reagan actually represented the views and enthusiasms of the mass of GOP activists in his day in a way Ron Paul does not now. This makes it even less likely Paul will succeed with any last-minute Tampa coup.
But in the anything-goes fever dreams of a brokered convention, even the bound delegates will eventually become unbound. Which is why Paul’s vaunted delegate strategy isn’t only seeking to get delegates in unbound caucus states. They are working hard on training and educating their people on how to become delegates everywhere and anywhere they can, even if they are bound to vote their state’s voters' preferences for someone else the first time. Benton says that such delegate training and education is “absolutely one of the most important things” they are doing. Various activists across the country have told me of being contacted out of the blue by campaign volunteers or workers and talked into going through the GOP’s rigmarole (which varies state by state) to seek delegate seats.
So as far as Paul himself, his campaign, and a lot of his supporters are concerned, it ain’t over. Still, Politico described the Paul camp’s mood as frustrated in this story after Tuesday, and it’s easy to imagine that’s true. Look at the dark side: no outright popular vote victories, despite hopes for such victories ranging from Iowa at the start to Maine to North Dakota to Alaska to Washington to Idaho. A clean win now mathematically impossible. Free media dwindling. Opponents who they dreamed they could have rid themselves of a month or more ago riding high. Even Paul’s vaunted and clear command of the youth vote, manifest in the early states, has slipped away lately, with him tying for the grim 5 percent turnout of under-30s with Romney and Santorum.
Still, Benton says that “we are very pleased with where we are right now, this is how we scripted it, this is where we envisioned being at and we are pleased. Certainly we would have liked to win a beauty contest or two [by winning a state popular vote], but as far as our position for delegate allocation we are exactly where we hoped we’d be.”
The campaign has continued to emulate their very promising early strategy of heavy phone calls combined with mail and candidate appearances—though never quite able to emulate the amount of all those in later states, lacking the many months of concentrated build-up that Iowa and New Hampshire allowed.
“Dr. Paul has said many time that if you don’t like what the establishment is giving you, you need to become the establishment, take over the party with people we trust are committed and want to do the right thing,” Benton says. Indeed, in Los Angeles this weekend I attended a meeting where local Paul activists planned to get a slate of pure Paul people elected to run LA’s GOP Central Committee, and to support various of their fellows own runs for elective office.
While there have been stumbles—Nevada came in grossly below what the campaign's own internal polling indicated, and the constant media talk of a Romney/Paul alliance has been an annoying distraction, one Benton sees as “blatantly planted” by Santorum’s team—Benton still cheerily insists Paul knows they are running “a marathon and not a sprint” and he’s fully committed to fighting to the end if their people continue to give them the funds to do so.
Even for those who question Benton’s optimism, objective signs of encouragement exist, especially for those who understand Paul’s candidacy in the context of a long, long game of libertarian advocacy and political, social, and cultural change.
He pulled 1.1 million votes total last time, and already has around 900,000 so far now. He’s consistently far outperformed his state by state vote totals from 2008 to now, generally by twice or more, in some cases (South Carolina, Washington, Virginia) by more than four times. He continues to show great strength with independents and Democrats. Republicans should remember, no one can win a national election only appealing to Republicans (with 40 percent of the electorate identifying independent). His crowds are still huge, his people are still giving, and libertarian ideas have found in him a champion whose effectiveness and pull has been unparalleled in living memory. Looking forward, even those who sigh and realize a Paul victory is even more wildly unlikely than a year ago get excited about a team of Paulite House and Senate candidates.
While after Super Tuesday in 2008 the Paul campaign began to retreat and retrench a bit, two days out there are no signs of that. An email from Paul via the campaign yesterday says, in classic campaign mail style, that:
I am determined to proudly battle on, picking up more delegates and skewering the pretensions and historical rewrites of ALL the establishment candidates – Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich.