Whether on the playground or in presidential politics, rules can’t be changed midway through the process just because they become inconvenient. But that’s what Massachusetts state Republican leaders are trying to do by invoking dubious technicalities to try to remove Ron Paul supporters who were chosen as delegates to the party’s national convention in Tampa.
The state GOP has good reason to be concerned about a process that allows fervent activists to flood local caucuses and play a disproportionate role in choosing convention delegates. Those delegates will nonetheless be pledged to Mitt Romney, who, after all, won 72 percent of votes in the March presidential primary, versus less than 10 percent for Paul. But according to party rules, Romney’s campaign had more to do to get its own people chosen as the delegates to the Tampa convention; they had to show up at local party caucuses, the obscure gatherings where delegates are actually chosen. They didn’t, at least not to the degree that Paul’s supporters did. To the extent that Paul’s zealous supporters abided by the caucus rules in place, they deserve the delegates that they won. Attempts to throw out scores of caucus votes on technical issues, which is what party leaders would be doing by ignoring provisional ballots the rules had allowed for, should be abandoned.
By flooding caucuses in Massachusetts and some other states, Paul’s supporters hoped to plant their own people on the convention floor to influence the party platform and other ideological battles. But the actual effect of Paul’s caucus wins in Massachusetts and a half-dozen or so other states should be minimal. The vast majority of convention delegates will still be bona fide Romney backers, so they can vote down any embarrassing motion. Should things get out of hand after Romney is officially nominated, national party leaders, now on notice for Paul’s procedural moves, should have their own parliamentary measures at the ready to stop them.
It’s important that the party’s direction heading out of the convention reflects what the GOP electorate actually voted for. That’s why Massachusetts Republicans must reconsider their delegate rules before the next election. It makes little sense to hold a binding primary to determine the will of the voters, only to see it undermined by a relatively tiny group of caucus-goers.