Tuesday marked the date of what was scheduled to be Idaho’s “Nonbinding Republican Primary,” but earlier this year, a bill through the Idaho state legislature went into law changing the primary to a caucus held on Super Tuesday. In that March 6 caucus, all Idaho delegates were bound to Mitt Romney.
As a result, no presidential primary was held Tuesday in Idaho. What was held instead was the precinct committeeman elections, which can ultimately have a say on the how national delegates are decided at the state level. When state parties convene in their state conventions, the delegates to that convention compose the highest legislative body of that party. Across the country, any time a two-thirds supermajority of delegates agree on a single issue, those delegates can have a drastic impact at the state level.
In Idaho, Ron Paul supporters understood that by having a strong turnout in Tuesday’s elections, they could go on to have a strong impact at the state and perhaps even national conventions. If these supporters could have two-thirds of delegates show up the state convention, they could perhaps even unbind Idaho delegates and allow them to vote their conscience instead of being committed to Romney.
At this stage, no one can really be sure how many Ron Paul supporters are making their way through the delegate process in Idaho, but like many other states – Ron Paul supporters have read the rules that the insiders wrote, and figured out how to follow those rules to the "T" in the process of using them to win the delegate game.
This is the delegate game that Ron Paul is playing – remember that delegates decide presidential nominees, not voters. Popular votes, in fact, are nothing more than beauty contests and don’t matter all that much. Our electoral system, contrary to what is often said, is not actually a democratic method of choosing the president. The will of the people really doesn’t matter. The will of the electors matters. That’s the lesson Barack Obama used to become president in 2008. Against an opponent with greater name recognition – Hillary Clinton – Obama was able to win the delegates regardless of popular vote results.
Idaho will follow the pattern of many other states. In the original Super Tuesday caucus, both Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had a strong finish, and have thus gained delegates in the state. But Santorum is no longer active in the race, and Romney has lots of lukewarm supporters who may not be enthusiastic about participating in the state GOP convention. Ron Paul, on the other hand, has the choice of sitting on the sidelines and seeing to it that the nomination be chosen by a group of lukewarm Republicans, or to see a nominee chosen by a group of very active and passionate people who want to push forward a Republican nominee they can believe in.
Ron Paul lost the popular vote in Idaho, but as a recent release from his campaign shows, even the Paul campaign is a little worried about what steps may be taken by the Republican delegates to the state convention. It appears that no one is sure how the Idaho Republicans may vote at the convention, including Ron Paul’s campaign. Paul campaign manager John Tate commented in the release, “In Idaho, isolated instances of grassroots activists working toward an ostensible ‘hostile takeover’ of the GOP are not sanctioned by the Ron Paul national campaign.”
Had Santorum’s campaign been stronger, this seems like a technique that his grassroots supporters might also have followed, according to the group Idahoans for Liberty, the group that seems to be specifically condemned in Tate’s comments. Idahoans for Liberty in a release stated, “[Members of our group] view [binding national delegates] as unfair and contrary to the national GOP rules, which dictate that proportional delegates should instead be given. Santorum's people had a similar concern.”
Both sides have reasonable concerns in this debate. Idahoans for Liberty want the spirit of the law to be followed. The Paul campaign doesn’t want to come across as scofflaws, but wants to follow the process effectively as possible in order to arrive in Tampa for the Republican National Convention. These are very close positions. Perhaps this disagreement might have just been a case of passions running high in the face of a recognized Idaho grassroots leader, Ryan Davidson, commenting publicly, “I’ll do the scorched earth if I have to.”
I almost wonder if the uber-polite Ron Paul simply wanted to wash his hands of any bad blood in the Republican Party by taking the blame for these independent-minded Idaho Republicans in openly calling for them to not unbind the delegates. When the Idaho convention takes place the weekend of June 21, in Twin Falls, we’ll see how this drama unfolds. Just like any other state, we won’t really know the answer to that until August 30 when the national nominating convention will likely come to a close and the Republicans have a candidate.
If Idaho sends unbound delegates to Tampa, they are likely to be a majority for Paul. If they go bound to Tampa, they are still likely to be a majority for Paul, but still may find themselves voting for Mitt Romney on the first ballot. If all goes well for Paul supporters in Idaho, the rest of the convention – the highest legislative body of the Republican Party – it looks like Ron Paul will have sizeable support of the Idaho Republican Delegates. Whoever wins the nomination, it seems likely that he will have to accept the fact that Ron Paul’s supporters might just have dominated the Republican Party at its highest levels.
As this process plays out, it becomes more and more likely that the recent observations from Huffington Post about Paul are ringing true: “Ron Paul is the most successful presidential candidate in the last couple decades.”