What is Ron Paul doing?
Rick Santorum has already dropped out of the Republican presidential race. Newt Gingrich is expected to do so this week, Wednesday at the latest. Mitt Romney is virtually guaranteed the nomination.
But Ron Paul supporters continue to fight on at Republican caucuses and conventions. Last weekend, they won at the Louisiana caucuses even though Paul managed just 6 percent of the vote in the state's primary earlier this year. The Paulites carried the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th congressional districts. According to one count, 74 percent of the delegates elected to the state convention Saturday were Paul supporters.
"As a result," reports the Times Picayune of New Orleans, "under party rules, Paul is guaranteed at least 17 of the 46 delegates to the convention at which Romney will almost certainly be nominated for president." By contrast, the primary awarded Santorum ten pledged delegates and Romney five.
That same day, Ron Paul supporters were elected chairman and vice chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. Paul finished third in the popular vote in Alaska's caucuses, but his supporters joined with former Tea Party Senate candidate Joe Miller to dominate the state convention. According to Politico, "It's more evidence of the political maturation of the Paul forces, who are beginning to seize the levers of powers from within state parties."
In Minnesota, Paul came in second in the popular vote in the caucuses, ahead of Romney but behind Santorum. Yet this month he swept 20 of the 24 delegates available at the Minnesota congressional district conventions.
Then in Iowa, at least six of the new state Republican central committee members are public Paul supporters. The Des Moines Register describes two others as having "close ties," reporting, "A rising tide of Republicans who share Ron Paul’s philosophy of limited government are flooding into GOP party roles in Iowa." A.J. Spiker, the state party chairman, was a former vice chairman of Paul's Iowa campaign.
The Ron Paul Republicans' mission is twofold. First, they want to secure enough delegates to the Republican National Convention to place Paul's name in nomination. The International Business Times reports, "Washington is now the third state, after Iowa and Minnesota, in which Ron Paul has locked up at least half of the state's nominating delegates." North Dakota and Maine could join them.
Some hope this will give them a longshot chance of winning, citing Warren G. Harding's nomination in 1920. More likely, it gives Paul some leverage at the convention to negotiate for certain platform planks, a promiment speaking slot, or perhaps even have some say over the vice presidential pick.
The second objective is to integrate themselves into party leadership positions like the Christian right did before them. While Paul's supporters are so far a smaller voting bloc than the social conservatives who backed Pat Robertson's presidential campaign in 1988, Paul's crowds on the stump are still huge: over 3,000 turned out to see Paul in Houston, 6,000 in Austin, more than 4,000 in the rain in Philadelphia.
Could Santorum or Gingrich regularly draw such big, young crowds after their chances to win the nomination dwindled? Could Romney do so now?
Paul will also be the last man standing against Romney in some large remaining primaries. He will hope to replicate -- or perhaps even improve upon -- the 40 percent of the vote he got in Virginia when he and Romney were the only Republican presidential candidates on the ballot. Gingrich had similar hopes but failed to consolidate the anti-Romney vote. Paul, however, has superior money and organization.
Certainly, the Paul campaign has had its share of setbacks. After a strong beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire, it fizzled somewhat in South Carolina and sank into the single digits in Florida. It had hoped to do better in Nevada's caucus and to beat Romney outright in Maine's.
But even when they were disappointed by their popular vote totals, Paul supporters stayed behind and tried to win delegates at the low-turnout state and congressional district conventions. This cost-effective insurgent strategy seemed stalled, but now appears to be finally paying some dividends.
Many other Republicans are demoralized. The near-certain nominee doesn't excite them. There are fewer high-profile Tea Party primaries than two years ago. The other conservative presidential candidates have been beaten.
Ron Paul's supporters remain. They are still trying to win delegates and reshape the Republican Party.