Is Ron Paul making Republicans nervous?

Ron Paul’s delegate strategy may be the worst kept secret in Republican circles. And while most observers are treating Mitt Romney as the presumptive nominee, it looks as though Republicans are getting nervous that they may have a floor fight at their convention in Tampa:

Paul supporters swept this weekend’s state GOP conventions, picking up 21 of 24 RNC delegates in Maine and 22 out of 28 delegates in Nevada. The twin victories come on the heels of Paul’s surprise delegate wins at district caucuses and state conventions in Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, and Louisiana, as well as a Paul-friendly takeover of the Alaska GOP.

Paul supporters have managed to stage these state-level coups despite significant resistance from local Establishment Republicans, many of whom are predictably reluctant to relinquish their power to the insurgents. So far, however, the Paul campaign has attributed most of the Establishment’s “shenanigans” to local animosities.

But there is growing evidence that the Romney camp — and the national GOP — are stepping up their efforts to prevent an embarrassing Ron Paul uprising on the floor of the Republican National Convention.

In Maine, for example, the Romney campaign dispatched its top lawyer, Benjamin Ginsberg, to oversee the state convention proceedings this weekend. (It’s worth noting that Ginsberg is best known for his work for George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount.)
Even if the nomination is not in play, an army of Paul delegates could cause significant problems for the presumptive nominee, who needs a smooth convention to assuage concerns about his ability to unite and energize the Republican base.

While some of Paul’s delegates will be bound to vote for Romney on the first ballot, they will not answer to Romney’s campaign. That means that the presumptive nominee will have little control over how those delegates vote on the other issues at the convention, including the party platform, the convention chair, and even the vice-presidential nominee. If Paul winds up with the majority of delegates in six states — and it looks like he might — they will have the power to stop the convention proceedings, and make a motion on anything from electing a new convention chair, to changing the rules, to introducing new platform positions.

Paul hasn’t been willing end his campaign and endorse Romney, recently indicating to CNBC host Larry Kudlow that he wants a strong turnout in Tampa to influence the Republican platform. Based on those comments, it doesn’t sound like they are trying to take away the nomination from Romney, which is what so many Republicans seem to fear.

But Romney would do well, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, to listen to the advice of Newt Gingrich, who warned yesterday by playing off the recent election in Europe that it would be a mistake for the former Massachusett Governor’s campaign to ignore Ron Paul’s supporters:

The European results also put the popularity of Ron Paul in a wider context. The support for his ideas and his anti-establishment campaign is not a uniquely American phenomenon. He is, in fact, challenging the establishment in exactly the same manner as the various protest parties of the right and left in Europe.

These election results suggest the tea party movement and the support focused on Ron Paul is not a small development. It betrays historic discontent, and I doubt we have seen the last of it.

If Gov. Romney succeeds in giving voice to that discontent in a serious discussion with the American people, he has a strong chance in the fall. Indeed, the European elections suggest President Obama faces a much steeper mountain to climb as the choice clarifies over the next few months.

Romney gave hints during the campaign that he was willing to listen to Paul, but that’s when the nomination was still up in the air. Now that Romney has nearly secured the number of delegates to become the “presumptive nominee,” he may be thinking that he doesn’t need Paul or his supporters anymore.

If that’s the case, then Romney is going to go into an election without a very vocal group behind him, and they will no doubt turn to Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson, who will be picking up where Paul’s campaign left off.

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