TAMPA, Fla. —
The Republican Party changed a series of rules Friday to significantly
increase Mitt Romney’s power over the GOP and make it harder for
insurgent presidential candidates to compete in future elections.
After Ron Paul used the convention process to win the most delegates
in some of the states where he lost the popular vote, the Republican
convention rules committee passed a measure to ensure that a candidate
who wins a statewide caucus or primary ultimately controls its
delegation and gets more leverage over picking his delegates. The shift
to binding primaries and caucuses means the end of so-called beauty
The Romney campaign’s move will mean less consequential state
conventions — lower-profile events that typically follow the popular
vote caucuses and primaries. It also might fend off potential primary
challenges from the right in 2016 should Romney win this November.
The rule change forces states like Iowa to adjust their caucus
process to ensure that whoever wins on caucus night is ultimately
awarded the most delegates.
“We are presenting a package of rules designed to correct what we saw
as a damaging flaw in 2012 and wish to correct for 2016,” said Ben
Ginsberg, Romney’s top lawyer.
Looking to avoid another protracted nominating contest, the body also
voted that any state can award delegates winner-take-all. Going into
2012, the rule was changed so that states with elections before April 1
had to proportionally award their delegates. The practical effect of
this rules change was that it took much longer for Romney to secure the
If Romney wins in November, another significant change passed here
Friday give him dramatically more power to shape the primary calendar
and apportionment of delegates going into 2016. Historically only the
convention rules committee, which meets just once every four years, can
officially change party rules. But going forward, the Republican
National Committee — a group of 168 elected representatives from the
states and territories — can change party rules with a three-fourths
But Ginsberg isn’t waiting to push rules through that national
committee. He introduced and passed a measure Thursday that requires a
candidate to control eight state delegations in order to be formally
nominated on the floor of a convention, upping the threshold from five.
Paul comes to Tampa with three, meaning he will not get a chance to
speak on the floor.
Conservatives cried foul and Paul acolytes felt railroaded, but a day
of heated speeches couldn’t hold off the pro-Romney maneuvers.
“It’s definitely a power grab by the campaign, the committee,” said
Drew McKissick, South Carolina’s representative on the rules committee.
“It’s bad juju. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, they can do
“This really is truly groundbreaking,” he added. “We are telling all the states how they have to pick their delegates.”
He and others were gathering signatures late Friday for a minority
report, which they’d like to present on the floor of the full convention
next week. This is procedurally difficult, but their only opportunity
to stop the changes from going into effect.
Virginia representative Morton Blackwell, who has been a delegate at
every convention since he supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, said
allowing rules to be changed in between conventions will make it easy
for an incumbent president to tailor the rules to his liking.
“Arms are twisted,” he said. “Trips are offered.
Various people can be influenced. And that is an unhealthy situation….It
amounts to a power grab…This would centralize it much more.”
Blackwell frets that the push will alienate Paul supporters and drive them to support third-party candidates.
“They will see this an attack on them: newcomers,” he added. “Mr.
Ginsberg’s proposal is going to lose votes, which should have gone to
our Republican candidates this November.”
Ginsberg preached the value of flexibility.
“This is for better or for worse necessary in the world in which we
find ourselves politically,” Ginsberg said. “Providing this flexibility
to be able to deal … is important for the political survival of the
party in the electoral context.”
Ginsberg also helped push a rule change so that members of the
convention site selection committee can pick their home state, which has
previously been banned. And he helped kill a measure that would have
given 10 percent more delegates to states with closed primaries.
Many members of the platform committee closely watched Ginsberg. He’s
a Patton Boggs partner who played key roles in the 2000 Florida recount
and resigned from the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 after advising the
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Representatives from Utah and Massachusetts, two states in which Romney has deep ties, spoke in support of the changes.
A host of representatives from other states worried aloud about
changing the scale of changes. There were opportunities earlier in the
week to discuss what Romney wanted, but they waited until the final day.
“I know there’s a lot of lobbying going on from some powerful
people,” said Bettye Fine Collins from Alabama, “but let me remind each
and every one of you the most powerful people are those voters back
Many Republicans who supported the Romney delegate push feel that the
wishes of Republican rank-and-file voters are not being respected in
the three states whose delegations Paul controls at the convention:
Nevada, Minnesota and Iowa.
“These conventions are rife with mischief,” said Robert O’Brien,
representative of California. “They can overturn the will of hundreds of
thousands, if not millions, of voters who supported a candidate.”
Ginsberg got most of what he wanted but not everything. He tried
unsuccessfully to reverse a decision by another rules committee earlier
in the week that would take away all but nine delegates from states who
schedule their primaries before the last Tuesday of February without
permission, namely Florida.
Blackwell balked when Ginsberg presented another amendment to require
that 40 percent of delegates on the committee must sign off on a
minority report to bring a challenge to the full convention. It is
currently 25 percent.
“He is systematically trying to prevent minorities from having any
even remote opportunity of being heard. This is truly an outrage,”
Blackwell said. “This, Mr. Ginsberg, really takes the cake.”
When Ginsburg decided to withdraw the amendment, the Paul supporters cheered.
“Let the record show a ray of sunshine came into the room,” said
former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, a top Romney surrogate who
chaired the convention’s rules meeting.