The last time Republicans tried to hold caucuses in Iowa, they ended up with three winners. Mitt Romney won the initial count of the nonbinding delegates by eight votes on Jan. 3, 2012. Two weeks later a new count that actually included every precinct gave the poll to Rick Santorum by 34 votes. Seven months after that, the forces of Ron Paul swarmed the contest that actually elected bound delegates for Tampa. The result: Twenty-two of Iowa’s 28 delegates nominated Ron Paul for president from the convention floor.
The “liberty movement” (that’s the preferred catchall term in Iowa for Paul’s followers) stuck around the state, and took over. Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker was a Ron Paul supporter. So were seven of the 18 current members of the state committee. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul leads narrowly in ridiculously early polls of the next caucuses. He leads in New Hampshire, too. The first two states on the nomination calendar happen to be bastions of Paul voters. No one has won both states and lost the party’s nomination. These facts make Rand Paul even more of a force in Washington; they give the libertarian wing of the party heretofore unimagined clout.
Here’s the problem: When it mattered, the RINOs were in charge. At the Republican National Convention, while the wider world was distracted by Clint Eastwood, the party tweaked the delegate selection process to prevent future insurgencies. Paul’s people had overcome losses in the nonbinding precinct caucus polls of Iowa, Minnesota, and Maine by organizing and winning delegates when it counted, in little-noticed state conventions.
The new RNC rules change all that. The popular vote from those widely covered, widely attended precinct caucuses will now determine delegate counts. In Iowa in 2012, that would have meant probably six delegates each for Romney and Santorum, and five for Paul. Not 22 for Paul. Or it might have meant every available delegate went to Santorum, because another new rule allows states that vote before April 1 to assign all their delegates to whomever wins the popular vote.