Pssst: Ron Paul has already won

Ron Paul announced yesterday that he would not campaign in any states where primaries have yet to take place, a statement that many took to be a withdrawal from the campaign.  This morning, the campaign held a conference call with the media explaining that they had no way to prevent Mitt Romney from winning the nomination outright with bound delegates, but they still hope to have a “major impact at the national convention” anyway:

Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign conceded Tuesday it probably cannot win enough delegates to be the Republican presidential nominee, though it said it still will try to play a major role at August’s convention in shaping the GOP’s rules and platform going forward.

A day after the Texas congressman told supporters he is scaling down his campaign and won’t actively compete for votes in the 11 states still to hold primaries, his campaign said Mr. Paul still will try to maximize the number of actual supporters he has going to the convention — even though in many cases they may not be able to vote for him to be the nominee over front-runner Mitt Romney.

“Several hundred will be bound to Dr. Paul, and several hundred more, although bound to Governor Romney or other candidates, will be Ron Paul supporters,” said Jesse Benton, Mr. Paul’s chief strategist, in a memo describing the state of the race.

“Unfortunately, barring something very unforeseen, our delegate total will not be strong enough to win the nomination. Governor Romney is now within 200 delegates of securing the party’s nod. However, our delegates can still make a major impact at the national convention and beyond,” Mr. Benton said.

Politico reports that the campaign wants to get more control over its supporters, seeing a series of incidents in state conventions as embarrassing and potentially harmful to their long-term plans:

In the past few days alone, several incidents cast the campaign in an unfavorable light: Mitt Romney’s son Josh was booed off the stage by Paul backers in Arizona on Saturday, and Romney surrogates Tim Pawlenty and Gov. Mary Fallin received similarly rude treatment in Oklahoma. They were the latest in a string of recent disruptions from Maine to Alaska that threatened to tarnish Paul’s legacy and marginalize the ideas he believes will one day dominate the Republican Party.

“It concerns him,” campaign chairman Jesse Benton told POLITICO. “He wants to convey to everybody and our staff want to convey that we’ll lose more than we gain if we go and we’re disrespectful. Respect and decorum are very important to Dr. Paul.”

“You need to give respect to get respect,” he added. “We are confident that there will be mutual respect at the convention. We want to make sure that we take every step we can to make sure that happens.”

Paul will retire from the House at the end of this year, and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, is widely expected to run for president in 2016 as a Republican. Against that backdrop, the Paul high command worries about Pyrrhic victories: hostile takeovers at state conventions that win hordes of delegates but generate a backlash that could hurt the younger Paul in four years and prevent up-and-coming libertarians from obtaining positions of leadership in local parties.

In fact, that has been the goal all along.  While Paul’s rank-and-file supporters wanted to believe that he could win the nomination, especially at a brokered convention, that has always been an unrealistic expectation — and nothing indicates that the Paul campaign believed it.  Their focus on caucus states hints at a much different, longer-term strategy, as does their qualified exit from the remaining primaries.  As I explain in my column today for The Week, the timing has nothing to do with supposedly avoiding embarrassing losses in upcoming states, but is an indication that Paul has already succeeded:

The real story comes from the event types still left in the nomination process. All eleven contests are primaries, all but one binding on delegates. Paul cannot compete with Romney in primaries, and hasn’t bothered to even put up a fight in primaries for months. The last state with at least part of its delegate allocations from caucusing was Indiana, an event that took place last Tuesday, where Romney cleaned up. The last non-binding event takes place this week in Nebraska. After that, every state will hold binding primaries, and Paul will have no hope of winning delegates in any of them. Why waste money on a dry well? …

So what is the real endgame? Some wonder whether Paul wants to stage a demonstration at the Republican convention, which he adamantly denied last week. Rumors have also circulated that Paul would flex his muscle to get the rules changed and unbind all delegates at the convention, but he doesn’t have that kind of muscle, and it wouldn’t result in a Paul nomination even if he did. Paul’s delegates will have an impact on the party platform, which most believe is the object of Paul’s strategy, but party platforms don’t really have that much practical impact. Few people read them, and even fewer candidates feel bound to them.

Most people miss the fact that Paul has already achieved his end game, or is within a few weeks of its conclusion. The aim for Paul isn’t the convention, which is a mainly meaningless but entertaining exercise in American politics. The real goal was to seize control of party apparatuses in states that rely on caucuses. With that in hand, Paul’s organization can direct party funds and operations to recruit and support candidates that follow Paul’s platform, and in that way exert some influence on the national Republican Party as well, potentially for years to come. Paul hasn’t won every battle in that fight, but Minnesota will probably end up being more the rule than the exception.

Having that kind of organizational strength at the local and state level does more than just put Rand Paul in position to run in 2016 or 2020.  Most of those party positions will be subject to new elections within the next two years, if not sooner at the more local levels.  Paul’s supporters have to show that they will stick to their mission well enough to keep winning those elections in the precincts and Congressional districts, and then use their influence to boost candidates who follow the Paul agenda.  It’s a strategy for long-term evolution rather than momentary revolution, which is why Benton wants to tamp down on disruptions that could discredit and derail the mission before they have a chance to influence Congressional and gubernatorial elections in 2014.

Don’t be surprised if Paul makes nice with Romney before the convention, either.  He’s playing a longer game than anyone else thus far, and whatever one thinks of Paul’s platform, his strategy is undeniably succeeding.

Update: Here’s another data point for my argument:

A top campaign official for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign says there’s “no chance” that the Texas Republican congressman will endorse Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson for president over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

“No,” campaign chairman Jesse Benton said in a response to a question from The Daily Caller about whether Paul would discuss the possibility of an endorsement with Johnson during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “There’s no chance of that.” …

While that’s good news for Romney, Benton said he does “not believe that that is likely” Paul will endorse Romney, though he kept the option open.

Paul is focused on transforming the GOP, not bypassing it.