In an interview Monday, Brian Dougherty, a Republican National Convention delegate from the Pennsylvania delegation told IVN that if the controversial RNC rule change advanced by the Romney camp at this week's convention were in place in 1976, Ronald Reagan would have never risen to prominence in the GOP at the 1976 Republican convention, which set the stage for his successful presidential bid in 1980.
"Now these rules as they are, if they were in place in 1976, Ronald Reagan would have never risen to power in the Republican Party. When he challenged Ford in '76, he would not have had a say. And then he would not have been in a position to win in 1980. So we would not have a President Reagan if those rules had existed back then."
The proposed RNC rule change drafted by the RNC rules committee over the weekend would bind delegates in all fifty states to vote for the winner of their state's Republican primary straw poll at future conventions.
Presently, each state party sets its own rules for delegates to the party's national convention. Some state parties' delegates are "bound" to vote for the winner of the state primary. Other state parties send "unbound" delegates, with state party rules that allow them to "vote their conscience" at the convention.
Another contentious rule change would allow the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee to choose which delegates are sent from each state party to the national convention instead of allowing each state party to determine its own rules and process for selecting delegates. If Mitt Romney were to win the general election in November, but face strong party opposition by 2016, as President Gerald Ford did in 1976, the new rules would allow his campaign to unilaterally silence intra-party opposition by stacking state delegations to the national convention with Romney supporters.
Commentators haven't missed the implications of the rule change for grassroots, insurgent candidacies like that of Texas congressman, Ron Paul, whose presidential primary campaign strategy centered on active involvement by Paul supporters in state party processes and getting Ron Paul supporters elected as delegates from their state to the national convention. However, as Dougherty notes, Ronald Reagan's presidency was made possible by his own insurgent candidacy at the Republican Party's hotly-contested, brokered convention in 1976, where he nearly unseated President Gerald Ford for the GOP's presidential nomination.
While Ron Paul supporters have been vocal in their opposition to the RNC rule change, they haven't been the only ones. GOP stalwarts like Leadership Institute founder and president, Morton Blackwell, who has attended every Republican National Convention Rules Committee meeting since 1972, said in a letter to other delegates:
"These rule changes are the most awful I’ve ever seen come before any National Convention... If the Rules Committee Report were to pass without adoption of the Minority Reports, it would amount to a power grab by Washington, D.C. party insiders and consultants designed to silence the voice of state party activists and Republican grassroots..."
Sarah Palin, the GOP's 2008 candidate for vice president on John McCain's ticket, also weighed in on the RNC rule change, writing in a Facebook post:
"We have to remember that this election is not just about replacing the party in power. It's about who and what we replace it with. Grassroots conservatives know this. Without the energy and wisdom of the grassroots, the GOP would not have had the historic 2010 electoral victories. That's why the controversial rule change being debated at the RNC convention right now is so very disappointing. It's a direct attack on grassroots activists by the GOP establishment, and it must be rejected."
During his interview with IVN, Dougherty reflected these sentiments, brushing aside fears of "the Ron Paul people" as a distraction from the fundamental shift in power from grassroots party members to national party insiders that would result from adoption of the new rules:
"The fear of the Ron Paul people, they have used to centralize their power for the future. They know the Ron Paul people are not in the position to do anything more than a couple minor things. What they really want to do is centralize their power over all the committees so they get to decide from the top down in smoke-filled rooms. Going back to the days when everything-- deals were made in smoke-filled rooms."
Though Dougherty opposes the new rules, his state delegation voted overwhelmingly at a delegation breakfast Tuesday morning to support them on the convention floor later in the day. Over ten of Dougherty's fellow Pennsylvania delegates who voted to support the new rules were approached for a brief interview by IVN's Republican National Convention correspondent, Tom Brown, but each declined to comment on the controversy.