Republican officials have voted to change the way the party will nominate its presidential candidates in future elections in an effort to ensure that delegates to the national convention are bound by the outcome of states' primaries and caucuses.
It's more than a technicality. The change — which was passed by the Republican National Convention Committee but still needs to be approved at the convention — would make it nearly impossible in the future for rebellious Republican presidential candidates like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) to rack up substantial delegate support in states when they do not win the states' nominating contests.
Take Iowa, for example. This year, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished neck-and-neck atop the field at the caucuses. But Paul walked away with the majority of the state's delegates, owing to a system in which delegates are unbound by the results of the caucuses.
It wasn't just Iowa. In other states, Paul claimed majority delegate support, which was significant in the overall nominating process. Had Paul been managed to garner more delegate support in Nebraska, he'd have crossed a five-state threshold that would have made him eligible for nomination at the convention.
Such a strategy would be nearly impossible in the future under the rule change. Statewide nominating contests would become the chief determinant across the board. If a candidate wins a state's primary or caucus, the state must find a way to reflect the outcome of the primary in the way the delegates are allocated.
"If you hold a statewide contest, there needs to be a way to let the delegates that are allocated" reflect that, said an RNC official, explaining the rule change.
The change — which was spearheaded by Ben Ginsberg, a top Romney attorney — also initially required that delegates pledged to candidates be approved by those candidates (an apparent effort to eliminate the possibility that delegates pledged to one candidate end up supporting someone else). The adjustment was later amended slightly, to allow the state parties to work with candidates on delegate approval.
Overall, the change appears to be a blow to anyone considering taking the path Paul took this year and is also a recognition that the current rules leave room for discord at the convention, which is bad for party unity.
On a separate matter, the committee also voted to allow Romney and the Republican National Committee the power to amend party rules without a full convention vote.
Updated at 5:44 p.m.