Whether the Republican convention ends up being contested and what would happen at that convention may already have been foreshadowed by the very first votes cast in 2016.
To explain why, though, we should take a detour.
You may remember back in September when a staffer for Rand Paul (then a presidential candidate) accused a staffer for Marco Rubio (also then a presidential candidate) of punching him at a bar in Michigan. The guy making the accusation was John Yob, a Michigan-based Republican consultant and staffer. The incident quickly faded, as did Paul's candidacy.
In February, Yob released a book called, "Chaos: The Outsider's Guide to a Contested Republican National Convention." In it, he describes what a contested convention could look like for his party this July. According to the St. Thomas Source, a newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Yob "makes a case that what happens in the U.S. territories, including the USVI, may make the difference between 'chaos' and 'catastrophe' for the GOP at the national convention." The islands' six elected delegates could be elected as uncommitted, after all, making them potential free agents on the convention floor.
And the twist: Yob was elected as one of those uncommitted delegates. Yob and his wife moved to the Virgin Islands at the end of last year and in short order both became candidates for delegate slots. In the voting on March 10, each won enough votes to be chosen.
That, despite the fact that the pair (and another couple) were being contested by the local elections board for not having been residents of the territory long enough to be eligible to vote -- and therefore eligible to appear on the ballot. A judge stayed that decision for the election itself, but this week the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands threw out the six winners, including the Yobs, and appointed six new delegates instead.
So as it stands, the results of the voting in the Virgin Islands are: One delegate for Donald Trump, one for Ted Cruz, two for Marco Rubio and two uncommitted.
That's a long story to make two simple points. The first point is that people intimately familiar with the convention process understand that points at which leverage can be applied to affect the outcome. And, second: They're doing so. Those six delegates are one-half of one percent of what a candidate would need to clinch the nomination, but in a race that may come down to how close Trump gets to 1,237, they matter.
Another example of how the delegate process is being worked can be found in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
You may remember how unsually close the contest in that state was, with Cruz eating into Trump's early-voting lead with a big surge on Election Day. Trump ended up victorious in the proportionally allocated state, but barely -- meaning that he came away with 18 delegates, as did Cruz.
However. The Journal reports that the five delegates won by Marco Rubio are likely to also swing to Cruz, as are the five "unbound" delegates (which is what Yob wanted to be in the Virgin Islands) representing the percentage of the vote that went to candidates that didn't hit the voting threshold. That means that the final tally of delegates in Louisiana may be Cruz 28, Trump 18 -- despite Trump winning the state by more than 3 points. What's more, Cruz backers won five of the six slots on the crucial convention Rules Committee, which will set the boundaries for how the nominee is chosen.
It's this sort of needle-threading, in part, that prompted the National Review's Eliana Johnson to write this week that a contested convention favors Ted Cruz. She points to the fact that there's a built-in advantage for someone with even tenuous ties to the establishment, such as in South Carolina.
Trump won every single one of the 50 delegates up for grabs in the state’s February 20 primary, which was open. But to serve as a delegate from South Carolina, one has to have been a delegate to the 2015 state convention, held before Trump even announced his candidacy. These are establishment people.
Similar processes are at play in other states. In Arizona, for example, 55 of the 58 delegates committed to Trump for the first round of convention voting are chosen through a champagne-glass-tower of balloting, according to MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin: Elected precinct committee members chose state delegates who then go to a state convention to choose national delegates. There's a lot of local politics at play there.
This is the point at which we swing back around to the original point. It's worth remembering what happened in the Iowa caucuses. Trump was expected to win, based on last-minute polling. Rubio was surging, as it turned out he did, but Trump had a small but healthy lead over Cruz.
But Cruz outworked him. Cruz's superior field effort (partly in the sense that "something" is superior to "nothing") worked the caucuses and turned out voters, allowing him to outperform the polls and then some. Cruz has built a system from the outset intended to identify and persuade people at an individual level, a system that may end up being more important in the voting-behind-the-voting than in the primary and caucus results themselves.
In other words, Cruz's campaign is built to deliver surprises like what happened in Iowa and like what he needs as we head toward the convention.
You may not have realized that. But you probably hadn't heard of John Yob, either, and there are a lot of John Yobs out there who know very well what's at stake and how to game the system. That works to the advantage of the guy that the Republican Party wants to see win.