Republican strategists and some of Ron Paul's advisers are concerned that diehard Paul backers may turn confrontational at the GOP national convention, bent on pushing a libertarian agenda and perhaps staging a series of protests against the Republican establishment and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Paul's effort to amass delegates for his presidential campaign is proceeding, even though he says he won't campaign in the remaining primary states, only at state conventions and other gatherings where political organization can make all the difference. His backers won 32 of 40 delegates from Minnesota last weekend after Paul leaders again outmaneuvered Romney supporters at the state's GOP convention.
It won't be enough to derail Romney's nomination, since his string of big victories recently has placed him at 991 delegates, only 153 short of the 1,144 needed for a majority, according to the Associated Press. Paul, the only other GOP candidate left in the race, has 107.
But Paul's recent success shows that his supporters remain energized. They tangled with Romney forces at the Minnesota gathering and have feuded with his organizers in several other states.
Paul strategists admit that some of his backers can get strident and unruly, even though senior Paul advisers say he has never favored hostility toward his foes or disruptive behavior. One top Paul strategist told me that Paul prefers respect for his political adversaries and a serious debate over issues instead of confrontation. But that's not the direction that some of his backers are going in.
In recent weeks, Paul forces have showed their raucus side. Some of them booed Josh Romney, the son of Mitt Romney, at the Arizona state GOP conventon, and others booed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as he spoke for Romney at the Oklahoma convention. They have not shied away from occasional showdowns with Romney supporters and members of the GOP establishment, and in some cases prevented Romney supporters from becoming delegates to the national convention.
Jesse Benton, Paul's national campaign chairman, told reporters last week that Paul was very unlikely to be the GOP nominee and, except for an occasional speech, would stop campaigning aggressively in primary states and instead focus on states that use caucuses and conventions to choose nominating delegates, such as Minnesota. Those events are more likely to give Paul targets of opportunity to win delegates because organization can count more than big TV advertising buys. Benton urged Paul supporters to "emphasize respect and civility." This caused a spike in criticism of Benton from Paul diehards who still want him to seek the nomination and favor an aggressive effort to get it.
Paul is a U.S. representative from Texas. He isn't seeking another term.
Ken Walsh covers the White House for U.S. News & World Report. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.