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Republicans take a fresh look at their 'eight-state rule'

"Rule 40" may be an obscure Republican detail, but it's going to play a big part in determining who wins the party's presidential nomination.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus bangs the gavel to start the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Aug. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus bangs the gavel to start the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Aug. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.
It's called "Rule 40." Four years ago, Mitt Romney's allies at the Republican National Committee added what seemed like a minor tweak to the party's presidential nominating rules: in order to be eligible for the nomination, a candidate has to win a majority of the delegates from at least eight states.
At this point in the 2016 process, that means Donald Trump would be eligible to win the Republican nomination ... and no one else.
But the funny thing about the RNC's rules is how easy they are to change based on circumstances. Politico reported yesterday on the precarious future facing this obscure party rule.

All four early appointees to the rules committee for this year's Republican National Convention told POLITICO they're prepared to weaken or scrap a rule that could limit the convention's alternatives to Donald Trump. [...] "I'm not a big fan of the eight-state threshold. I think that's an artificial number," said David Wheeler, a rules committee member from South Dakota. "It was designed to prevent Ron Paul delegates -- their votes from being counted. I don't think it's necessary to do that this year."

This is one of those arguments that partisan activists are supposed to think, but not say out loud. It's certainly true that Rule 40 was created to undermine Ron Paul, but when Republican officials publicly acknowledge this, it raises questions about the integrity of the entire process.
In effect, the argument is, "We manipulated the rules last time to undermine a candidate the party didn't like, and now that circumstances have changed, it's time to manipulate them again to undermine a different candidate the party doesn't like."
Interestingly enough, one might expect Ted Cruz to oppose Rule 40, but as of yesterday, the Texas senator was actually making the opposite case. Consider what Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday:

"I think that would be a terrible idea for the Washington power brokers to change the rules, because they're unhappy with the candidates who the voters are voting for. Under the rules, and you're right, there is some irony in that it was the Romney Team that put this rule in place to prevent Ron Paul from being put on the ballot. And it was the Washington establishment that put this rule in place. "So now when the Washington establishment candidates are losing, they want to change the rules to try to parachute in some candidate who hasn't earned the votes of the people. That is nothing short of crazy. Under the rules, we should operate under the rules."

Cruz has not yet met the eight-state threshold -- he's won nine contests overall, but he won a plurality, not a majority, in some of these states -- but he clearly believes he will get there before the convention.
If he does, and Rule 40 remains in place, it means Republican convention delegates will be limited to literally just two choices: him and Trump. Period. Full stop.
And that's exactly why there's so much discussion about scrapping this rule as quickly as possible.
All of this will be in the hands of the Republican National Convention's 112-member rules committee, most of which remains vacant for now. The panel will have a variety of options -- lowering the threshold, eliminating altogether, etc. -- which will no doubt be the subject of a spirited debate, and which will help dictate who actually wins the nomination.
Watch this space.