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So that’s the end of Ron Paul the candidate in the Republican Party.
But what of Ron Paul’s supporters’ role in the party?
Some think they are done with the GOP. Many in the Paul grassroots are still disgusted with the official campaign’s refusal to fight to the death to ensure a Paul nomination. They're especially angry with Paul's political director Jesse Benton, who has made his disdain for some of them pretty clear as well. Benton advised Peter Schiff to not show up to the grassroots “P.A.U.L. festival” in Tampa pre-RNC and worked to completely separate the candidate from that event. Many Paul-friendly politicos are probably just as happy to see the likes of Adam Kokesh of Veterans Against the War separate from the Paul movement, and have little respect for agorist living and economic education or street activism as elements of political change anyway.
I met many of these more scruffy, bohemian Paul types, but even some of them are members of local GOP committees or planning on running for office. Those who aren’t still intend to signwave, run impromptu boarding houses for other traveling Paul activists, and be beacons for libertarian messages in personal life and social networks so everyone surrounding them will understand there are choices in politics beyond Obama and Romney. While they might not be effective political operators of the sort Jesse Benton might respect, they are softening up the electorate, in often unmeasurable ways, to be receptive to liberty candidates.
Nalle of the RNC thinks that people who are likely to find this week so discouraging they give up on the GOP would likely have left the active liberty movement after this convention anyway. Their passions would be cooled, he says, simply because Paul didn’t win and it wouldn't really matter how polite or solicitous the Romney forces tried to be. Others seem turned off because they think the establishment’s refusal to allow Paul to officially be in nomination or have his votes counted was an act of pure malice, done merely for the sour pleasure of telling Paul activists to stuff it and making sure no word critical of empire was spoken from the sacred halls of the RNC.
But there's still another place for Paul voters to go: to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is actively courting their vote. Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative now working for Johnson because of Stone’s disgust with the party’s growing social conservatism and fiscal profligacy, calls out Paul as lacking in principles for not endorsing Johnson.
Paul does continue to refuse to endorse Romney. That epitomizes the game he’s playing: keeping his (and by extension, his brand’s) liberty bonafides while not needlessly antagonizing the Republican Party (unlike in 2008, when Paul first gave an all-third-party endorsement and then went for the right-populist Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin). Paul did say back in 2010, when he was not running for the Republican nod and Gary Johnson was, that he couldn’t imagine endorsing anyone else. But that was in the context of the Republican Party, and things have changed since then.
Despite the smackdowns this week in Tampa, Paul and his people have had extraordinary and surprising success in punching their weight, and above it, in the Republican Party. Wallace, the Maine delegate who survived the purge of the Paulites, told me Tuesday night, “The Republican Party is where I’ve chosen to make my voice and I’m still going to exercise it. I just know that there’s a real lack of honesty in the Republican Party so I will be paying close attention to who is honest in the Party.”
For many in the Paul grassroots, that doesn’t necessarily even mean Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is still mistrusted by some of his father’s fans. But liberty-minded politicos seem more inclined to keep fighting in the Republican Party than go home.
Nalle reports his Republican Liberty Caucus is booming, and Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and Alaska’s state GOPs are largely under Paulite control. As Tom Heitman, a delegate from North Carolina, told me at the afterparty following Paul’s Sunday rally, he’s not at all surprised by how the establishment treated Ron Paul people. But he’s still thrilled at how strong the Paul delegations’ showing is compared to 2008.
By Heitman's count, liberty-minded delegates have quadrupled since the last presidential election. If that same sort of growth continues over the next four years, they'll be a majority. Heitman is still dedicated to local activism — especially stopping local spending binges via ballot initiatives — no matter how annoying the national GOP behaves.
His advice to any discouraged liberty activist? The beauty of a representative republic, Heitman says, is the immense power an ideological minority can have simply by showing up: particularly to local, district, and state Party meetings. He’s going to keep showing up to the places where the GOP makes its decisions, and he thinks the liberty minded should as well.