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Even non-Paulites such as former Republican National Committee head Michael Steele criticized the Romney leadership for being too heavy-handed. Steele told The Daily Show in August that “what the Republican National Committee did to Ron Paul was the height of rudeness and stupidity for this reason: Why would you alienate an individual who has the ability to attract a new generation of voters who are already skeptical of your institution but are willing to at least listen through the vehicle of this individual?” he asked. “Why would you alienate them, get on the floor and not let them speak?”
“They could have had fair up and down votes” on the rules and credentials issues, Tate points out. “And we would have lost those votes.” Doug Wead, a Paul adviser and longtime Republican operative who worked with Ronald Reagan and both Bushes, said he hadn’t seen such shoddy treatment of a party faction “since ’88, when the evangelical Christians started to take over the party. It’s ironic because the people making claims about how dangerous the Paul people are for the party are often the same evangelical Christians.”
In the absence of a Paul endorsement, the Romney campaign didn’t want Paul to speak, which meant they didn’t want him officially placed in nomination for the presidency. When six delegations submitted petitions to nominate Paul for president—the existing rule said he needed only five—the RNC secretary Kim Reynolds just did nothing with them, says Wayne Terhune, chair of the Nevada delegation, who handed them to her. Then the rule was changed: Henceforth renegade candidates will need eight states before a nomination request is considered. The official Paul campaign saw the nomination fight as one last gasp of its grassroots acting out, and offered no formal support.
Terhune was censured by his state party for announcing, during the roll call, 17 votes for Paul out of the state’s 27, although more than that number were supposed to be bound to Romney. Terhune says he “canvassed his people and reported the votes they told me accurately.” No matter how many votes for Paul that state delegation leaders announced from the floor, the RNC secretary never recognized them and the numbers she would shout back for the TV cameras never included Paul’s votes.
Paul himself left Tampa before the convention was even over. “I never liked conventions. I was only there to be supportive of the people willing to do it,” he says. “People said I stormed out, left town—that was not true. I was trying to get out of town quietly.”
Paul eventually came in a distant but not disgraceful second place at the RNC, with 185 delegate votes from the floor. That’s nearly 17 percent of what it would have taken to win. Paul was fourth in the primary/caucus-season popular vote, behind Santorum and Gingrich. Yet he bested them, as he said he would, by racking up delegates.
The Future of Ron Paul
In August, Ron Paul told Bloomberg News that the GOP is “not my party” since it doesn’t embrace liberty and peace. He endorsed no one for president, although he told a Fox News reporter that he thought Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was “wonderful.” In October, Paul told me he was leaning toward the “none of the above” option.
A few weeks after Tampa, the Campaign for Liberty held a three-day Liberty Political Action Conference full of hundreds of academics and politicos, activist trainers and radio hosts, to demonstrate that the movement was still thriving regardless of Ron Paul’s imminent retirement from politics. Paul himself appeared, no different in style, substance, or energy than when he was running for office. He just didn’t have to end his talks by asking anyone to vote for him.
An unscientific poll at that September gathering suggested that Paul voters would be split in thirds between Romney, Gary Johnson, and a return to the nonvoting status from which so many Paul fans emerged. The political pros among them were more likely to back Romney, though almost never enthusiastically, and to predict that other Paul fans would do likewise.
No pollsters rigorously investigated where the 2.1 million Ron Paul primary votes went in November. Some Paul fans tried to torture the numbers to prove that alienating the rEVOLution cost Romney the election, using wildly varying and unlikely assumptions of voter behavior. But those 2.1 million (let alone Gary Johnson’s 1.2 million) fall short of the 4 million gap between Obama and Romney. The professionals in the Paul political machine seem reluctant even to suggest they had an influence on Romney’s defeat. Paul himself knows there is no way of knowing; even before the election he said that no matter what happened, “the status quo would win.”
Still, the 2012 election had some upsides for the liberty movement. Three Paul-endorsed freshmen will be entering the House of Representatives this year—Kentucky’s Thomas Massie, Florida’s Ted Yoho, and Michigan’s Kerry Bentivolio—along with one sort-of freshman who held a seat for a term in the mid-’90s, Texas’s Steve Stockman. One of Paul’s six Senate endorsements, Texan Ted Cruz, also won. And Justin Amash, most Paul fans’ favorite politician not named Paul, won re-election to his Michigan House seat after redistricting. Gary Johnson became the first LP presidential candidate to finish in third place since a guy named Ron Paul did so, 24 years earlier.
Ron’s son Rand, the first-term senator from Kentucky, is clearly angling to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he is widely expected to run for president in 2016. But on some substance and most style he’s going about it in an altogether different manner.
Rand, who was given a prime speaking slot at the Republican
National Convention, does not go out of his way to offend the
sensibilities of a modal GOP voter. He
can sound jingoistic about his reasons for opposing foreign aid in one breath, then acknowledge the reality of foreign policy blowback in the next. He adds to an Iran sanctions bill a measure stating that it does not grant explicit war powers, then votes for the sanctions. He endorsed Romney in June (drawing widespread criticism from fans of his father), then slammed the GOP frontrunner for believing that the president can unilaterally declare war. He makes his opposition to abortion as loud and prominent as his opposition to deficit spending. “Rand needs to be able to bring about what [Michele] Bachmann tried to do,” says Wead. “Unite the evangelical and libertarian wings of the party.”
In the absence of any politician on the scene as uncompromising as Ron Paul, some of his fans think it’s time to give up on electoral politics for now. “No more Ted Cruzes, Jim DeMints, or Mike Lees,” says Austrian economics popularizer Tom Woods, dismissing the fiscally conservative senators from Texas, South Carolina, and Utah. “There’s a wing of the movement badgering us into thinking that’s the best we can get and we should be darn happy, but I’m not happy because war is the most important issue and those people are all terrible on that. I don’t want to wade into national politics with a milquetoast substitute for Ron. If we don’t have a really good guy, sit it out.”