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Most of them have already shown their insurrectionist stuff by feuding with House Speaker John Boehner, refusing to vote for his preferred fiscal cliff settlement, or for his continued speakerhood. The Paul-identifieds are just one faction of a larger bunch of new Republicans who Politico is calling the “Hell, No!” caucus. They are, Politico writes, “opposed to any new spending, willing to risk default to force spending cuts, dismissive of new gun laws and deeply skeptical about immigration reform…. Many in the media…often underestimate just how conservative and how impervious to criticism and leadership browbeating these members are when appraising the chances for change in the next two years.” The fact that such Paulite tendencies, at least when it comes to taxing and spending, stretch beyond his self-identified admirers is key to those tendencies sticking and thriving in the GOP.
Because, make no mistake, Paulism or even any kind of mild support for tougher, less compromising, more small-spending measures is under attack from the party and its media enablers (and even its media detractors). Amash was booted from his Budget Committee seat, and John Podhoretz in the New York Post characterized the mini-rebellion against Boehner as “cannibalism.” Michael Tomasky at Daily Beast considers them “vandals” and David Frum is appalled the Republican Party is so full of maniacs that it can’t get its members to vote for crappy bills that barely touch spending. With self-identified Tea Partiers shrinking and losing independence, there is room for a new dominant anti-establishment wing of the party, and Rand Paul and Justin Amash are well-positioned to lead it.
On the national level, a former Maine Paul delegate, a George Mason University law graduate and former U.S. Army Security and Intelligence Command man named Mark Willis, is running an insurgent campaign against Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus, vowing to repeal various rules passed at the Tampa convention last summer that centralize power over rules and delegates nationally. Willis vows to return power to the insurgent grassroots. But being from the Paul team does not necessarily mean one is a bomb-thrower in the party—former Paul Iowa campaign worker A.J. Spiker, who recently won re-election as Iowa’s state party chair (and is still dueling with the old guard), is sticking with Preibus.
The GOP is staggering, and proving itself incapable of meaningful change in the direction its core voters are supposed to care about. Some strong shift from Romney/Boehnerism is desperately needed, though some suggest instead a doubling down on the GOP’s social conservatism rather than flirting with libertarianism. Liberal journalist Peter Beinart has made a convincing case that a confused Republican Party will be primed for a convincing “political outsider” to dominate in 2016. With Ron Paul gone, few people of any political heft are more outside the general Washington attitudes about spending, taxing, and foreign policy than Rand Paul.
Ron Paul both embodied and inspired a no compromise libertarian radicalism, one that no one on the scene now fully embodies. Rand Paul upsets some of his dad’s foreign policy fans by seeming too solicitous of Israel on his trip there this week; Justin Amash admits he’d consider tax hikes as part of a serious entitlement cut deal; Kerry Bentivolio explicitly denies being a Paul guy—he’s a Reagan man. Thomas Massie told me in an interview in the forthcoming March Reason that he doesn’t want Ron Paul’s mantle.
Ron Paul is gone from American politics. But important aspects of Paulism—a willingness to seriously cut government spending and functions, an unwillingness to be a good party member at all costs, a willingness to rethink our foreign military and aid commitments and respect civil liberties—still have a scattering of staunch defenders, one of them also named Paul. And if federal irresponsibility on spending and debt continues as it seems it will, these radical solutions may start seeming sensible and necessary to more than just the 11 percent of the GOP primary voters who made Ron Paul a legend.