Ron Paul at CPAC


If anyone was wondering what effect Ron Paul's new hires like Doug Bandow or Daniel McCarthy were having on Ron Paul's campaign, it was on display when he addressed CPAC late yesterday, the last candidate to speak to the grand ballroom before it was cleaned up for a banquet. Paul's speech was the most combative I'd ever heard from him, and the message sent out from his campaign was that it wouldn't be the last. He is not stopping his bid to shore up his House seat. He's going to be in this race as long as the money's flowing. At 10 a.m. today he's speaking at Liberty University, meaning he wants protest votes in the fading GOP race when it goes to Virginia on Tuesday.

The key moments in the speech were harsh statements of his foreign policy and attacks on John McCain. That latter stuff was red meat for this conference. After one subdued mention of McCain's pledge to keep troops in Iraq for a hundred years if needed, Paul said "McCain" had a few troublesome friends. "One of his friends is named… Feingold!" Then a blast against campaign finance reform. "Another of his friends is named… Kennedy!" Then, an attack on immigration reform. "Another of his friends, although he's not in the Senate anymore, is Daschle! Tom Daschle. Working with him on raising taxes, not cutting taxes." All of this got the biggest cheers from the most listless, curious section of the crowd. Kids and middle-aged men who'd had their arms folded  for most of the speech started smirking and saying "Yeah!" at every McCain hit.

The rest of the speech had its ropey moments, with a lot, lot, lot of talk about monetary policy in the rhythm we all know and love: "And the dollar's going down, and the solution they say is to print more money, but where is the money coming from, it's coming from China," etc. The foreign policy section sounded like an essay: concise, raw, ending with Paul saying "Osama bin Laden loves our foreign policy!" But that didn't actually draw boos. The only boos came when Paul said: "Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11! There were no weapons of mass destruction!" You could hear a small tide of jeering from the middle of the room, and Paul's supporters had to start yelling their candidate's name to drown them out.

Thanks to the self-selection of the crowd there was less booing than met John McCain, and the emcee closed out for Paul bragging that the Democrats didn't have such a diversity of opinion in their party. Paul milled around for the better part of 15 minutes as volunteers mulled over their chances in the coming primaries and their odds of poaching Mitt Romney support. (One had gotten a call from a Romney organizer who wanted to come to Paul, just to stick it to McCain.) A constellation of libertarian and paleo stars chatted at the back of the room. Steve Gordon asked them what they thought of Mitt Romney's exit and grabbed some quotes for Third Party Watch:

Former Paul National Field Director Dennis Fusaro said, "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

There will be "lots of heartbroken virgins in Salt Lake City," quipped Attention Deficit Democracy author Jim Bovard.

"[Romney's] wife got tired of him writing so many checks," responded former Congressman Bob Barr. He added, "A lack of substance cannot buy credibility."

It's a bit of a change. A month ago, Paul supporters were hoping on a brokered convention. Now the candidate himself joins them in hoping a smaller field will increase his exposure.