Evolution of a rEVOLution

What next for the Ron Paul revolution?


The most libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, began 2008 with an army of 100,000 enthusiastic donors. Before the primary season began, many of his fans clung to the hope that polls showing Paul stuck in single digits were cooked. Many, more pragmatically, hoped he'd play the kind of role Sen. Eugene McCarthy filled 40 years ago in the Democratic primaries, shaking his party out of its hawkish stupor and relocating its soul.

Neither of those scenarios unfolded. Nowhere was the disappointment greater than in the "Live Free or Die" state of New Hampshire, where the large independent vote and Paul's substantial war chest were primed to shock the political system. Before the election, pollsters such as John Zogby and Scott Rasmussen thought Paul might come in third place. ABC News embedded a reporter with the campaign just to see if lightning might strike, and CNN sent cameras to cover Paul's election night party live.

But Paul finished in a momentum-sapping fifth place, polling worse than he did in Iowa even after spending $3.6 million in the state. Only a second-place showing in Nevada relieved the doldrums of a bleak winter: 6 percent in Michigan, 4 percent in South Carolina, and 3 percent in the make-or-break state of Florida. When the winner-take-all states of Super Tuesday rolled around, Paul placed no better than a second- place showing in Montana and media interest in his movement faded away.

The chance of a Paul nomination, never likely to begin with, became mathematically impossible. Once that became clear, interest turned naturally to the members of Paul's decentralized, ad hoc movement—often dubbed the rEVOLution, after a slogan coined by Arizona libertarian Ernie Hancock. The big surprise is how many of his supporters want to scrap parts of Paul's campaign platform. The big question is how many of them will stick around for whatever comes next.

The divisions were already obvious before New Hampshire's crucial primary. Operation Live Free or Die, a grassroots Paul group founded by ex-Google whiz kid Vijay Boyapati, rented 14 friendly homes and opened them up to Paul volunteers to use as a base for door-to-door campaigning. In one house, a snowy 45-minute drive from the campaign headquarters in Concord, Paul workers from all over the country cooked food, drank beer, and talked about libertarian philosophy and economics.

Six nights before the New Hampshire primary, they were flipping across the TV looking for a Paul interview on CNN and found C-SPAN airing, as a public service, Paul's most ubiquitous ad: "Ron Paul wants border security now. Physically secure the border. No amnesty. No welfare to illegal aliens. End birthright citizenship. No more student Visas for terrorist nations."

I looked over at Anthony Reed, a 20-year-old Paul supporter from Fort Worth, Texas. "That ad," he said, grimacing. "That looks like something Romney would run." "Ball," a pseudonymous volunteer wearing snow pants and a Murray Rothbard T-shirt, complained that campaign ads and literature handed out to would-be voters were too contrived—disguising Paul as a mainstream Republican, instead of letting his FEE flag fly—and that the better strategy would have been to simply let the voters see and read Paul's words. "Just let him talk," Ball said.

When Paul did talk, he focused on the idea of radically limiting government—a message nowhere else to be found on either side of the aisle during this campaign. No other candidate was even questioning the wisdom of the Federal Reserve or the Department of Homeland Security; Paul vowed to abolish both. No other contender ran a commercial blasting the idea of a national ID card. Not coincidentally, nobody else was generating more than $6 million via single-day online "money bombs."

But after a spike in fund raising and polling, Paul pivoted to the more crowded anti-immigration field, with mailers showing a work boot stomping on the Constitution and the legend: "Illegal immigrants flaunt [sic] our laws."

This lunge for the Minuteman vote didn't work. According to exit polls, Paul won only 8 percent of Republican voters who want to deport all illegal immigrants. That was 16 points less than immigration compromiser John McCain, six less than amnesty waffler Mike Huckabee, and even one point less than "sanctuary city" mayor Rudy Giuliani. Paul finished a poor fifth among voters who cared about immigration but came in a strong second place among voters angry at the Bush administration. In other words, he came in second among his natural constituency and fared poorly on an issue every candidate was already scrapping over.

Would Paul have won more votes in New Hampshire, vaulting him to a better position in subsequent states, with a more foreign policy–based libertarian message? Consider that he finished second overall among voters who did not consider terrorism a big problem—19 percent compared to McCain's 39 percent. Voters who prized their personal liberty more than they feared the threat of a suitcase nuke in Nashua liked what Paul had to say. But the campaign simply wasn't confident that there were enough of these people to make a real stand. "Our voters are conservative Republicans," Jared Chicoine, Paul's state coordinator, said a few days before the primary.

The activists who devoted untold hours of their lives to the rEVOLution were decidedly not a pack of conservative Republicans. They ranged from anti-war radicals to the sort of people who staged impromptu rallies outside Federal Reserve buildings. New Hampshire helped clarify, for many of them, that their campaign was more about spreading the "freedom message" than scoring votes. With first place no longer in sight, the Paul campaign needed to be about something other than winning.

"His whole thing is not to become president," Paul volunteer Drew Rushford said in New Hampshire. "It's to start change. If we start change, he'll be just as happy."

Can the Paulites make lasting change? Eve Fairbanks of The New Republic described Paul's supporters as "the closest thing this race has to the Deaniacs of '04." Those Web-savvy, young, and excitable supporters of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean may not have powered their man to the White House, but their influence remains a potent force in Democratic politics. Dean's Web team, including Matthew Stoller and Jerome Armstrong, became some of the loudest voices in the lefty blogosphere and go-to gurus for all Democratic Internet campaigns. Ex–Dean staffers populate the Courage Campaign, a liberal activist group in the MoveOn.org mold. And Dean himself has run the Democratic National Committee since 2005. If Paul's people wanted to copy a movement, they could do a lot worse.

I heard the idea of a Ron Paul RNC chairmanship tossed around by Paulites in New Hampshire, and I heard it afterward. They know it's a pipe dream, but they're starting to ask: How might an activist libertarian splinter movement influence a larger and more moribund Republican organization? "We're learning this stuff for the first time," said D.C.-area Paul supporter Brett Guidry during the week of the Michigan primary. "The petitions, the caucuses, the logistical stuff."

At press time we don't know how many primary votes Paul won or when he'll make his next career decision: whether to jump from the GOP or seek an 11th term in Congress. There is strong sentiment for him to run on an independent or third-party ticket. "I came to this from the Libertarian Party," Paul worker Victor Germann told me on election night in New Hampshire. "I'm used to long shots and disappointments."

One of the campaign's slogans, seen on signs in every primary state, is "Dr. Paul cured my apathy." Paradoxically, Paul's influence might be greater if the candidate plays a smaller role in what comes next. If the people who sniped at the campaign's strategy stay involved in politics, the tiny population of libertarian activists will be that much larger for years or even decades to come. But if it's electoral totals and political strategy that define the rEVOLution, the movement is as good as over.

David Weigel is an associate editor of Reason.

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  1. I thought the rEVOLution was pretty strong on domestic policy, but Dr. Paul’s call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq left a lot of unanswered questions. Although, I would still take him over any other candidate put forth by the major parties.

  2. I suppose that this was written a while ago, but still. None of this is news. I don’t see any rEVOLution except for my own personal one to empathy from apathy (for politics). I’m glad I can finally understand why people bother to give a care.

  3. Would Paul have won more votes in New Hampshire, vaulting him to a better position in subsequent states, with a more foreign policy-based libertarian message?

    I don’t doubt it. I can’t understand who thought campaigning as a Republican just like all the other Republicans was a good idea. What the r3VOLution accomplished, was to demonstrate that there is a sizable and passionate libertarian segment of the American populous. We are hungry for a leader to rally behind. If anyone steps forward prepared to carry our flag and not just pay us lip service, he can count on that fierce support.

  4. We need grassroots groups all over the country trying to influence local and state issues through Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian politics and non-partisan coalitions that come together for a common cause. It was clear the vast majority of voters had little sense of or regard for the core libertarian conservative positions that Ron Paul too. So this can’t just be an activist movement without education.
    And it just may take fifty years to win.

  5. The funny thing is that the article did not answer one burning question…what is next for the Ron Paul rEVOLution?


  6. Once again, Reason is letting their support for corporate welfare get in their way.

    RP could have picked up a lot of support on the IllegalImmigration issue, and the only people he would have lost would have been some cosmos and some useful idiots. But, he hardly discussed that, he didn’t call his opponents on it, and he didn’t explain why it was important. So, yeah, if all you do is put out a TV ad without explaining why that position is right and your opponents’ is wrong, then it doesn’t work.

    As for going ahead, any RP supporters that want to clean up politics and the media should go to public appearances by the candidates and ask the questions the MSM – and cosmos – are afraid to ask.

    An excellent question you can ask McCain is here.

    Driving down McCain’s popularity will make a third party run by RP much more likely.

  7. Paul won’t be able to emulate Dean’s relative success because Dean was always a relative political moderate.

    This from Left Conservative seems appropriate: Reason Magazine, Populism and Ron Paul: An essay on the idiocy of the “libertines”.

  8. It’s an interesting question…my thought is that a third of Paul supporters will go libertarian, a thrird will stay in the Republican party and fight for it to return to its roots, and a third will drop out altogether. I don’t think Ron will ever be the RNC chair, but as he himself pointed out he’s no longer just a blip on the radar. And really, that’s what the whole campaign was supposed to be about, advancing an idea. Overall I don’t think we did half bad.

  9. reason sucks

  10. Check out Trevor Lyman’s Basic Media Inc to see what’s next.

  11. My big question is how many of RP’s supporters were interested based solely on his Iraq position. As the truest of the anti-war candidates, my suspicion was that he got a fair amount of support from left-leaners who wouldn’t necessarily support other aspects of libertarian ideology. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that.

    The Howard Dean analogy is definitely overdone, but there have to be some ideas that can be used in the future. However, things that worked for RP, as the most prominent libertarian officeholder in America, may not be so effective for Joe/Jane Candidate.

    I do agree with Warren that RP’s candidacy demonstrated that a constituency exists for at least some of the libertarian message. Perhaps the best thing to come out of a Democratic landslide in November would be a rethink by the GOP. Republicans win when they promise to “get government off our backs,” even if they don’t really mean it.

  12. I supported RP mainly because of his Iraq position.

    His FRB cloying smacked of lunacy (until a workable alternative is proposed). His support of an “originalist” SCOTUS is insane. But his cutting spending is paramount and the military is the only reasonable place to start.

    So I support the ACLU, no war/militarism and small government – that leaves Obama – goddamnit!!!!

  13. Ah, yes. The small government that will give health care to everyone. Will they be nanobots a la iRobot?

  14. yeah, Danny. Obama is two up (civil liberty and no war) on McCain already.

    And with a $3 trillion whacking of the budget from pulling the plug on the ridiculous war I will take my chances on his un-mandated health care plan (since Bush led the way with Pharma Welfare).

    You got nothing, bud.

    Except an old fool like McCain and an insult. Crawl in a hole now.

    You lose.

  15. lol. Actually I’m pretty down with Obama, but I think universal health care is a joke. I really just wanted to throw out that comment in passing. I’d like McCain more if he wasn’t such a warmonger. Oh well, I’ll still be writing in Ron Paul in November. I don’t want to give anybody a vote that I don’t think deserves it, and he’s pretty much it.

  16. sorry Danny. I have no patience with knee-jerk GOP men.

    My first choice was RP.

    Its too logical – who will spend more?

    A unitary (unchecked warmonger) or a checked by Congress war-hater pro Uni-Healthcare man?

    Congress has no input on war spending (per Cheney) they DO on healthcare.

    Score Obama. Total world war should be avoided.

    Plus, I get civil liberties.

    Done deal – no brainder!

  17. I understand. I’m younger and have been a libertarian for a very short period, so I’m less cynical than most (though I fully understand their spite).

    Also, my hand is kind of in the cookie jar with McCain–I work for a government contractor. I won’t support him, but I won’t be disappointed to be keeping my job and keep making my house payments.

  18. That cookie jar reference is probably way off, but whatever. It’s Monday. I’ve got all week to wake up.

  19. “His FRB cloying smacked of lunacy (until a workable alternative is proposed).”

    Umm, RP’s workable alternative is to legalize competing currencies. As Chuck D once said, “Don’t tell me that you understand, until you hear the man.” Of course Chuck was talking about Farrakhan, but it’s still a good line.


  20. As a life long libertarian, now in my 40s, my wife and I are engaged like many others (Alaska, Oklahoma, and others) in working locally to effect change in the Republican Party. We are pushing hard against the neocon machinery, and will throw every wrench available into it and kill it. Dr. Paul always said that the message is more important than the man.

    As for all the Obama switchers, Obama is fraud. He is a globalist, elitist, bought and paid for NAU/CFR/UN do-gooder that will tax us into oblivion. Just look at his UN tax bill introduced by him in the Senate to pay for Millenium Goals.

    Whoever is elected in the fall will drive this ship into the reef! I will vote for the Libertarian Candidate or will write in Ron Paul. That is the only way I will be able to sleep at night and keep my conscience clean.

  21. You will know that Ron Paul is a serious contender for anything more a Texas congressional seat when revelations about his ghastly newsletters make some mainstream ripples.

  22. Frank – I will look that up. I was under the impression that the gold standard was his solution.

    Danny – You are very logical. Keep it up.

    Big news night this evening…. ugghhh – gotta get cynical on some equity now.

  23. Buckaroo – until the GOP is flushed clean of the neocons and theocons you are pissing into a headwind. You are battling 70% of the party and they are all fucking unhinged and deranged.

    Good luck

  24. The majority of voters still labor under the illusion that the Federal Government can solve our problems, all we have to do is get the right people in office. During the next 5 years, they will find out the hard way that this is not the case. It was good for Ron Paul to set the stage for the impending depression.

  25. NeoCon’s reuined the republic position.

    Ron Paul is the one and only candidate who represents the foundation that our country was founded on and THAT is what is important to me.

    What is funny, is that I have been a life long Democrat. Now, since I have learned so much from listening to Ron Paul, I’ve seen the error of my ways. EDUCATE AMERICA!! Restore the Rebublic!

  26. I don’t think his pandering to the Tancredoites was his problem, the basic fact of the matter is his campaign was incompetent. It really was.

    I would like to read a story about how incompetent they really were.

    But I do believe this revolution is much bigger than the Dean movement, the Dean movement didn’t have core values that made him unique. I think it was media driven, but what do I know. I think Paul’s movement will be more like that of Barry Goldwater.

  27. Just thought I would put in my two cents and say I have never seen such a munipulation of the press to try and kill something in my live. I feel there is a fear, a real fear for anyone that could have seen the CNN and distorded it as the news media has, is either blind or scared of what can happen if the revolution continues on and a choice of the people is made with an intelligent study and unbias choice in what is truly good for the country.

  28. If there’s so much libertarian energy out there, why can’t they revitalize the Libertarian Party, maybe by getting a candidate good enough to do as well as in 1980 (when they got 1% of the vote, their all time high- despite having to compete with Reagan!)

  29. Because libertarians would rather braid their pony tails their own way than win elections.

    You know, the war on drugs just has to be a huge, top of the platform plank. And don’t forget the gold standard, even if it’s a sure-fired way to make everyone think you’re a lunatic.

    And forget the fact that fully socialized medicine and the carbon tax are going to do more long term damage to the US economy than Iraq will ever do. It’s the principle man, damn the torpedos, you gotta be against war. And you gotta do it right in the middle of the Republican primaries……even if it’s sure political suicide.

    Libertarians cannot win for one simple reason: they aren’t completely sane.

    Time to face up, people. The depth and strength of “libertarian energy” can be measured directly by just how far Ron Paul got.

    The next best thing you’re ever going to see is Reagan.

  30. I was under the impression that the gold standard was his solution.

    He points out, correctly, that the constitution prohibits the goverment and the states from issuing a fiat currency. It does not, however, prohibit private parties from issuing whatever scrip they can get people to accept.


  31. The majority of voters still labor under the illusion that the Federal Government can solve our problems, all we have to do is get the right people in office.

    DG has hit the nail on the head with that, but don’t expect them to wake up to the reality in 5 years, or 8 years, or ever. The voters have no memory, it is completely erased every election cycle as far as I can tell.

    The education process has to take place outside of any election cycle or candidate.

  32. It appears to me that Ron Paul ran a campaign designed not to win but to expand his saleable donor/subscription lists, also threafter to be used for post-retirement newsletter, his descendants’ college funds, and any reelection campaigns.

  33. unduly cynical:
    It’s not like RP didn’t actually work his tail off to do those things. He did it by trying to spread the great message of freedom. He certainly could have done better, but I think he did pretty damn good. He deserves any kind of follow-on support he gets IMO.

  34. Is Reason allowing itself to print something mildly pleasant about Ron Paul now that he is out of the race? I thought he was a white sheeted rascist? Reason sucks

  35. Ron Paul Did NOT drop out of the race!
    Vote for him!

  36. The abstract for this article is: “In his column from the new issue of reason, David Weigel looks at the possible paths forward for the Ron Paul rEVOLution.”

    What a joke. Weigel did you get paid for this shit? It’s obvious that all you did was surf a few Ron Paul sites, steal the title, steal a few paragraphs, come to no conclusions and make no suggestions. You certainly did not look at “possible paths forward”.

  37. C’mon, you paleos from LewRockwell.com need to cool it on the “Reason Sucks” stuff. If you have not noticed, there’s a variety libertarian opinion at Reason — some more friendly to RP than others. The fact that the reason blog allows open comments shows that they are much more comfortable with a variety of opinions than other places may be.

    Given the pathetic state of the Republican Party, I think that in many cases there is a chance to breathe new life in to the GOP.

    But, the fact is, you won’t be able to walk in to your local GOP organization and make it clear that you are a libertarian radical or that you are a Ron Paul supporter. You’ll have to sell yourself as a Reagan Republican of the 1980 variety. If you feel like flirting with danger you can mention Goldwater and see what kind of reaction you get.

    If you do this you’ll also end up being frustrated as hell. You’ll have to mix with bible thumpers, drug warriors, xenophobes, nationalists, political hacks, frat boys, and a lot of other people who would not know lady liberty if she sat on their faces.

    The only way to keep your sanity would be to live a dual life. (Imagine how one might live being atheist in a southern town.) By day you work within the system. By night you commune with your fellow radicals.


  38. Here’s a great video for those interested in discussing the Federal Reserve, the gold standard, etc.:


  39. I have never seen such a munipulation of the press to try and kill something in my live. I feel there is a fear, a real fear for anyone that could have seen the CNN and distorded it as the news media has

    Ok, I’m officially fed up with all this “MSM ignored/destroyed/feared Ron Paul” bullshit.

    Frankly, for a 3rd tier candidate with a fringe platform, he got a fair amount of media coverage, probably more than warranted, and mostly favorable or at least tolerant.

    Sure you can find plenty of examples of inaccuracies/bias/omissions/distortions too. Just like for all the other candidates.

    Fact remains, Ron Paul’s campaign was never newsworthy enough to warrant the kind of coverage lavished upon Hillbama, McWar, the other one time “front runners”…

    And in spite of this, they covered the moneybombs, the NYTimes did a front page magazine article on him, he was on the Time and GQ man-of-the-year lists, he was on Jay Leno (TWICE), The Daily Show, Colbert Report, CNN repeatedly, and etc. Can you say the same about Tancredo, Kucinich, Hunter, Keyes, and the other “also-rans” during the primaries?

    Plus, when the juicy newsletter story resurfaced, most of the MSM gave him a huge pass on it… only CNN covered it and only briefly, and he wasn’t even asked about it at any of the subsequent debates — even by FOX News!

    Huckabee won Iowa, so he earned the coverage he got. Ron Paul didn’t win shit. So he got shit coverage from the MSM.

    That’s just life, folks. No conspiracy. Better luck next time.

  40. Yep, he shouldn’t have gone for the asshole vote because those folks usually love war as much as they hate Mexicans. Thus the prospect of Paul must have been mighty confusing for them.

  41. Ron Paul was running an anti-war, anti-illegal immigration, anti-federal bureaucracy, but otherwise pro-Libertarian campaign. In other words, he was running as Pat Buchanan with a smiley face. The way forward should therefore be clear: finding a major mainstream issue to better distinguish libertarians from paleoconservatives.

  42. Nowhere does it mention in this article that Ron Paul’s strategic failure started and blossomed when he decided that teaming up with LHR and pandering to racists, nationalists, survivalists, etc…could help bolster his voluntarily small income as an “honest” congressman.

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