The Tao of Chuck

The far-right Constitution Party redirects the Ron Paul rEVOLution


Chuck Baldwin, presidential nominee of the Constitution Party, was somewhere in Arizona when I called for him, touring the border, seeing for himself that dusty expanse where Mexican immigrants violate our national sovereignty. He was en route to Utah, talking to small-town newspapers and religious types who can't stand John McCain, when his campaign called back. "He does two or three radio interviews every day," said a campaign communications director. "He does local TV, interviews with local press. But we'll work you in."

I was stuck in my office that night, working away on an entirely different project. It jolted me when the campaign called back. "Chuck will be free tomorrow morning. He'll be driving, so he'll be on a cell phone. Is that all right?" I looked at my clock. The call had come minutes after 1 a.m. There are energetic campaigns, and then there is this campaign.

But where is all that energy going? To pluck the phrase off one of the innumerable Ron Paul T-Shirts: Who is Chuck Baldwin? He's the pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church, which he founded when he was 23 years old. He's a political activist whose first toe-dip in the business came in 1980, when he took a leadership role in Florida's branch of the Moral Majority. He hosts a radio show that's beamed to stations in every corner of the Redneck Riveria, and writes weekly columns with themes such as "No Sanctuary for Illegal Aliens in Our Church" and "Terri Schiavo Isn't the Only One Dying—So Is Lady Liberty!" ("Her feeding tube, the feeding tube of constitutional government and bedrock principle, has been removed.")

At the end of April, Baldwin officially became the nominee of the Constitution Party, founded (as the U.S. Taxpayers Alliance) in 1990 as a vehicle for the avuncular conservative movement broker Howard Phillips. Phillips hustled around the country uniting disaffected right-wingers, Christian nationalists, and anti-tax activists in populist third parties that, in 1992, put him on the ballot as their presidential candidate. Cash-poor, the Phillips campaign got attention by running ads that spliced images from Nazi concentration camps with pictures of aborted fetuses. It was good for 43,000 votes. In the three following presidential campaigns, Phillips's party could never place better than a distant fifth.

Baldwin, who was part of the last Constitution Party campaign—he was its 2004 vice presidential candidate—thinks the ground has shifted. "We're spreading the message of constitutional government," Baldwin told me as he sped through the Salt Lake City exurbs. "Ron Paul was the only candidate in the two major parties that carried that message, and now I'm carrying that message."

But what message is that, exactly? Those disaffected citizens who gave their votes and their money to Ron Paul—one million of the former, more than a hundred thousand of the latter—already have a legion of candidates groveling for their support, claiming ownership of the Ron Paul brand. There have been dozens of congressional candidates. There was Mike Gravel, who speculated that, "if Ron Paul could raise all that money with his libertarian message, I think I could raise a lot of money." There is Ralph Nader, who in his dotage assumed that opposing the PATRIOT Act would be enough for Paul fans to overlook the fact that he's Ralph Nader. There is Bob Barr, who inspires Libertarian Party conversions and bitter online denunciations in roughly equal measure.

Baldwin's not a late-comer to the Ron Paul cause. In 2002, he was using his radio show as a bully pulpit to turn voters against the Iraq War and the neocons. He wrote column after column in 2007 endorsing Paul, recording an ad and a video message in the lead-up to the Florida primary. Today, Baldwin appropriates the Ernest Hancock "rEVOLution" logo and courts support on Ron Paul fan sites. But Baldwin appeals to a very specific segment of the Ron Paul base. They're national sovereignty voters, people who see and feel their livelihoods under threat of a crushing, encroaching world government. Baldwin took their measure in a mid-2007 column that attempted to explain who Ron Paul's donors were.

They are rank-and-file, tax-paying citizens who are sick and tired of out-of-control federal spending and deficits….They have had it with this phony "war on terrorism" that sends trillions of dollars to nations throughout the Middle East, but refuses to close our own borders to illegal immigration. They have had it with the "war on drugs" and the "war on terror" being used as excuses to trample people's freedoms….They have had it with Bush's North American Union….They have had it with the Military-Industrial complex that desires to build international empires at the expense of the blood and sacrifice of the American people. They have had it with David Rockefeller and his Council on Foreign Relations [CFR].

I was curious about this last bit, so I asked him: What's so scary about the CFR? "Some people who belong to it may not really understand the true intention of the CFR," he explains. "I remember reading what a former member of it wrote: He thought the CFR was pushing America towards global government, and I concur with that. I think the overall agenda that drives the CFR is the overall merger of the US into regional and ultimately global government. And I don't think they have the interests of the United States at heart."

The evidence for the stuff that really worries Baldwin doesn't appear much in the mainstream media. But it's there if you look for it. "I think only a blind man doesn't see it," Baldwin says. "Its been out in the open ever since the first George Bush pledged allegiance to the New World Order. By 2015, I'm told, the powers that be want to merge Europe and America. But when I'm sworn in as president, the New World Order comes crashing down."

Arguments like that haven't hurt Baldwin. Quite the contrary: His cinching the Constitution Party nomination had a lot to do with this kind of against-the-world populism, which Party members believe has been given new life by the Ron Paul campaign. Howard Phillips himself nominated Baldwin over Alan Keyes (who, while approaching Herschel Krustofsky in his level of clownishness, still had a chance at the prize) by telling delegates "a friend of Ron Paul" could help the party tap into the rEVOLution. "In his heart Ron Paul knows that Chuck Baldwin is right," Phillips said, "and that if the Paul people are to support anyone it's Chuck Baldwin."

Since then, Paul's coalition has moved in a predictable manner. The more libertarian-minded members have organized a Republican Party insurgency or sidled up to Bob Barr. The more sovereignty-minded members have lined up with Baldwin. Texas radio host Alex Jones, the Paul backer who sees the influence of the Bilderberg Group behind every corner, quickly endorsed Baldwin as an alternative to "that CIA agent" Barr. "I wouldn't trust Bob Barr as far as I could throw him," Jones said. "I trust you. Ron Paul better put his support behind you once he's out of it."

Baldwin's view of the financial industry is darker than Paul's, and it comes from a different place. Where Paul worries about the influence of the Federal Reserve, Baldwin compares "international bankers" to "the money changers in the temple," rousted out by Jesus. "It's been the desire of some, throughout history, to merge the world economically," Baldwin says. "This is all driven by greed, money, and power. The thing these people always lacked was the technology to make this possible. Now it's there, and there are forces in business and in government that desire to create a global economy, and you can't have a global economy unless you have gobal government to run it."

Anyone who backed Paul to inject libertarianism into the national debate will blanch at this. That doesn't matter to Baldwin. While libertarians squabble about whether Paul was a boon or a blow to their ideas, Baldwin has reaped the benefits of the best exposure that national sovereignty conservatives have gotten in decades. "About half of our volunteers came out of the Ron Paul campaign," he speculates. Baldwin, along with Howard Phillips, will be one of the hot-ticket speakers at the July 12 "Revolution March" in Washington, D.C. Bob Barr will not be there; Ron Paul will be on the podium. And more than 12,000 people have pledged to come.

What claim does Baldwin have on those voters? A pretty serious one, actually. The Paul campaign became a vessel for some brands of cosmopolitan libertarianism, and in states like Nevada and Montana, where Paul placed second and won the independent vote, he pulled in anti-war voters who'd given up on the Republican Party. But the coalition was so fractious that its members are moving back to their regular political poles. Paul is disinterested in "leading" them, hoping instead on another outbreak of spontaneous order. Paul's campaign was a booster shot for Baldwin's brand of conservatism; in the end, it might be one of the campaign's most lasting impacts.

"We're going to criss-cross the country," Baldwin says. "We're going to take our message of freedom and liberty, putting Washington back in order economically, closing our borders, repealing NAFTA, and restoring constitutional government all across America. This is just the beginning."

David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.