Jose Antonio Vargas gives a full, flattering hearing to Republican consultants Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn, midwives of a new web site designed to let conservatives share their ideas for Republican recovery.
Ruffini, 30, is a veteran online political operative who worked for President Bush before heading the RNC's Internet department and advising Rudy Giuliani. "Maybe I'm being too optimistic here," he says, "but I think this period we're going through right now will be seen as a reawakening of not just the rightroots but also the Republican Party."
"The Republican Party cannot reboot if it's viewed only as a party of old, crusty white guys," adds Finn, who started a Washington-based online consulting firm with Ruffini last summer.
And the user-generated "Ideas" section of the site is… a jungle of comments by Ron Paul supporters. These would be the Ron Paul supporters whom RedState.com's Erick Erickson purged from his site, because clearly they were the only thing standing between the GOP and utter electoral triumph. The top three ideas are from Paul supporters, the fourth is the Fair Tax, the fifth and sixth are from Paul supporters, the seventh is the Fair Tax.
Ruffini, more than a lot of conservative bloggy leaders, had a strange respect for Paul supporters. (Tech-crazed Republican National Committee candidate Saul Anuzis famously tried to keep Paul out of Republican debates. He went on to lead his party in Michigan to its worst drubbing by Democrats since 1964.) It's clear that Paul grassroots activists like Trevor Lyman had huge breakthroughs this year. But the big Paul post-election venture, the Campaign for Liberty, has been criticized by Justine Lam, Paul's e-coordinator during the presidential campaign.
"I was very skeptical at first," Lam told me last week, "and I still am. Without Kent Snyder's direction and vision [longtime Paul friend and ideas man Snyder died this year], this can degrade into one of Ron's organizations from the past. Look at FREE—it's nothing. All they do is self-publish Ron's book, and not even at high quality. These organizations became salary collection devices for people close to Ron Paul. They didn't become real forces like the Institute for Justice, for example, that are able to create change. They just exist." Lam criticized the CfL for its "long, rambling" early e-mails—while it's improved since launch it's still not a group that has anything to teach Republicans.
So the Paul people are out there, and online… but they are either organized ineffectively or treated like a virus that takes over "real" organizations.