A conference call Tuesday morning for the press with Jesse Benton of the Ron Paul campaign strove to clarify that in fact Ron Paul is not dropping out or suspending his campaign, though he still is planning on not campaigning much in forthcoming primary states. Highlights from Benton and my comments:
Benton admits something that some Paul fans, with their belief that there is no such thing as a "bound delegate," don't want to admit: that Romney "has very likely an insurmountable delegate lead," with just 200 more needed to lock it down. "We acknowledge that we are very unlikely to be able to block that nomination."
Still, Benton says, the energy of the movement is growing: Paul has spoken to more than 100,000 college kids in his recent campus swings. And that sort of campaigning, as well as appearing at state GOP conventions like this weekend's upcoming one in Minnesota, will continue. Benton also praised Paul people's victories in taking party leadership positions, singling out Ashley Ryan, the new national committeewoman from Maine and a Paul fan.
He stressed they still hope to come in with the largest delegation of Paul supporters into Tampa they can–but in what I take to be a reaction to the hubbub at the Oklahoma and Arizona conventions over the weekend, he stresses again and again that respect and decorum are their desired name of the game for every step of the process, which he thinks will help Paul people become a "stronger voice in the Party." To some Paul fans, talk of "decorum" has a bit much of the feel of giving in to procedural tricks or bullying on the part of the Party establishment.
While any agreement on things like a speaking slot or an endorsement between Paul and Romney is roundly denied, Benton does speak of "contact with the Romney campaign" on platform issues, especially Federal Reserve transparency, prohibition of indefinite detention, and "Internet freedom."
The campaign also wants to make sure that their people are able to "vote on rules for the next four years and create a favorable rules environment for our people and set the stage for other liberty candidates to rise in the GOP." As I write, I'm not sure of the specifics of what rules the Paul campaign hopes to change and why that will help future liberty candidates. Benton repeated that respect and civility and decorum are the watchwords for the campaign and its activists moving forward–though I think Benton understands, even if he might regret, that while Ron Paul is seen as an ideological leader by his activists, he is not a military-style leader who can order his troops to behave or stand down.
While Benton refuses to say Paul will endorse Romney, he believes that "if our ideas are embraced and treated with respect, I think the GOP has a very good change to pick up a substantial number of votes" from Paul people. "If we are treated like in '08, then I think a lot of people will stay home or sit on their hands." Agreed, though I think it will be very hard for a Romney like the Romney of today to pick up many Paul fan votes. The vote is not like matter that can neither be created nor destroyed; Paul invented his vote and without him I think a majority of it will disappear in November.
Benton says there is "no chance" of an endorsement of Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.
He hopes their troops do not feel "abandoned" by the perception of a Paul drop-out.
He says worries about whether Obama might beat Romney without a Paul endorsement will not compel Paul to give such an endorsement.
Asked whether the Paul campaign is concerned by possible acting out in public by groups like "Combat Veterans for Paul," Benton says that a free people can do whatever they want, march or protest or whatever, and that Paul's campaign does not feel accountable for the behavior of any Paul supporters who are not "Paul delegates on the convention floor" who they intend to hold to, again, respect, professionalism, civility, decorum.
I still believe that announcement from Monday–even followed up by this and this explanation of the delegate and convention strategy moving forward–was a mistake, and it should have been understood that it would be spun by nearly everyone as "Paul drops out." If that was no part of their intent, they would have been better set continuing to not campaign hard, not spend much, raise a little cash via moneybomb when they needed it, and let the story continue to be "Paul keeps racking up delegates" and not "Paul drops out, no he doesn't, he's still winning delegates, but he's not campaigning, but it will all be done with decorum, you can bet that."
My book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, is now out.