Ron Paul's latest video epistle to his apostles is a delightful example of Paul's curious, strangely winning political appeal. The congressman, still officially running for president against an opponent Paul already admits has won (but still refuses to endorse, with a "no way" to Wolf Blitzer when asked this week), is clearly speaking extemporaneously as he humbly thanks his delegates.
Paul grants he could be criticized for not winning many states, but stresses his people can still win the war of ideas. He talked about how he's planning his own gathering the day before the GOP convention begins, and asks his fans to attend.
Paul concludes the freedom movement's successes have been "magnificent" this time around. There's a rising new generation excited by his libertarian views, along with the "awakening of the Remnant, the older generation working for a long time" who have arisen in numbers larger than he dreamed.
A few hundred Paul delegates will attend a convention in Tampa in which they will lose to Romney. Paul tells them, "We should not be disruptive, but should also not be pushed around and that to me is very very important." He talks up his supporters' possible platform influence—and then turns around and admits it might be fair to say it doesn't matter much what's in the platform.
As always, Paul's directness and honesty keep his fans' affection close, especially combined with his unique message among national politicians. "The opposition actually thinks too much freedom is bad!" he exclaims, and says his campaign could be the "beginning of the end of the big government authoritarians if we do our job right."
Exactly the mechanisms by which that might happen are too unclear or uncertain to many of his ardent fans. So a bunch of them, led by lawyer and Paul devotee Richard Gilbert of Santa Ana, California, have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the central district of California against the Republican National Committee and various state Republican Parties.
The suit is asking the court to decide whether the RNC has the legal right in what qualifies as a federal election to legally bind delegates to vote for any particular candidate, even if the rules of a state party dictate they should be so bound.
The filing also accuses the party of acts of harassment, including violence, and "untimely rule changes designed to deny a quorum or to manipulate delegates" and seeks, among other remedies, an order prohibiting the defendants from "attempting to intimidate with threats of fines or criminal prosecution of any delegate who chooses to vote their conscience."
The RNC unsurprisingly has called the suit "frivolous" but vowed to fight it. Even many of the Paul hardcore are doubtful about the suit's merits. Gilbert is frustrated that the official Ron Paul campaign—whose political director Jesse Benton told CNN of the suit, "We have nothing to do with it and do not support it"—didn't file such as suit themselves.
A press release from Gilbert's group "Lawyers for Ron Paul" claims Paul supporters have launched a "takeover of the campaign. Refusing to be sold downstream for political or monetary gain the REAL Ron Paul R3volution without reservation is 'in it to win it!'"
Gilbert tells me he noticed when Ron Paul was asked about the suit on CNN by Wolf Blitzer, Paul said "it's not part of our campaign…but at times when we've been pushed around it's because the other side hasn't followed the rules…and done things to try to prevent us." Paul added, "If they have a legitimate argument they can make and that's what they want to do, I'm not gonna say don't do it."
"As we watched people being violently beaten at state conventions, voting machines being rigged, ballots being falsely counted from state to state," Gilbert says, "we observed the Romney machine was nothing more than a crime syndicate committing fraud at every state convention." While surprised the Paul campaign did not stand up for itself, he says, "I want to say I don't represent the campaign and I don't represent Dr. Paul. I represent the delegates."
While Gilbert fights to unbind the delegates in Tampa to vote for Ron Paul, Paul himself still talks like he doesn't even expect a speaking slot at the convention—insiders seem to think one for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is more likely.
Paul fans are excited by far-off possibilities; as indeed, Ron Paul winning 2 million GOP primary and caucus votes was itself a far-off possibility. Paul campaign advisor Doug Wead is now openly speculating about how the GOP's "rule 40," adjusted in 2008 to allow candidate merely holding a plurality of delegates in five states to be placed in nomination, could lead to a floor call for a Ron Paul vice presidency that Romney won't want to hear.
But the rest of the campaign is being pretty quiet. Ron Paul is off the campaign trail and sitting on over $3 million, which Benton says the campaign plans to use for "aggressive convention programs in multiple states" and "elaborate plans for the national convention," though those are still unspecified.
Some Paul fans have chosen arenas other than federal lawsuits or the national convention to influence the Republican Party. The Liberty for All SuperPAC, largely financed by 21-year-old Texas millionaire John Ramsey, has given more than half a million dollars to help win a primary for liberty-minded candidate Thomas Massie in a Kentucky House race.
Liberty for All is now setting its sights on helping make sure Justin Amash—largely considered the best libertarian in the House besides Ron Paul—keeps his redistricted Michigan seat this year. Liberty for All just announced hiring a gaggle of Paul campaign veterans. Paul campaign veterans continue to rise in the GOP and from Iowa to Alaska to Minnesota Paul supporters are becoming party chairs and winning Senate candidacies.
While Paul keeps his distance from Romney, presumptive movement heir Rand Paul endorses Romney and is primed to campaign for him—while excoriating him for his unconstitutional stance on presidential war powers. That role of Loyal Opposition—neither rebel army nor lapdogs—is one Paulite need to cultivate unless they can master Ron Paul's strange gift for winning while doing nothing to appease his own party.
Jim Antle, writing in the American Conservative about Thomas Massie, sums up the case for Paul folk to act as good Republicans—in their own way:
More important than scooping up Ron Paul delegates to the Republican National Convention, Paulites are descending on state and local GOP gatherings to advance like-minded candidates. Local party leaders, of whom the liberty movement can claim an increasing number, may become local elected officials; they also can help swing competitive primaries. People yelling and screaming outside the convention hall seldom have as much power to effect change as those attending the boring meetings inside. It's a tactic previously used in Republican politics by groups as disparate as the Goldwater movement and the Christian right.
Antle also sums up one way for Paulite candidates to reach beyond just Paul fans—still not more than 15 percent nationally among GOP voters:
Republicans like Massie rely on libertarian activists for fundraising and organizational muscle, putting them in a position to be competitive in the first place. But they don't simply bank on a money bomb or a Ron Paul endorsement being the game-changer. They campaign on local issues, they build connections with their constituents, and they reach out to a much larger base in the party than the Paul vote, which in some places is merely in the single digits.
Jack Hunter, co-author of Rand Paul's campaign book The Tea Party Goes to Washington and official Ron Paul campaign blogger, acknowledges that a full-service liberty movement needs not just good candidates (Hunter praises Missouri Senate candidate John Brunner and Michigan House candidate Kerry Bentivolio) and party insiders but outside agitators not beholden to the GOP. Hunter is especially pleased that the Paulite bestselling author and investment guru (and former GOP candidate for Senate from Connecticut) Peter Schiff's radio show is going national, replacing G. Gordon Liddy. The neocons, Hunter says, "would like nothing better than for us to take our ball and go home" and go third party in frustration over not winning this year, and that would be a mistake.
It's a long, tricky game the Paulites are trying to play, and while the record of the Christian right in being a quirky outsider group swinging above their weight in the GOP encourages them, by eventually treating party power as an end in itself that same Christian right won very few actual policy victories.
But while the Christian Right were and are fighting a rearguard action against seemingly irresistible social liberalization, the Paul people consider themselves the only sane faction that can turn America from a looming debt-driven collapse. If the libertarian republicans' assessment of the crisis America faces is even close to accurate, history is on their side, even if the Republican Party isn't.
Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired (Broadside/HarperCollins).