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Ron Paul is done, almost

The idea of liberty with a capital "L" is animating young Americans in a way not seen since Obama's

Ron Paul supporters at the University of Maryland. March 2012.
Ron Paul supporters at the University of Maryland. March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Ron Paul isn't really quitting the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, but he isn't really campaigning for it anymore either.

That's the kind of hairsplitting you have to do when you run out of campaign cash but you have enormous support among young libertarians seeking political alternatives to partisanship-as-usual. So much, in fact, that the Ron Paul Revolution could end up barrelling on to the party's national convention in August even without its popular septuagenarian namesake.

Then again, maybe this isn't hairsplitting at all. Maybe Paul's announcement this week that he won't be campaigning in states that haven't held primaries yet is yet another kind of decoy. We've seen this before and it was scary!

While everyone else last month turned his attention to the general election after Mitt Romney's closest rivals dropped out, news broke that Paulites (or Paulbots, depending on one's point of view) were securing state and national delegates in caucus states. This terrified mainstream Republicans, who fear most the appearance of a unified front at the convention that's kind of squishy in the unified department.

Indeed, before making his partially-quitting-partially-not announcement on Monday, Paulites in Oklahoma heckled Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They failed to place delegates but not before a Paul backer reported being struck in the back of the head by a Romney backer. Paulites had been shouting complaints that the convention wasn't following the convention's rules. And in Arizona, they booed Romney's son, Josh, off the stage during that state's convention. Paulites had reportedly said that his dad was just "a white Obama."

This is the sort of chaos the Republican Party hopes to avoid at the convention and that's probably why Paul spokesman Jesse Benton urged supporters to show decorum and respect in Tampa. Benton even said Romney is probably going to the nominee. "We recognize that Gov. Romney has what is very likely to be an insurmountable delegate lead," he said. He also said Paul is unlikely to endorse Romney and that Paulites would continue to bird-dog delegates in the run-up to the national convention.

So if Paul isn't campaigning (as much) and if he concedes that Romney is the party's de facto nominee, what are all the Paulites shouting so much about? And why are they bothering to stack up delegates. The math suggests there's no way he can win. The math also suggests Paulites are a relatively small contingent. Loud but small. Even if Paul were to force a floor vote at the convention, it would be soundly crushed. If Romney wins in November, Paul would be 84 by the time he had a chance to run for president again. What is the revolution's practical value?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question (as are many others scratching their heads over the Ron Paul Question). Maybe there is no practical value. Not yet anyway. Ron Paul is, after all, more idea than man. That idea is liberty with an capital "L" (which is Paulian code for hardcore state's rights libertarianism.) And that idea is animating young Americans in ways not seen since Barack Obama's historic election.

I've said before that maybe Paul hopes to force a floor vote to create a backlash that would push him into a third-party position to take on Romney and the president. But that seems almost too myopic for a visionary like Paul. He's not running for president as much as he is running for the way he believes the US should be. Americans love winners but they love losers, too, when their loss is really a lost cause.