Tampa, Fl – Ron Paul was never going to win the Republican nomination. Much as Mitt Romney has struggled to appeal to all wings of his party, Congressman Paul – the outspoken anti-war critic of the US Federal Reserve and the war on drugs – has always been something of an outsider within Republican circles.
Nonetheless, as the GOP prepared this weekend for its national convention, the 77-year-old libertarian doctor stood a tiny mathematical chance of being named the party’s candidate to oppose President Barack Obama in November’s election.
Dr Paul reportedly won the “plurality of delegates” in five states – Louisiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine and Nevada – the minimum number to be named on the nomination ballot at the convention. He was originally set to be awarded 15 minutes of speaking time.
But in a meeting just days before the convention started, Republican officials voted to change the rules of the conference, raising the minimum number of states for a speaking spot from five to eight.
“Of course, as it turns out – surprise! – a Paulian insurgency was already impossible, because the GOP will lie, cheat, steal, threaten, and bribe to prevent an opponent of the warfare state from coming to the fore,” blogged Paul’s former congressional chief-of-staff Lew Rockwell. “Of course, the GOP is an arm of the lying, killing, looting state. Why would we expect anything else from these gangsters?”
Dr Paul was reportedly offered a deal in which he would be allowed to address the convention – as long as he avoided certain topics and gave Mitt Romney a ringing endorsement.
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He rejected it, telling the New York Times: “It wouldn’t be my speech… That would undo everything I’ve done in the last 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president.”
Instead, the GOP will “pay tribute” to the retiring 12-term Congressman with a short video, planned for Tuesday night.
But “The Ron Paul Revolution”, as his campaign styles itself, wasn’t going to be crushed so easily. Giving an hour-long speech-cum-history lecture at the University of South Florida on Sunday, he told the thousands of fans packed into the student sports stadium that the movement would continue to grow.
“Every newspaper in Washington DC said the ‘revolution’ was over,” he told the crowd. “Don’t they wish?”
His speech, likely to be one of his last major political performances, weaved between fiery attacks on “unconstitutional wars”, the size of government and the Federal Reserve, while strongly advocating the legalisation of marijuana and the consumption of raw milk.
Rallying the movement
And, while he and wife Carol are expecting their 19th grandchild any day, Paul evaded the image of the genial elderly retiree and spoke with as much passion and verve as ever, effectively firing up the next generation of libertarian activists.
“I’m going to go back home and work for the libertarian cause within my local Republican committee,” one Paul supporter told Al Jazeera after the speech.
Indeed, Paul has inspired something of a cult following among his fans.
“Last election, I stood in line for over three hours, knowing I was going to throw my vote away, because I was to going to exercise my right, as an American, to vote for Ron Paul – knowing damn well that man wasn’t going to win,” Matt Blevins, a musician whose band is aptly named “Fight Another Day”, told Al Jazeera. “But, it’s my civic duty, so that’s what I had to do.”
“Guess what happens in a free market? If you go bankrupt, you go bankrupt and you don’t get bailed out by the government.“
– Ron Paul
Paul’s economic policy relies heavily on what is known as “the Austrian school” – a philosophy which is highly critical of state bail-outs and which questions the effectiveness of central banks in their abilities to both manage economies and create an atmosphere where credit is most available to those who need it.
“Guess what happens in a free market? If you go bankrupt, you go bankrupt – and you don’t get bailed out by the government,” he told the rapt crowd at the USF Sun Dome.
“We don’t want more efficient government. We want to get government out of the business they shouldn’t be doing … we need to get the government out of our lives and out of our wallets.”
Aside from wanting to shut down the Federal Reserve, Paul’s views on drug legalisation and ending wars ensure support from those who may otherwise identify as “progressives” – if they weren’t supporting such a deeply conservative leader.
“We marched right into Iraq,” said his son, Senator Rand Paul, “and we can march right out again.”
Indeed, Paul Sr is one of very few US politicians to address the idea of “blowback” – that military operations in foreign countries make a nation more open to attack, rather than more secure.
“Somebody said the other day on the internet: ‘If those Paul people had been in charge, Osama bin Laden would still be alive. You know what I think the answer is? So would the 3,000 people from 9/11 still be alive.”
– Ron Paul
“Somebody, rather nastily, said the other day on the internet: ‘If those Paul people had been in charge, Osama bin Laden would still be alive,'” he told supporters. “You know what I think the answer is? So would the 3,000 people from 9/11 still be alive. And so would be the 8,500 Americans who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – they’d be alive as well.”
Out of the race?
It’s not all plain sailing for the Paul campaign. One issue that Paul and his allies have had to deal with for decades has been the existence of newsletters, written in the 1980s and 1990s, which contain racist statements in letters thought to be authored by the former presidential candidate.
“We can safely assume that 95 per cent of the black males in [Washington, DC] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” reads one 1992 newsletter.
The Paul campaign has tried, with varying degrees of success to distance the candidate from the newsletters since they came to media attention in the mid-1990s. In 2001, he denied writing the newsletters, saying they had been penned by a ghostwriter. In 2008, he again disavowed the comments, saying: “I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.”
Back at the Sun Dome, an estimated 9,000 people roared and cheered at Dr Paul’s every word. So was this glitzy gathering, encased beneath Florida’s troubled skies, the last hurrah of the libertarian campaign?
“This isn’t just a political movement, this is an intellectual movement,” economist Walter E Block said.
The campaign’s longer-term plans rely on the next generation of activists to carry the torch into the future. It seeks eventually, to no longer fight to be allowed into the tent of the Republican Party, but to “become the tent”. Luckily for the movement’s elders, the campaign has been successfully mobilising thousands of young supporters towards that very aim.
“It means a lot to me to be here,” James Alvarado, a 19-year-old Paul volunteer told Al Jazeera. “I used to be a Democrat – I supported Obama until recently. But I picked up a copy of the US Constitution, and it had a foreword by this guy, Congressman Ron Paul. I read more and more about him and realised ‘This is my candidate, this is the guy I want to run the country’.”
Musician Matt Blevins summed it up: “If more people thought like that and actually got out and did their sh*t and voted with their heart, things would fix themselves.”
“It’s not one person, dude, it’s everybody – everybody coming together to make a difference. It’s not going to be one guy that saves us, it’s going to be everybody.”
Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell