Tonight, the Republican National Convention will air a video tribute to the career of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, as Paul himself bows out. Arguably the most doctrinaire libertarian ever to run for national public office, Ron Paul is likely to go down in GOP political history as a game changer, in spite of the polarizing responses he engenders from Republicans, some of whom see Ron Paul as an anti-American radical hiding behind the constitution, while others see him as the lats principled defender of the original system laid out by the Founders on the political scene.
Either way, now Ron Paul will soon be gone. And like conservative movement hero Barry Goldwater, he is survived by a thriving and vibrant movement that will do everything in its power to ensure that the Texas Congressman's pro-liberty legacy is carried on everywhere. Which raises the question: Without Ron Paul, who will this insurgent movement turn to as their next standard bearer? Who will be the Ronald Reagan to Ron Paul's Goldwater?
The obvious answer is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, if only because he is the son of the original founder of the movement himself. Yet some of the elder Paul's supporters are skittish about the younger Paul due to his more open flirtation with the establishmentarian elements of the GOP. Nothing exemplifies this tension more than Senator Paul's endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney - an endorsement his father conspicuously refused to make - which has frightened many of the Texas Congressman's more radical supporters away from his son.
Rand Paul himself is modest on this point. "I don't think anyone can really get credit and say I'm the new leader of the Ron Paul movement," Rand Paul told TheBlaze. "There are hundreds of delegates out there that are avid Ron Paul fans."
Indeed. And not all of them like him. Brian Paukert, a Paul delegate from Minnesota, summed up the anti-Rand attitude well when he told TheBlaze, "I know there's some people within the liberty movement that aren't happy he endorsed Mitt Romney...I know he shares a lot of the same ideals, I personally like him but there are other people in the movement that could fill that position."
Never let it be said that these Ron Paul supporters choose the easy way, when it conflicts with their principles.
And to an extent it's true that Rand Paul isn't as much of a stickler for exact principle as his father, though he's scarcely willing to abandon his convictions.
"We're all Republicans because we think the Republican party is the party of limited government, the party of obeying the Constitution," Rand Paul told theBlaze. "Whether a Republican's in the White House or a Democrat's in the White House, one thing that I will say is that I will fight for a balanced budget, and I will fight for limited government no matter who's there."
The negative reaction to this more mild approach, however, is not universal. More practical-minded Ron Paul supporters see the endorsement of Romney by Rand Paul as a feature, rather than a bug, believing that it signals shrewdness on the part of the younger Paul that his father simply lacked. A June 18 Business Insider story notes:
For more pragmatic Paulites, however, the surprise endorsement was a shrewd political ploy that puts the younger Paul front and center in the national spotlight, and positions him as a leading figure in the Republican Party, with his eyes set on 2016.
James Milliman, Sen. Paul's state director, explained the logic to a group of Young Republicans in Louisville, Ky., last week:
"As a practical matter, you have to endorse a candidate before the convention — Romney is going to get the nomination, no doubt about that at all, so it behooves everyone to have Sen. Paul to endorse him before the convention," Milliman said. "It could enable Sen. Paul to have a prime speaking role at the convention, and his dad to have a prime speaking role at the convention. I think those things factored in."
The remarks — the Paul team's most candid comments yet regarding the endorsement — appear to suggest that the younger Paul is more concerned with attaining star status within the GOP than with retaining his father's army of diehard fans.[...]
The younger Paul's willingness to pander to the Republican Party's far-right conservative base reveals a political intuition and skill that was notably absent from his father's political career. Although Ron Paul is against abortion, his refusal to market this position has been a source of constant consternation among his socially conservative supporters.[...]
"Rand would not have done this without his dad's okay," Milliman told the Louisville Young Republicans. "So if his dad is fine with it, I think everybody else will be fine with it."
If this is Rand Paul's strategy, it seems to have been widely noticed by long-time political observers, many of whom believe he is a lock for the title of libertarian standard bearer within the GOP, and almost certainly a future Presidential candidate. Political scientist and veteran election predictor Larry Sabato told theBlaze, "I'll be surprised if he doesn't run for president. He's young and inherits an insurgent machine, at least presumptively. I have no idea whether he will run in 2016 or some other year, but there is always one or more slots for an antiestablishment candidate in the GOP primaries."
Sabato may well turn out to be right about Rand Paul's "presumptive" inheritance of his father's "insurgent machine." However, current indicators, especially after the bruising floor fight with Romney supporters yesterday, are that the Ron Paul base is in no hurry to support a candidate willing to entertain any kind of compromise, last name or no. In a Politico story from yesterday titled "Ron Paul movement not ready to pass the torch to Rand Paul," a few alarming quotations leap out:
“I was kind of on thin ice with Rand, and then he went and endorsed Romney. And I said, ‘Dude, that’s it! We’re done now,’” said Nick Tanzillo, 27, who flew here from Boston for a Paul rally on Sunday. “He didn’t need to do it when he did. It really cracked the liberty movement. You’ve got the hardcore Ron supporters saying, ‘What are you doing to us?’”
“It looks like he’s pandering to the party,” added 30-year-old Marshall Soell from San Antonio.”[...]
A lot of Paul supporters whisper about the younger Paul voting for sanctions on Iran. In fact, to get his support language was added that made it clear the law being passed did not authorize military force against Iran or Syria.
Rand Paul himself was coy on the question of whether he can carry on his father's legacy when TheBlaze caught up with him. However, he did seem to speak with an outsized degree of authority when describing the amount of influence his father's movement had wielded with regard to the GOP platform. He also didn't foreclose the possibility of being a Presidential candidate in the future. You can watch his exclusive interview with TheBlaze at the Republican National Convention in Tampa:
Rand Paul has also been taking a more aggressive stance in favor of his father’s supporters recently, telling TheBlaze that the GOP needs libertarians if it’s going to survive.
"I think what you have to do, and this is where the Ron Paul libertarian Republicans come in; there's several parts of the country where we're not winning at all. No one's projecting that Romney has a chance in California. Probably not in Oregon or Washington. New England? We win almost nothing in New England. So maybe we ought to reconsider what our approach is, that maybe accepting these libertarian Republicans who might be a little bit different on some issues, maybe a little bit less aggressive on foreign policy, maybe a little bit more tolerant of people's personal lifestyles, that maybe that kind of thing might attract more moderates, independents in the areas we're not winning," Rand Paul told TheBlaze. "So I think the Republican party ought to have a strategy about not just how to incorporate Ron Paul people, but find the best spokesmen from the movement and get them to run in states where we're not winning."
In the end, given the political clout Rand Paul is amassing in the GOP, it's not unreasonable to gather that, even if Ron Paul's most diehard supporters aren't quite willing to accept him yet, he still has a credible chance at becoming a major figure in the party, and possibly a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate in the future.
More to the point, it's not clear who in the elder Paul's orbit would be more willing to advance his strident brand of libertarian thinking than his son. The only other successful high profile endorsement that the elder Paul has made went to Texas Senatorial candidate Ted Cruz. And while Cruz is assuredly a rising star, to call him a Ron Paul Republican is a bit of a stretch, given Cruz's tenure in the Bush White House and chummy relationship with the very same social conservatives and foreign policy conservatives that Rand Paul has been cozying up to.
Some Ron Paul supporters will likely gravitate toward former New Mexico Governor and Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, at least in the short run, and those with a deep knowledge of members of Congress may throw their weight behind Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan. However, neither Johnson nor Amash possesses the kind of star power or broad-based support that Rand Paul or Cruz have, and making them the new standard bearers of the liberty movement might push the burgeoning group back to the fringes of the GOP.
Then again, given the abundance of new blood in the GOP, the Ron Paul movement's youthful sheen might be losing a little of its glamor. Fresh faced candidates like Mia Love, whose speech electrified the Republican National Convention last night, may do more to bring in a new crop of young people not suffering from the post-traumatic reaction to George W. Bush that is common in some Paul supporters. Similarly, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's youthful image may be drawing in younger voters, if recent polls are any guide, and Ryan himself could end up a young person's Presidential candidate several years down the road, and one that carries appeal for Ron Paul's fiscally minded supporters.
Indeed, in a GOP increasingly dominated by economic issues, the biggest challenge for supporters of Ron Paul may be staying separate from the wider party at all. And without a standard bearer with the last name "Paul," it is looking increasingly questionable whether they will be able to do that.
UPDATE: Will Cain of Real News from TheBlaze weighed in from a contrary perspective.
"Rand Paul's potential as the leader of the Republican Party is limited. He's advocated for the end of the federal drug war," said Cain. "But Rand Paul's potential as a leader of the Republican Party is unlimited. He's already responsible for pushing, from the edges of the Senate, the Republican Party in a libertarian direction.
UPDATE: The Ron Paul tribute video is epic, with a soundtrack that sounds like it could have come from a Jerry Bruckheimer trailer.
"I knew I did not want to be a politician all my life," Ron Paul says in the video.
There's a surprising amount of reconciliation in the video. Along with Rand Paul, Senators Jim DeMint, Mike Lee and even Mitch McConnell, as well as Congressmen Jimmy Duncan, Justin Amash and Walter Jones speak in tribute to Ron Paul.
"Whether we want to admit it or not, Ron Paul changed the conversation," McConnell says.
UPDATE: Rand Paul's speech took off around 7:30. He began with a strong attack on Obamacare.
"I've had time to count to ten, and you know what? I still think it's unconstitutional," he said. "Do you think Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have changed their minds?"
The speech was full of historical references, and also highly negative. Paul personalized his attacks on the President's "You didn't build that" gaffe, and makes more than a few attacks on an oft-overlooked part of the President's remarks - the President's sneer at innate intelligence. One got the sense that Paul was personally offended, when he said that the remarks were an insult to children who stayed up late, studying to become doctors. Rand Paul also pulled in a lot of references to immigrant families into his speech, holding up their success as an exemplar of what President Obama has been attacking.
Ron Paul also got a nod early in the speech, when Rand Paul referenced (to loud applause) one of his father's Presidential runs.
There was a subtle nod to the distinction between American republicanism and American democracy, when Paul said, "The Republic of Washington and Jefferson is becoming the Democracy of debt and despair."
The crying guy in Wisconsin must be having a fit.
Rand Paul also made serious rhetorical demands on his audience. There were more than a few slaps at GOP orthodoxy in his speech, specifically against military spending and for civil libertarianism.
"We must never trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security," he said.
Still, Paul's closing line was probably the most fierce counter to "You didn't build that" yet. "You did build that. You earned that. You worked hard. You studied. You labored. You did build that," Paul said. "And you deserve America's undying gratitude for you, the individual, are the engine of America's greatness."