Typically, the tail end of a losing campaign for a major party nomination is filled with equal parts desperation, sadness, and finally, some form of acceptance. As the front-runner pulls ahead and the math becomes next to impossible to ignore, the candidate moves robotically through a stump speech no longer worth tinkering with, halfheartedly shilling for votes that won’t matter. Events are more poorly planned (no one has the motivation to hang those 64 American flags), and more sparsely attended, the recruiting of volunteers has quietly come to a halt. Those that do remain until the end try to muster up the energy for one last “Our Guy For President!” chant, as they hold signs that are no longer being made, reading pamphlets that are no longer being printed, pontificating about the unfair negative ads that sunk their chosen candidate’s noble run for the White House. Staff defections are inevitable, as anyone who can jump ship to the winner starts to get in touch with those who can find them a landing spot. At the last, the loser almost always offers his support for the chosen standard bearer, and the shift into the general election finishes with thanks to volunteers for all their work, and a reminder that the most important thing is to defeat the real opponent in the fall.
Given how atypical Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination has been, it should come as no surprise that he and his supporters have refused to follow this norm to eventually bend to party etiquette and party unity. In late April, two days before the Pennsylvania primary, and but a few weeks before Paul would end active campaigning for remaining primary states, a legion of his followers, came to see him speak at Independence Hall, to once again send out his version of a message of liberty and change. The political reality had already set in for the rest of the American body politic. Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee of the party, Paul would place no higher than third in the Keystone State; it was all over. And yet, despite the torrential rains that refused to let up even for a minute, still they came. For the thousand-strong crowd, there appeared to be no desperation, nor sadness, and in some cases, no acceptance. Instead, there was a doubling down on what they believed in—ending wars and torture, restrictions on executive privilege, the destruction of the Federal Reserve, and a radical reduction of taxation, spending, and the role of government. In short, the Paul folks were continuing their unwavering, if quixotic quest for a libertarian revolution.
The Paul campaign has in many ways mimicked the incredible commitment of its supporters, refusing to stop despite being defeated. Instead of crawling to the party establishment for scraps, the campaign chose to fight for every single delegate it could. A process years in the making was beginning to show results beyond the voting booth. A systematic foray into the Republican Party at the state level, disproportionate control of state conventions and caucuses, and a subtle mastery over arcane rules of nomination and delegate allocation, have all allowed Paul to amass more delegates than expected. For example, Paul won only 21 percent of the vote at the Iowa caucus, but has used his campaign’s strategy to perfection, and 21 of the 25 delegates heading to Tampa for the National Convention will be in his camp. All in all, Paul’s team claims that they will have over 200 delegates supporting Paul (Santorum’s tally is 255). They also believe that another 300 or so are bound to pledge support to Romney, but philosophically appear in line with the “libertarian” wing of the party.
All of this has the Republican Party slightly concerned. Among other ideas that often run directly counter to the party’s mainstream, Paul’s delegates will make an attempt to influence the platform, trying to increase transparency of the Fed, and require congressional approval for a declaration of war. The worry is that since these demands cannot really be met (for example, the Party would never consider taking any sort of control away from their Commander-In-Chief), Paul’s people could become very agitated, and disturb that which National Conventions have come to be: a four-day advertisement for the nominee. If Paul has won one victory this time around, it's that he has made himself and his campaign impossible to ignore, and Romney will be unable to lock the Paul group out of the convention, as John McCain managed to do four years ago.
It appears unlikely that much will come of this effort by the Paul campaign. Likely, it will be little more than a touch of feather ruffling and some condescending snickers from neo-conservatives who look at Ron Paul supporters as though they’re young, ignorant fools who buy into every conspiracy they come across on the Internet (which indeed some of them are). But what should worry the current Republican establishment is that this group appears to be accepting of the long view, even if it is imbued with more than a little delusion. As I watched the people cheering Ron Paul through the heavy rains at Independence Hall, it was clear that they are going nowhere. Speaking with them, one hears a common refrain: This is not about this election, this is not about Ron Paul, this is about more than one person, it’s about all of us, it’s about America, it’s about freedom, liberty, revolution. Their sense of certainty is disarming, and difficult at times to engage. They know that doom awaits America as it currently exists, and they truly consider themselves to be revolutionaries. Their ranks are full of Americans of all sorts: some are paranoid, others sophisticated, and some are just ignorant.
One man, just past middle age, wearing an End The Fed T-shirt that looked like it was promoting some indie band told me, “We need to get rid of the I.R.S., it’s a 3 billion dollar industry,” with no follow-up, as though the fact needed no further explanation. A young fellow named Gurevich, born in what was the Soviet Union, was short on details, but heavy on feel. “I've never made a sign, never been political. Just do my job, make money, start a family. There comes a time when everything you hold dear is threatened. I was born in the U.S.S.R., Russia...it’s night and day. What’s here and what was over there. I’m familiar with things that happen when things start changing, and I can feel them changing. Freedom is always something you have to stand up for.” Another man, who works for Paul at the local level, summed up the basic, if confusing and erratic, reason as to why all these people were still bothering to come out, despite the rain, despite the looming defeat. “You meet other like-minded people and you uplift each other. His percentages have doubled. It’s growing, the freedom movement. It’s growing. You can’t just believe everything on TV. Or what the newspapers say. That’s why Ron Paul means so much to get together with like-minded people.”
Within these ranks flows a real siege mentality. Everyone is out to get them: Republicans, Democrats, the media, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., a whole range of secret societies, whoever puts fluoride in the water, etcetera. They are the noble American warriors, hell-bent on what they’re certain is the precise freedom defined by their heroes, the founding fathers. But this paranoia seems to drive them, reinforcing the idea that what they believe is right, that all these forces (real or imaginary) are proof that they’re through the looking glass, and that they will eventually come out on top, and they will one day take over the Republican Party. Ultimately, their power comes from their quasi-religious beliefs, their motivation comes from an almost apocalyptic worldview, and their desire to create a utopia suggests that they are going nowhere. On the surface, Mitt Romney’s sheen makes it look as though the Paul forces have been once again beaten back. But as we’ll see in Tampa, the foundations of the party just may be shaking.