NEW ORLEANS – Rep. Ron Paul’s supporters were in the grand ballroom early Saturday, lightly heckling Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour during his speech for omitting the libertarian congressman from his list of Republican leaders. Barbour quickly added Paul’s name.
But that was nothing compared to the divided reaction when Paul himself took the stage Saturday afternoon at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here in the Big Easy. Paul began by challenging the conventional wisdom among Republicans concerning congressional earmarks, then took on the common assertion heard throughout the weekend that President Obama is a ‘socialist.’
With a somewhat professorial tone, Paul said that, in the technical sense, the president is no such thing.
“What he is, is a corporatist,” Paul said. “And, unfortunately, we have corporatists in the Republican party. And that means you take care of corporations, and corporations take over and run the country. We see it in the financial institutions, we see it in the military-industrial complex, and now we see it in the medical-industrial complex.”
Isolated boos mixed with supporters’ cheers upon these remarks, but as Paul continued, it became apparent that many in the audience were objecting not to Paul’s list of big-government villains, but rather to the congressman himself.
One man wearing Mike Huckabee apparel repeatedly booed Paul throughout the first part of the speech, ultimately resorting to the chant “Ron Paul sucks!” as he discussed foreign policy. SRLC staffers walked the man to the back of the ballroom and silenced him.
When asked by the Daily Caller after the speech how he would reply to the hecklers, Paul said the opposition is nothing new.
“I have been saying the same thing for 35 years, really since 1971, when I recognized that we were going to destroy the economic system,” Paul said. “But I hear more cheers when I talk about the freedom philosophy, individual liberty, personal choice, bringing our troops home, and sound money. So, if one or two or three or four boo because they don’t want to disrupt the status quo and still think they can change the world, or change our party, or change this country, I don’t deal with that too much, because I just think they’re mistaken,” he said. “And I try to persuade them differently.”
But Paul also hit many notes in the speech that received wide agreement and boisterous cheers. Perhaps most notably, Paul announced to great applause that he plans to introduce a bill next week — probably only one page long — that would repeal the individual insurance mandate recently passed as part of the so-called ObamaCare health-care reform package.
The Daily Caller asked Paul to predict whether that bill might pass through the House of Representatives, and he sounded an optimistic note.
“I would think I could [get it past the House],” Paul said. “But this one will be tougher for the Democrats, even ones who voted against the bill. I don’t know, they might feel like they don’t want to take on their leadership.”
Even without the votes, Paul said, economic forces would eventually compel the bill’s repeal.
“Ultimately, the economics will reverse the tide,” Paul told The Daily Caller. “The medical thing, it will be reversed, because it won’t function.”
Meanwhile, as Paul was beginning his speech late on the final day of the conference, many of his supporters arrived only to find themselves locked out. Paul’s organization, the Campaign For Liberty (C4L), was providing discounted tickets to supporters in an effort to follow up on his victory in February’s CPAC presidential straw poll with another win in the straw poll held here.
But SRLC organizers had closed down registration around 1:00 PM, something C4L had not anticipated. One Paul supporter, Alex Helwig, a former congressional staffer, came down from his home in Baton Rouge on Saturday to find himself unable to get his delegate credentials, despite having paid in advance. Helwig told the Daily Caller that there was apparently some confusion concerning registration times on the SRLC side as well.
Another organization making a big push for straw votes was Evangelicals for Mitt, a group that provided free tickets to supporters of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Although Romney himself did not attend the conference, many of his supporters did, and enough of them arrived early enough to get their credentials. Romney ultimately won the straw poll by one vote over Paul.
James Plummer is a freelance writer based in New Orleans.