Ron Paul activists uneasily embrace GOP

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W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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After the New Hampshire primary, Grover Norquist made a bold prediction.

“If Ron Paul speaks at the GOP convention (as he was not invited to do in 2008), the party will be united and Romney will win in November 2012,” the anti-tax crusader wrote in the Guardian. “If Ron Paul speaks only at his own rally in Tampa, Florida (as happened at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota) the party will not be at full strength.”

Republican convention planners decided to split the difference. Paul’s son, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, will have a prominent convention speaking slot. Delegates are also likely to see a video paying tribute to Paul, the 12-term libertarian-leaning congressman from Texas who received more than 2 million votes for president in the 2012 GOP primaries.

Ron Paul is splitting the difference too. He will be holding a rally on Sunday at the University of South Florida’s 11,000-seat Sun Dome, separate from the Republican National Convention. But he and his supporters will also be working inside the convention hall to maximize their influence on the GOP.

Paul supporters have already left their mark on the party. On Monday, Mitt Romney came out in favor of auditing the Federal Reserve, a longtime Paul priority. An audit the Fed plank is also slated to make it into the party platform. CNN has reported that the Paul campaign and the Republican National Committee have been hammering away at a deal on disputed delegates from Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Maine.

Republican leaders have an incentive to resolve the impasse: they want to keep the convention running smoothly without any disruption from the Paul delegates. There is also much at stake for the Paul forces. If young Paulites make the GOP gathering their 1968 Democratic National Convention, they will endanger all the progress they have made within the party.

But if Paul backers come away from Tampa empty-handed, it will bring doubts many of them still have about working within the GOP into the open and potentially divide the movement.

“The strategy that the Paul political machine is moving forward is not of the taste of a lot of the grassroots and it never has been,” Reason magazine senior editor Brian Doherty, author of “Ron Paul’s rEVOLution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired,” told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

That strategy is to anoint Rand Paul as the successor to his father, work for candidates who share their brand of libertarian conservatism in Republican primaries, and use the GOP as a vehicle to achieve their policy goals.

Many of the speakers scheduled to appear at Paul’s pre-convention rally fit very much in line with this approach. Senator Paul and Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash are examples of Paul-inspired Republicans winning elections. A.J. Spiker went from being vice-chair of Paul’s 2012 Iowa campaign to state Republican chairman.

Ashley Ryan is a 21-year-old Paul supporter who was elected to the Republican National Committee from Maine. Barry Goldwater, Jr. is a former Republican congressman and son of the 1964 GOP presidential nominee.

“Ron Paul’s rally will enable supporters, the public, and media to further witness the ideas and people that are the future of the Republican Party,” Paul national campaign chairman Jesse Benton said in a statement.

Other scheduled speakers, like hard-line libertarian economists Lew Rockwell and Walter Block, don’t have much use for Republicans not named Ron Paul. Rockwell, a former Paul congressional aide who is now president of the Mises Institute, wrote dismissively of the planned Paul tribute at the convention.

“It’s brilliant politics for the Romulans to substitute a YouTube at their convention for an appearance by the real Ron Paul;” Rockwell began, “that way, they control the Ron who will be seen, in their ongoing attempt to coopt the Ron Paul movement into Neocon Party II.”

Rockwell continued, “Oh, and Ron — the final message will be — don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

“The thing that makes you a Ron Paul person is an acute sense of crisis,” Doherty explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation. For many who see the current political scene in those terms, voting for Romney and becoming a “good, normalized Republican” are inapt solutions.

Doherty estimated that perhaps a third of Paul’s supporters would ultimately vote for Romney in November, though a larger percentage would back the GOP “whenever Republicans give them someone they could in good conscience vote for.”

Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is openly campaigning for the Paul vote. To a much lesser extent, so is Constitution Party standard-bearer Virgil Goode, a former GOP congressman from Virginia who served with Paul.

Rand Paul has endorsed Romney for president. His father hasn’t followed suit, but he has pointedly declined to throw his weight behind any of the third party alternatives.

To succeed, the Ron Paul movement needs both the activists working within the Republican Party and the “radical pincers” outside it, Doherty argued.

That theory is about to be tested in the hot Florida sun on national television.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.