Ron Paul’s swan song rally advertises his supporters as GOP’s future

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W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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When the roll is called at the Republican National Convention this week, Ron Paul will not be nominated for president. But for a few hours on Sunday, his supporters got to celebrate as if the “revolution” was headed to the White House.

Thousands packed the University of South Florida Sun Dome for the “We Are the Future” rally, billed as an attempt to “assemble champions of constitutional conservatism.” Paul was introduced by his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, capping an afternoon of political speeches, musical performances, and lessons in libertarianism with a passionate but meandering keynote address that clocked over an hour.

This is likely Paul’s last campaign. The Texas Republican is leaving the House after twelve terms and has signaled he won’t run for president again. But his parting message to supporters was they represent the future of the GOP. “Don’t beg to be let into the big tent,” he said. “We will become the tent.”

Paul’s campaign put out a statement describing the Sun Dome event in less Zen-like terms, promising “a bold sampling of a movement that’s already inextricably linked to today’s, tomorrow’s GOP.”

How inextricably appeared to be the subject of some internal debate among Paul supporters, even on the dais. Presidential historian Doug Wead, who served as master of ceremonies, asked all the Democrats and independents in the room to stand up.

“Commentators will say that this is the extreme wing of the Republican Party,” Wead said. “Their meeting starts tomorrow a few miles away.” He praised Paul for appealing to young people and Hispanics. Wead, a former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, called Paul a “clean boat in a sea of garbage.”

Ashley Ryan, the 21-year-old elected to the Republican National Committee from Maine, blasted recently adopted party rules changes that will make the Paulites’ delegate accumulation strategy more difficult in the future. “We are all Republicans,” she said. “These rules changes will hurt all Republicans.”

“After hearing Ashley Ryan speak earlier, I think it’s time to audit the RNC,” quipped Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash. Yet Amash is arguably the most successful Ron Paul Republican outside the Paul family.

“There is no next Ron Paul,” Amash said. “Ron Paul is one of a kind. No one can replace Ron Paul.”

South Carolina Republican state Sen. Tom Davis, who endorsed Paul for president this year, also spoke, as did Barry Goldwater, Jr., a former GOP congressman whose father won the pivotal 1964 presidential nomination.

Goldwater asked the audience if the country was better off than in 1964. They shouted, “No!”

Nevertheless, conservative columnist Jack Hunter compared the Paul and ’64 Goldwater campaigns. “Barry Goldwater said extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “Ron Paul listened.”

“Simply hating the other side is not enough,” Hunter, the official blogger of the Paul campaign, continued. “It’s partisan, childish and useless.”

Three economists affiliated with the libertarian Mises Institute spoke before the politicians and activists. Lew Rockwell, the controversial former Paul chief of staff who edits an eponymous libertarian website, began by saying that his old boss was the only congressman worthy of the title “honorable.”

Rockwell denounced the CIA as “death squads, stealing squads, overthrowing-other-government squads.” He also called for U.S. troops to be used to “defend our country, not invade and occupy other countries.”

Walter Block, a libertarian professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, then delivered a 25-minute talk about abortion. He suggested a compromise whereby women are allowed to “evict” unwanted fetuses but not kill them. Audience members appeared to grow impatient during his speech.

Rand Paul strode to the podium amidst chants of “Paul ’16.” There was little evidence of lingering anger from his endorsement of Mitt Romney. “Republicans have to acknowledge that not every dollar is sacred that’s spent on the military,” he said.

The younger Paul called for auditing both the Pentagon and the Federal Reserve. He also walked a tightrope on foreign policy, associating himself with his father’s views that overseas military actions can serve as motivation for terrorists but making clear that this doesn’t justify attacks like 9/11.

Ron Paul threw all such caution to the wind. Mocking those who said he would have allowed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to live, he argued that if his foreign policy had been in effect, all of the 9/11 victims and troops killed in the last decade of American wars would have survived.

Like John Popper singing Blues Traveler tunes earlier during the rally, Paul performed all his greatest hits: he talked about the military-industrial complex, the Constitution, the right to drink raw milk and make ropes out of hemp, ending the Fed, bringing the troops home and slashing federal spending. Paul zinged the “group of neocons” who advocated the Iraq war.

“Get the government out of our lives and off our backs and out of our wallets,” Paul said, his voice straining. By the time he finished, even many of his youthful backers were tired and in their seats.

They rose again as Paul left the stage. Whether this was a final curtain call or an opening act for the movement his Republican campaigns inspired remains to be seen.

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