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Matt Welch: Ron Paul supporters sidelined at convention as differences with Romney foreign policy are profound

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the media’s focusing on the story of the supposed split between social conservatives and corporate Republicans, Sheldon Adelson types, Koch brothers on one side; evangelical Christians and others that have—share their beliefs on the other; and a kind of unholy alliance between these two forces.

But there’s another division in the Republican Party which is getting virtually no attention in the media, although it appeared with great vividness during the primaries, and that’s Ron Paul libertarians on foreign-policy issues that are against empire (and Ron Paul uses the word empire), want to see massive cuts in the military budget, and want to see a whole different view of America in the world. Well, that division is not being discussed at all. And the question I have is: is that asserting itself in any way at the Republican convention?

And now joining us to help answer that question is Matt Welch. Matt’s the editor of probably the best-known libertarian magazine, Reason magazine, and he’s currently at the RNC in Tampa. Thanks for joining us again, Matt.

MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me back. Good to see you, as always.

JAY: So that’s the question. You know, in the primaries, although Ron Paul was kind of out there all on his own, he used to get massive applause at the primary audiences for his foreign-policy positions, which were very anti-militarist, anti-empire. Well, now we don’t hear a word about any of that. So what’s happening on this score at the convention?

WELCH: Well, before the convention, there was a kind of preconvention, a Paul Festival of Ron Paul’s delegates who are here, and also his ardent supporters. Just yesterday I was at the Sun Arena University of Florida campus, and there were probably 4,000, 5,000 people there listening to a series of speakers, including Ron Paul, including his son Senator Rand Paul—talked very explicitly, and not in favorable terms, about their fellow Republicans. In fact, they showed Rush Limbaugh up on the screen and Rudolph Giuliani, and everyone immediately booed and hissed. And Rick Santorum they all booed. And they talked explicitly about blowback. And they also talked [unintel.] just the notion that the reason why the terrorists attacked us is that we are abroad in 140 countries, and the usual litany that Ron Paul recites.

This is at complete odds with the ticket that the Republican Party’s offering out there. Mitt Romney has talked about, you know, rebuilding our military as if it’s been gutted, spending 4 percent of GDP forever, and on Paul Ryan, who’s been a pretty big militarist too. And both of them were eager to get the U.S. involved in places like Syria and Iran.

There’s not any real effort to bridge that divide. The Ron Paul delegates have been kind of kicked to the curb here as part of the delegate process. They each want to avoid any attempt [unintel.] Ron Paul supporter outbreak on the floor tomorrow when they take roll call. And his supporters are kind of—are licking their wounds.

And, remember, there are two basic tenets to—two huge applause lines in any Ron Paul’s speech. One is to end the Federal Reserve. They get chants of “end the Fed”—you know, 7,000 college kids at UCLA, “End the Fed!” But the other one is, unambiguously, let’s take American soldiers back home from abroad and let’s end the Empire. Those are what attracted people to his message to begin with.

And those voters don’t have a natural home in the Republican Party right now. And there isn’t much in the way of lip service paid on the top. There are little ferments (we could talk about that further) in the Senate. There were a couple of people finally starting to talk about maybe cutting defense one day, which is the best that you can kind of hope for with this rabble. But that is a huge divide, and it’s a tradition that’s long been on the right that has been largely ignored until Ron Paul [unintel.] have principled non-interventionism and a more limited, humble foreign-policy apparatus.

JAY: Right. Now, the—I’m going to have to fix my earphone here. It’s falling out of my ear. But I’ll—we’re going to keep going here.

So when I interviewed Rand Paul in New Hampshire in 2008, he told me that his sort of alliance with anti-war, anti-militarist left wingers (he gave the example like Kucinich) was more important than the domestic issues, even though there was such a divide with the left on domestic issues. Now Rand Paul has actually endorsed Romney and Ron Paul has not. But before we get to Ron Paul, how does Rand Paul maintain his position in the libertarian movement having endorsed Romney?

WELCH: Well, his—Ron Paul’s biggest supporters were really angry at Rand Paul for endorsing Romney, which I think—I mean, there’s a—Ron Paul’s followers are very strenuous, they’re very attached to the personality of this anti-charismatic figure without really thinking it through. The two live together, or did last time I checked, in Washington. They bunk up together. Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign, in addition to being part of his career-long message of spreading liberty and talking about Austrian economics and all that, it’s been about handing the baton off to Rand. And Rand is consciously trying to grab more of a foothold within the Republican Party. So it’s doing—in doing so, he has found a way to talk about these issues that seems less rigid than Ron Paul. There’s just some kind of tenor change.

It ultimately boils down to more or less the same set of policies. He has gone in the Senate and talked very robustly about opposing the Patriot Act, opposing, you know, wiretapping, and cutting defense. You know, he’s talked about the very same issues. But he has a different kind of language for it. And so there’s no way that he endorsed Romney without his dad telling him to go for it. That’s kind of the point. They want to be able to get Rand Paul in a position where he can run. No matter who wins in November between Obama and Romney, they want Rand Paul to run in 2016 is my very, very strong belief. And so part of doing that is to at various points play acceptably nice within the Republican [crosstalk]

JAY: But in doing so, Rand Paul makes deals with—for example, Karl Rove raised a lot of money for Rand Paul, and Karl Rove is very attached to the neocon militarists. I mean, never mind attached; he’s one of the leading forces amongst them. So you make a deal with Karl Rove in the elections, and then you endorse Romney, which is—you know, he’s very closely part of and connected to the militarist sections of the Republican Party. And there’s just—I mean, the truth is not that Obama’s been great on these issues, but you’d think at least at the policy level Rand Paul probably has more in common with Obama.

WELCH: You cut out a little bit there, so that’s why I stepped on your line. Sorry about that.

I mean, the fundamental thing is that Mitt Romney was going to win. It’s not like he endorsed Ron Paul when he had a fighting chance. Once there was—once the race was not in doubt, he fell in line. But I don’t think he’s been actually cutting deals with people on issues of principle at all. I’ll [unintel.] very little evidence of that. So he’s using his foothold in the Senate to pursue explicitly libertarian aims a couple of times. He departs from what I consider [unintel.] libertarian policy, but it’s very rare. And he’s maintained that ability. He can talk with people with whom he has these strong disagreements.

JAY: Now, at the rally that took place a couple of days ago, you’re saying that they had pictures of various Republicans and people were booing. Well, what about Romney and Ryan?

WELCH: They didn’t get mentioned once. Paul talked for an hour and 17 minutes yesterday, Ron Paul did. The name Mitt Romney was not uttered once. There were chants of, you know, “President Paul” or “Paul 2016” for Rand, ’cause Rand also spoke there. I mean, he spoke—I should add, he talked about blowback and he quoted his father’s line of well, look, we marched them in there on a moment’s notice, and we can march them back out on a moment’s notice. So he talked very much the same kind of talk. So, yeah, they are not talking about Romney–Ryan. They are making—you know, Ron Paul will not, I don’t think, endorse Mitt Romney anytime soon. Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party candidate, who believes in many of the same things, he spoke at the Ron Paul convention on Saturday and received a very enthusiastic response. So it’s not a natural bunch of Republicans.

And here’s the thing to remember, right? So, you know, the last four years has been a pretty lousy economy, and most scenarios right now, the team that was in charge would get punished pretty decisively at the polls, and yet it’s neck and neck. And yes, the Republican Party—this is crazy—they’ve lost registered voters over the last four years. They were given the most favorable setting you could possibly hope for in our two-party system, and they still squandered it.

So these Ron Paul voters, who a lot of people like William Kristol of The Weekly Standard love to sort of dismiss—they’re “rabble”. But without them, without that 11 percent who voted for Ron Paul in the primary system, no Republican Party—there was no chance for Mitt Romney to win in November. So it’s a really weird dance right now. Romney’s been very personally respectful of Ron Paul, even while the machinery has found ways to kind of marginalize him.

But Republicans are in a tough pickle right now because their broader message has not been popular, and deservedly so, I might add, and largely because they haven’t embraced these, you know, stronger, more libertarian impulses that resonate through some of the better or more interesting parts of Republican history in the case of people like Barry Goldwater. But more specifically now, young people, who just feel fed up, fed up with the drug war, fed up with an overweening government, fed up with [unintel.] two, those people are Ron Paul people. They’re not Republicans. They’re[unintel.] that Romney and Ryan are not [unintel.]

JAY: So is it your sense that a lot of them are going to stay home and just not vote, or might vote Libertarian, for the Libertarian Party?

WELCH: I think some will lose—the affinity for Ron Paul in particular is so strong that I wouldn’t be surprised if he got many, many write-ins that won’t be counted because our system has it that many states don’t even bother counting write-in votes.

A lot of people—the big sort of subject—subtext at the Paul Festival this weekend is kind of like, what next? Where do we go? There’s a lot of other, you know, smaller-on-the-radar candidates and politicians, like Justin Amash, like a Rand Paul, who’s probably the most significant. Mike Lee, Senator Mike Lee has some of these kind of ideas. But it’s mostly on really small local areas who are kind of [unintel.] but no one really rallies people’s sympathy in the same way that Ron Paul does.

So it’s really an open question where they go, and there’s a sense of confusion among the people themselves. They don’t really know where it’ll go in terms of who you vote for in November.

I think you have the stronger idea of what you do after November, which is they’re continuing to try this sort of weird, hostile, minority takeover of various, you know, state Republican apparatuses and elsewhere. They’re trying to get more kind of Ron Paul candidates out there. It’s really hard to say, you know, how much [unintel.] that will have after Ron Paul himself retires. But I would be shocked, I would be—I mean, I think—I believe it was—in 2008, of the people who voted for Ron Paul in the primary season then, less than 40 percent ended up voting for John McCain. So that was in 2008, and we’ve had four more years of this stuff. I don’t see there being anything higher than that number voting for Romney, even though, you know, a lot of libertarians are not exactly the biggest fans of Barack Obama.

JAY: Right. Alright. Thanks for joining us, Matt.

WELCH: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Matt Welch

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason magazine. Welch's work has appeared in The Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, Los Angeles Daily News, Orange County Register, LA Weekly,,, Wired, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Daily Star of Beirut, and dozens of other publications.