What’s Next for Ron Paul?

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Matt Welch: Will Ron Paul endorse Romney at convention, run on a third party ticket, and if so, what might that mean for Rand Paul?

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

With Mitt Romney now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, what’s next for Ron Paul and his supporters? Ron Paul’s still in the race, but it’s essentially over. So what will be his strategy and tactics heading to the convention? Will he run on his own? And where will his supporters go? What will they do? There is a whole constituency of conservatives that don’t want to see Mitt Romney win this election.

Now joining us to talk about all this is Matt Welch. Matt is the editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. His work’s appeared in The Washington Post and Salon and dozens of other publications. And he recently coauthored the book The Declaration of Independence: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. Thanks for joining us, Matt.

MATT WELCH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON: Thanks for having me back.

JAY: So let’s first talk about Paul and what they’re calling the Paulistas and all of this. They’ve got to hate Mitt Romney on a whole score of things, and certainly most of all, one would think, Romney’s foreign policy and complete support for the big military machine. So how do they stay in this party?

WELCH: That’s a good question. I think part of it is that especially in these states that had caucuses as opposed to primary elections this season, Iowa and Maine and Nevada and so on, they are staying in the process by trying to take over local Republican Party apparatuses (or apparatusi, depending on how we speak English). They are trying to influence change from within. I mean, we just have seen over the last week—Ron Paul won Maine. You know, Maine is going to send a majority of its delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, are going to vote for Ron Paul. They’ve been doing this in place after place. In caucus states, it allows people who are super-organized to nominate delegates who nominate delegates. It’s a very convoluted process, but it’s—if you focus on that, then it allows you to punch above your weight if you have a lot of passion and organization, and that’s exactly what Ron Paul has.

So the question is: then what? And that’s what we don’t really know right now. He’s clearly running this for the long haul. He wants to go to the Republican convention in Tampa. He wants definitely a primetime speaking slot. He and his people want to get their biggest issues—and their two biggest issues by far have to do with war, foreign-policy writ large, and also the Federal Reserve. So they’re going to want to get language onto the GOP platform.

JAY: I mean, can you imagine Romney’s team allowing Paul a primetime TV spot to rant against the war machine and Empire?

WELCH: I want to imagine that, because that would be a very interesting moment. You know, a lot of things that Paul said five years ago were treated by a lot of people, including me on some level, as kind of fringy, and they have since become much more close to the center of the national discussion, particularly about the Federal Reserve and just kind of the Austrian economic take on that kind of stuff. So he’s trying to influence debate. He’s playing a very, very long game—and he’ll say this—of trying to educate Americans about what he thinks is that proper role of government and about the nature of business cycles and all these types of things, libertarian kind of philosophy. So he wants to do that. And how best to do that is always the interesting question. He thinks trying to win and then trying to get involved in influencing the party in 2012 is one way.

Certainly they also think—and this is key why he’s not going to make a third-party run—is that Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, who’s a very, very interesting politician, they want to position him so that when Romney loses, if he does, in 2012, he can make a credible run in 2016 as the standard-bearer of these ideas. And I think Rand Paul [incompr.] have a different attractiveness to the body politic and within the Republican Party that Ron Paul doesn’t necessarily have.

JAY: Well, there’s an interesting argument coming from conservative libertarian conservatives that it really would be better for Romney to lose, ’cause if there was a Romney first term, it’s very difficult for anyone to see him being seriously challenged from the Republicans in 2016. So if your eyes are on 2016, whether you’re either coming from Santorum’s social conservative side or the libertarian Republican side, it’s better to have another term of Obama. So what do you make of that argument, and how strong are those forces? In other words, will these people just stay home?

WELCH: Well, think about this. In 2008, of the people who voted for Ron Paul in primaries and caucuses, only 38 percent ended up voting for John McCain. A lot stayed home. Many of them wrote in Ron Paul’s name. Others voted for third-party candidates, particularly Bob Barr from the Libertarian Party. This year, I don’t know what those people are going to do, right, because as you point out, there are just fundamental, profound differences between Romney and Paul on those things.

That said, Romney and Paul have played nice to one another up till now. They get along well. Paul has saved not all but most of his attacks for his other fellow competitors, trying to step on their fingers on the lifeboat, so to speak. And it’ll be interesting to see if he shifts his discourse now that it’s basically a Bill Clinton–Jerry Brown 1992 situation, which it is right now. So we don’t know where they’re going to go.

But it is very interesting to know that the Libertarian Party over the weekend set its slate, and it’s arguably the strongest LP candidacy in a while. You have former governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who is a popular two-term Republican governor in a blue state, New Mexico, who is the first important or senior politician in the country to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana. He is now paired up with Judge Jim Gray of Orange County, Republican guy, who also is a drug legalizer, marijuana legalizer candidate. So that’s a pretty strong slate from the LP. And will Ron Paul supporters be transferable to over there? That’s an open question, because Paul tends to attract very strong, kind of individual support, and people don’t like to be told that there’s somebody else besides Ron Paul to vote for.

JAY: So if I’m a Ron Paul voter and I am with him on foreign policy issues, I mean, I would almost see Romney as more a problem than Obama. Not that Obama isn’t also a defender of the military-industrial complex and such, but Romney’s surrounded with people that are even more gung ho and, you know, the kinds of people that led us into Iraq. And McCain and his gang, Lindsey Graham and that, if they had their way, they’d start another Cold War with Russia, and they would even boost military spending even more. At least there’s some lip service of cuts from the Obama administration. So you’d think they’d stay home just on that issue alone.

WELCH: And let’s not forget, I mean, not just libertarians, but sort of limited-government types on the right, you know, they tend to be particularly hostile to TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Well, Romney supported that. They tend to be hostile towards Obamacare, particularly the individual mandate. Well, Mitt Romney invented the individual mandate and said at the time (although he denies it now) that he thought it was applicable to the rest country. And not only that, but he attacks Obama from the left when it comes to Medicare. He criticizes Obama for cutting Medicare spending. He attacked Rick Perry when he said social security’s a Ponzi scheme. Now, that all might make him more attractive to many of the people watching this show, necessarily, but think of it in the terms of the Republican context right now. Romney did not win the nomination by championing anything like limited-government principles on anything. He won the nomination by being very inoffensive, not really saying anything of particular value, and surviving.

And so people who are serious about limited government, you hear a lot of talk about not the presidency, not the White House, ’cause I think they think they’re going to lose, but they’re talking about the Senate. They’re trying to get more Rand Pauls in the Senate, and they kind of shrug off the 2012 presidential race in the Republican Party as a sign that they haven’t yet gotten the upper hand in the internal deliberations of the Grand Old Party.

JAY: And if these people stay home, either on the libertarian side or even the—hear similar arguments on the social conservative Tea Party side, is it going to be a significant factor in the outcome of the election?

WELCH: It’s really the $10,000 question. It looks like it’s going to be close right now. I mean, I’m surprised that Romney is actually doing pretty well among independents. And the youth advantage that Obama and the Democrats had, they still have it, but it’s a lot less big. So it says to me that we have a competitive race here, but it could tip in certain states. But I wouldn’t limit it just simply to kind of a libertarian right-of-center defection. I think and I frankly hope that this could come into play in swing states where you might see some defection from the left towards libertarians, which I think is the next shoe to drop.

Obama has been raiding medical marijuana dispensaries up and down California, Colorado, and Colorado has full legalization on the ballot this November. So Marijuana activists are going to be energized to go to the polls in Colorado. Well, they have a very strong pro-legalization Libertarian Party candidacy. And meanwhile, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are pissing off a lot of people by just throwing people in jail. So there might be some movement in that direction.

But all that said, I hear a lot from more true-blue conservative Republican types, like, oh, you libertarians, you need to get off the fence, and don’t screw up this election, ’cause we have a historic chance to unseat the socialist. And if it’s close and the libertarians swing it against Romney, then there’s going to be some interesting repercussions. So I guess the answer is always—.

JAY: Ron Paul’s going to have a moment of truth at the convention. I mean, he’s going to be there. He’s got a big argument for a right to speak, given how he’s done in the primaries. And there’s going to be enormous pressure on him to endorse Romney. I mean, I just don’t understand how he could. But what’s your sense of it?

WELCH: That’s really the last remaining leverage. I mean, what he’s trying to do—and the delegate strategy is part of this—he’s just going to try to build up as many chips as he can and then see what he has and then what he can get. I imagine that what will happen—and I’m just making this up, but I’m thinking off the top of my head—is that Romney and the Romney group will try to hold Rand Paul hostage, basically, and say, look, we think this lad has a bright future too, but he’s not going to get any committee appointments and you’re going to be in a lot of trouble unless you come out and endorse us. And the question is: does Ron Paul even have that gene, the practical politics, you know, make a grand compromise for the sake of kind of expediency? That’s not what he’s been doing for the last 30 years. He’s been making principled votes (usually no) on everything.

So I don’t know, and Romney doesn’t know either. It’s one of the reasons why he’s been so nice and solicitous to Congressman Paul, because he doesn’t want to pick that fight. There will come that moment of truth where—either between Romney and Paul or between Romney and Paul’s supporters, which is the more likely thing, ultimately—where you’re going to have—are they going to be in a position where they’re going to have to insult Paul in any way? And if so, they’re going to risk alienating a whole lot of voters out there, ’cause remember, he’s getting twice as many votes this time around as he did last time, and he’s going to eventually, I think, probably end up in second place on the delegate list or has a fighting chance. So that’s now going to be a sizable number of people. So Romney’s got to tread delicately now.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Matt.

WELCH: Thank you.

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

End

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