An Open Letter To Ron Paul Supporters

Brian Doherty, whose written a history of the libertarian movement and, most recently, a history of Ron Paul’s two most recent campaigns for the Presidency, writes today about what might come next for the movement that has sprung up around the retiring Texas Congressman now that his campaign, and his political career, have come to an end:

While Ron Paul has no future in politics, the Ron Paul machine and his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, will. That’s why the political pros in the Paul movement don’t appreciate acting-out like Richard Gilbert’s lawsuit. That’s also why Rand Paul risked the wrath of his father’s hardcore fans by endorsing Mitt Romney, just as soon as Ron Paul admitted he would not win.

Senator Paul knows he needs to reach beyond his father’s 10-15 percent base in the primaries to more mainstream, red-state, talk-radio Republicans. He can’t do that by marking himself as a traitor to the party. So he stands behind nominee Romney and plans to actively campaign for him.

But he also can’t mark himself a traitor to the Ron Paul cause. So Rand Paul followed up his endorsement by calling out Romney in the pages of National Review for Romney’s declaration that he would have the authority as president to start a war with Iran. That sort of foreign policy adventurism — especially when done without respect for Congress’s traditional constitutional power over declaring war — is anathema to the core Ron Paul crowd, and Rand Paul condemned it.


Indeed, despite the Rand Paul endorsement, Romney will be hard-pressed to win the votes of many Paul fans in November, though he’s clearly trying not to offend them intentionally by openly disrespecting their man. Paul’s fans are driven by a sense of crisis. For his whole political career, Paul has been predicting big trouble based on government overreach — with spending, with monetary policy, with managing Americans’ choices, and with a world-straddling, expensive, imperial foreign policy. Paul’s devotees see those crises as no longer looming, but here right now. America, they think, could soon be Greece. And they don’t see how a Romney who supported bailouts, who thinks a trillion-dollar spending cut would harm the economy, who helped lay the groundwork for ObamaCare, who believes in more overseas wars, can save America.

It’s easy for establishments to mock that sort of fervor. But the Republican Party has seen young, radically anti-government, quirky, curious movements conquer before. The Goldwater kids did it in the ’60s; the Religious Right did it in the wake of Pat Robertson’s failed presidential bid in 1988.

Personally, I’m skeptical that the Ron Paul wave can be quite as successful as either the Goldwater movement or the Religious Right. In both of those cases, the activists were backed by powerful and experienced political insiders who knew what it took to win elections, what it took to gain support and influence inside the Republican Party, and how to pick which battles to fight and which battles to hold back on. They also succeeded because they had a significant grassroots organization that made itself available to the Republican Party on numerous occasions and, when needed, voted as loyal Republicans. That’s what it takes to succeed at party politics, and I have real doubts about whether the Paul people have those skills or would be able to muster them instead of continuing to engage in the same tactics that they have in the past two Presidential election cycles.

Another problem one finds with the the Paul people is that there seems to be an unwillingness to consider supporting anyone who isn’t completely behind the Ron Paul agenda, whatever the heck that may be. The problem with that, of course, is that you’re never going to find a politician who agrees with you completely, which means that you’ll have to make some choices about what issues are most important to you, whether it’s economics, or foreign policy, or the War On Drugs. Saying that a candidate that doesn’t match your opinions, or Ron Paul’s opinions, completely is by definition unacceptable means that you are going to be both eternally disappointed and eternally irrelevant. This kind of orthodoxy is the reason, I think, why Paul supporters have been so vehement in their rejection of Gary Johnson , even though the two men agree on pretty much every major issue. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is a common libertarian mistake, and its own that Paul supporters will find themselves falling victim to frequently if they insist on complete orthodoxy from every candidate they support.

So here’s my advice to Ron Paul supporters. Try and learn some practical politics for once. If you really want to be a part of the Republican Party, then you are going to have to accept the fact that the Republican Party is a coalition made up of many different kinds of people with different ideas on some issues. On some issues, you’ll be able to convince people to see things your ways, form coalitions, and get things accomplished. On others, you’ll have to accept the fact that your in the minority on a given issue and that the Republican Party doesn’t exist to reflect only your point of view. In the meantime, education and activism might start bending the party in your direction. Even then, though, it’s never going to be a complete reflection of everything you want. In other words, you’re going to have to compromise. That’s what big party politics is all about.

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