As an author, Ron Paul has accomplished something he failed to do as a Republican presidential candidate: finish first. His new book, “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” has topped The New York Times best-seller list and the Amazon sales chart. It has also helped rally his grass-roots following long after John McCain clinched the GOP presidential nomination.
Paul’s supporters began the campaign full of hope. The libertarian Texas congressman smashed online fundraising records and led the Republican field in the fourth-quarter money primary. Polls, and more than a few pundits, suggested that Paul was within striking distance of a third-place finish in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Instead, Paul finished a disappointing fifth place in both states, though he did beat Rudy Giuliani in Iowa and Fred Thompson in New Hampshire. He finished second in a few caucus states, including Nevada, Montana and Louisiana, but mostly began to register single-digit showings in subsequent primaries.
Paul’s campaign organization seemed unable to make good use of the millions it raised, and many of the candidate’s enthusiastic grass-roots followers were becoming dispirited.
Now the Ron Paul revolution, as his supporters call it, is experiencing a second wind. Paul took 16 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, his best primary showing yet, and has surpassed 1 million votes in the GOP contest. Ron Paul Republicans have started roiling local party organizations, taking control of state conventions and running for public office, all without much coordination from their leader.
One of the Ron Paul Republicans who actually has the congressman’s endorsement is B.J. Lawson, a fellow Duke Medical School alumni running for the House of Representatives from North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. Lawson won his May 6 congressional primary with more than 70 percent of the vote, despite his opposition to the Iraq war and criticism of the Bush administration’s free-spending ways.
In the neighboring 3rd District, Paul endorsed incumbent Republican Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. in his primary fight against Onslow County Commissioner Joe McLaughlin. McLaughlin decided to challenge Jones after the freedom-fries crusader became one of the country’s most vocal anti-war Republicans.
Jones easily outraised McLaughlin and won the primary by nearly 20 percentage points.
Another Paul endorsee, Murray Sabrin, is running for the Republican senatorial nomination in New Jersey. Paul traveled to the Garden State on April 28 to help Sabrin raise campaign funds. In Virginia, Amit Singh is the Paul-backed Republican primary candidate running for a chance to take on Democratic Rep. Jim Moran.
In other cases, Paul isn’t involved in his supporters’ efforts at all. Four Ron Paul Republicans in Maryland won their primaries without the congressman’s endorsement. Paul backers amended the Alaska Republican Party platform to reflect their stances on civil liberties, the Patriot Act, repealing the 16th Amendment and abolishing the Department of Education.
At GOP district meetings in Minnesota, Paul supporters captured seven Republican National Convention delegate slots; one delegate was selected by the Maine Republican convention. The Nevada GOP convention adjourned early after the initial balloting showed Ron Paul Republicans winning at least half the delegates for the national convention.
Even the revived Paul juggernaut isn’t without problems. One of them is that Paul himself is too much a believer in decentralization to provide his movement with much direction. At a recent book event in Washington, he was asked what his supporters should do in the general election if he did not run as a third-party candidate. Paul reaffirmed that he wasn’t going to run as a third-party candidate and replied that it was up to his supporters to decide what to do.
Paul had to retract his endorsement of a Ron Paul Republican who was improperly vetted and turned out to be a white supremacist. Another candidate, Jim Forsythe in New Hampshire, has already dropped out. Other than in Pennsylvania, Paul, as the last active candidate running against McCain, hasn’t done as well as Alan Keyes did in the same position against George W. Bush in 2000 — largely because his disorganized campaign has sent out mixed messages about the status of his candidacy and has not corrected inaccurate reporting on the matter.
Can the Ron Paul movement make a difference in the Republican Party, especially in its current weakened state? A similar insurrection strategy helped Barry Goldwater’s supporters take over and transform the GOP during the 1960s.
But the Ron Paul Republicans — many of them running in predominantly Democratic areas where they have little chance of success, even if they win their primaries — are nowhere near that point yet. Whether they ever get their way will determine whether Paul is remembered as a consequential figure within the party’s history or just another also-ran.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.