Ron Paul’s Last Stand

Ron Paul ran for president and lost.“We knew going in it was a longshot,” says Dimitri Kesari, who
coordinated state efforts for the 12-term (over three separate
stints) Texas congressman’s second and final GOP primary campaign.
“If victory was to happen, everything had to line up
perfectly.”That had to begin in Iowa, the first stop on the long slog to
the Republican nomination. With over $1 million spent on TV, more
than 100 candidate appearances, and more than 300 campaign-managed
volunteers, Ron Paul’s people attacked the Hawkeye State, and the
race in general, with a unique strategy. Rather than focus on
winning the popular vote—the so-called beauty contest—the campaign
took advantage of differing rules in the primaries and caucuses to
maximize the number of delegates it could take to August’s
Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa. Iowa, with its
arcane, multi-stage caucus process, would be the ideal early
laboratory for seeing whether Paulite enthusiasm could overrun GOP
machine politics as usual.And there was a longer-term strategy as well: “We were doing it
for a movement,” says Kesari, a former organizer from National
Right to Work. “Our first goal was building the army, and the
second goal is to win.”Paul came tantalizingly close in Iowa, finishing behind the
nearly tied Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney by just 3,000 votes, or
2.5 percentage points. The margin was close enough to breed
suspicions of vote-counting irregularities among Paul supporters,
but large enough in strategic terms to have some staffers declare
the race over before it started. “The campaign was lost on January
3,” one disappointed mid-level campaign operative told me.The irony is that, despite the fact that Mitt Romney was
declared the victor on voting day and a recount gave the vote to
Santorum two weeks later, it turned out Ron Paul actually did win
Iowa, at least in the only currency honored at the RNC. Paul’s
people worked the caucus process so diligently and intelligently
that they eventually snapped up 21 of Iowa’s 25 delegates.To win a primary, presidential campaigns need only motivate
enough voters to spend 20 minutes or so driving to a polling place
and casting a vote. Winning delegates in a caucus requires
dedication over the course of months, sitting or standing through a
series of often tedious day-long meetings with fellow Republicans.
It’s a game where the depth of feeling for a candidate counts for
more than its breadth. Over the course of the fight, Paul
supporters seized many positions of authority within the Iowa
Republican Party. The new state chair of the Iowa GOP, A.J. Spiker,
started out as a higher-up in Paul’s Iowa campaign team, for
instance.Paul came in a strong second in the New Hampshire primary the
next week, and many of his lower-ranked foes, such as Herman Cain
and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), dropped out. But winter break
was over, and the masses of students willing to phone-bank for Paul
scattered to campus quads across the nation. The campaign was never
again able to repeat its Iowa/New Hampshire–level of call
saturation in later states. As Dr. No heads into the political wilderness (see “Ron Paul’s
Farewell Address to Congress,” page 24), a close reading of his
final campaign may tell us more about where the GOP—and the
country—are headed than Mitt Romney’s forgettable failure in the
general election.Spring BackwardPaul’s caucus-focused delegate strategy, which the campaign had
been open about from the beginning, was painted by the media and
his competitors as being somehow sneaky or disreputable. As he
started converting second-place voting-day totals into first-place
delegate-acquisitions in early states such as Maine and Minnesota,
some observers began to fret that maybe the whole caucus process
needed to be re-thought. A Fox News website headline in May
described Paul’s delegate strategy as a plan to “hijack” the
convention. GOP consultant Bob Haus complained to the Huffington
Post that month that Paul’s delegate victories in Iowa were
“costing the state a lot of credibility.”But from the Paul point of view, the only underhanded behavior
was coming from the establishment GOP. In April, the Alaska
Republican Party changed its filing deadline for its state
convention at the last minute, preventing some Paul delegates from
getting their paperwork in on time. In Maine, a Romney operative
was distributing fake slates of Paul delegates at its state
convention to confuse voters. And at a Missouri caucus in St.
Charles in March, police helicopters were called in after a row
that ended in the arrests of two Paul supporters. By late spring, these procedural squabbles were beginning to
resemble holdovers from a war that had already been lost. The Paul
project at this point seemed less a political campaign and more a
campus speaking tour. He spoke to more than 100,000 college
students at more than 30 colleges over the course of his campaign.
I saw him at UCLA in April where an overflow audience of 7,000
anticipated his applause lines and networked their own budding
plans to further the revolution, whether from within or without the
Republican Party apparatus. Paul’s biggest draw that spring was at
traditionally left-leaning Berkeley, where 8,500 came to hear him
criticize the Federal Reserve and never-ending war. The septuagenarian obstetrician at this point was battling
President Barack Obama to a draw in one-on-one national polls. And
by late April, the remaining non-Romney candidates, Santorum and
Newt Gingrich, had dropped out. The presidential field was finally
where the campaign always hoped it would be: just Romney and Paul,
with huge prizes such as California and Paul’s native Texas ahead.
Romney hadn’t yet sewn up the 1,144 delegates needed for the
nomination, and the campaign’s longstanding goal of a brokered
convention remained within the realm of technical possibility.Then, in mid-May, Ron Paul issued a press release saying he
wouldn’t be competing actively in California and Texas, using
past-tense language such as congratulating his supporters for
having “fought hard.” The media’s understandable conclusion: Paul
had dropped out.

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Ron Paul’s Last Stand

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