“Ron Paul owns the future,” influential evangelical Doug Wead concluded in an early April post on his personal blog. Wead makes an unlikely Paul enthusiast: his religious background might seem a better fit for Mike Huckabee. And his personal history—as an adviser to both Presidents Bush—might have inclined him toward the triumphant establishment candidate, John McCain. But in Ron Paul and the movement that championed him, Wead saw something remarkable: “His is a campaign of ideas. … His army was left unchallenged on the battlefield. Now their ideas have taken root and they will grow.”
Yes, they will—they have already begun to. The Ron Paul “revolution,” as it is known to its adherents, has made deep inroads into an area where Republicans are otherwise weak: energizing and mobilizing young people. Already, Paul has inspired other Republicans, mostly young themselves, to campaign for Congress on his antiwar, fiscally conservative platform. A new youth movement is also coming into being as Students for Ron Paul reconfigures into a permanent libertarian-conservative activist organization, Young Americans for Liberty. And these are just the first manifestations of the revolution’s second act, as youth gains political experience.
Wead had no connection to the campaign, but early on he sensed what it might become. The day after Super Tuesday, Wead compared the legacy of the Paul campaign to that of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run. Paul’s supporters, he wrote, “are producing blogs and papers and books and like Goldwater’s revolution they will be able to say that they could see what the country missed. They were there when history was made.”
Fine words and, I hope, true, but at the time they were published, I didn’t want to put them on the Paul campaign blog, the Daily Dose. I had been hired a month earlier—a few days shy of my 30th birthday—after Paul’s disheartening fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. The day of the primary, Jan. 8, The New Republic published racially inflammatory excerpts from newsletters printed under Paul’s name in the early 1990s. On Jan. 9, the campaign’s phone lines were jammed with callers demanding a Granite State recount. The campaign needed rapid response. They needed a blog. They hired me.
My job was to get out the latest news about the Paul movement and reinforce the message that the candidate and campaign chiefs put out—keep the troops informed and raise their spirits.
The first issue I had to tackle was not a morale builder: there would be no recount. Paul did not want one; it would only distract from upcoming battles, including the Nevada caucuses—where Paul would finish second—and the Super Tuesday primaries. And within the campaign, we knew there was no need to invoke voter fraud to account for the fifth-place result. We got the votes we expected to get. What we did not anticipate was record-breaking turnout, which overwhelmed our base. A minor candidate, Albert Howard, eventually prevailed upon New Hampshire for a recount. Paul picked up 38 additional votes. Howard lost one—he only had 44 to begin with.
Seeing what happened in New Hampshire, we knew that Super Tuesday did not bode well. The plan was to target caucus states, where turnout would be much smaller than in primaries. A first-place caucus finish and a handful of seconds could kick-start Paul’s momentum and give us a shot in the primaries. All the while we would work to win national delegates at Republican state conventions. In most primary states, delegates to the Republican National Convention are chosen at state conventions, and it’s possible for a candidate who loses the primary to win delegates. At a brokered national convention, Paul would be in a strong position. Alas, a brokered convention was not to be.
After Paul’s second-place in Nevada, we had high hopes for Louisiana’s Jan. 22 caucuses. But Bayou State chicanery scuttled those dreams and robbed us of a clean silver-medal finish.
Super Tuesday brought the results we were dreading. Even Montana’s caucuses, which we hoped to win, bore disappointment: second again. Good, but not good enough. Late on Feb. 5, as we awaited the last results, the twentysomethings on staff headed across the street from headquarters to the unofficial drinking establishment of the campaign, Mei’s Asian Bistro. A week before we had raised the rafters—I was jollied up with gin enough to pick up a $300 tab, not bad on a blogger’s salary. But on Feb. 5, there was not much jollity. We had no idea whether there would be a campaign the next day. Around 1:30 a.m. I returned to the office and tried to hearten the troops. I put up a post on the Daily Dose that drew inspiration from a line of the Aeneid that Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises—one of the formative intellectual influences on Ron Paul—had adopted as his motto: tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior. “Do not give in to evils, but proceed ever more boldly against them.” I wrote to fortify my own resolve as much as our supporters’.
The next day, Feb. 6, Wead published his first assessment of Paul’s paradoxical success. Our campaign manager brought it to my attention. But I was reluctant to put it on the blog: it conceded too much to John McCain, I thought, awarding him the nomination before he had gone through the formality of winning the delegates needed to clinch it. What I did not know then, but soon discovered, was that Wead’s words had resonated with Paul himself. Once that became clear, I put it right up.
That evening was an all-staff dinner, with about 40 attendees. The event was a morale booster, and Paul himself delivered the good news: the campaign was continuing, indeed, redoubling its efforts. Two notes in Paul’s remarks resounded. First, he emphasized that the battle he was fighting was for the middle class, and it would be won or lost—today or in years to come—in the heartland. He was campaigning for soldiers who had gone to Iraq and lost limbs if not lives; for families who had lost jobs and homes—and sometimes sons or daughters in the war. Other candidates could emote—Huckabee did, and Romney became an improbable populist in Michigan, to victorious effect—but only Paul addressed the forces driving America’s decline: the twin evils of unfettered spending and an enfeebled currency. A strong dollar, backed by gold, would be no panacea, but it would preserve Americans’ savings and might save jobs.
The second theme that impressed me in Paul’s remarks was the effect that young people had had in buoying his spirits. Paul loved talking to students, and that enthusiasm was reciprocated, as I saw at a Feb. 13 Georgetown University event. The auditorium was filled to capacity; over 700 students received Paul like a rock star, with wild cheers as he spoke about getting out of Iraq and slashing federal spending. By any measure, the Republican Party has lost the youth of America—a 2006 Pew survey found that only 35 percent of young people identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning, against 48 percent who side with the Democrats. The parties had been close to parity in 1988, after eight years of Reagan. Eight years of Bush had cost the GOP a generation. Ron Paul offered the prospect of winning them back.
The campaign drew down after Feb. 5. With Paul’s Texas congressional primary impending on March 4, he began to spend more time in his home state. For the presidential campaign, there was one more chance to buy back momentum: the Feb. 12 “Potomac Primaries” in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. As ever, primaries posed a steep challenge, but we had two reeds of hope: in Washington, Republicans are so light on the ground that an upset win might have been possible. And if Mike Huckabee could beat McCain in Virginia, we might yet be headed for a brokered convention. Neither prospect panned out: Paul came third in the District, behind Huckabee, and Huckabee fell short of McCain in Virginia. It was another subdued night at Mei’s.
Paul swept to an easy victory in his congressional primary, crushing challenger Chris Peden 71 to 29 percent. Voters who get to know Paul like him, and Texas’s 14th congressional district has come to know him very well in the 12 years that he has represented it. But McCain won too, in the presidential primary, and came out of Texas with enough delegates to secure the nomination. Huckabee dropped out.
But Paul campaigns on, evangelizing his message of peace and sound money, giving voters a choice, however symbolic, to cast their ballots for a Republican other than McCain. My time as Paul’s blogger ended the week before Texas, however, as the campaign continued to contract.
Barring a temperamental explosion, ill health, or an unprecedented delegate revolt at the Republican convention, John McCain will be the party’s nominee. But does the future, as Doug Wead suggests, belong to Ron Paul?
Even if Paul had prevailed in every contest and were on his way to beating the Democrat in November, the revolution would just be beginning. Without support in Congress there is little a president can do—if he accepts the constraints of the Constitution. Yet changing Congress requires change in the media, in education, in the grassroots organization of voters, and in a myriad of other fields. Even in the best of worlds, the Paul movement’s work would have barely begun.
The second act of the Paul revolution now proceeds at a quickening pace, outstripping anything other Republicans are attempting. Its work is not without precedent. Goldwater lost the Republican nomination in 1960, but his volunteers built the infrastructure that allowed him to win it four years later, and although he lost the general election, the conservative movement rose from the ashes of his campaign. Pat Robertson lost the nomination in 1988; he didn’t even get as far as Ron Paul did this year. Yet Robertson’s race laid the foundation for the Christian Coalition, which was instrumental in the Republicans’ 1994 victories. The organizational infrastructure built by Robertson and later improved upon by James Dobson and others surpassed anything the Moral Majority constructed and made the Religious Right the most important grassroots Republican constituency—one Bush exploited to full effect in 2004 and which single-handedly propelled Huckabee’s campaign this year.
Now constitutional conservatives, foreign-policy realists, libertarians, Taft Republicans, and domestic-policy Goldwaterites need institutional structures every bit as good as those of the Republican establishment and the Religious Right. Paul has the tools to build those institutions: a mailing list; a $5 million war chest; cadres of activists with experience in the hard, unglamorous work of ballot access and convention politics; a brain trust; and a youth auxiliary.
Paul has only hinted at what he has planned. His existing political vehicles, the Foundation for Rational Economic Education and the Liberty PAC, will expand. More is yet to come. And already a wider movement takes shape outside of official channels.
Candidates across the country have declared themselves “Ron Paul Republicans” in House and Senate bids. Indeed, on the otherwise dark night of the Potomac Primaries, self-designated Ron Paul Republicans won four Maryland GOP congressional nominations—all in heavily Democratic districts, unfortunately.
They are just the beginning. In North Carolina, engineer and physician B.J. Lawson is running as a Ron Paul Republican in the 4th congressional district. In Virginia, Paul supporter Vern McKinley is challenging 14-term incumbent Republican Frank Wolf in the 10th congressional district, while next door in the eighth district, Amit Singh is fighting for the GOP nomination to take on Democrat Jim Moran in November.
Singh exemplifies many of the qualities of a Ron Paul Republican. He’s a first-time candidate, an antiwar fiscal conservative. “I was a big proponent of Ron Paul,” says Singh. “What piqued my interest in him was in the May debate of last year, the exchange between him and Rudy Giuliani. He talked about blowback. Working in the intelligence community now, and I have been for the last 10 years, when he talked about that I actually took notice and said, ‘Wow, he understands what’s going on.’ So that’s when I started following him.” Singh eventually maxed out contributions to Paul’s campaign and collected signatures for ballot access in Virginia. “I always felt like I was politically in tune,” Singh says, “but I was never politically active until Ron Paul. He was really somebody who inspired me to get off my couch and actually go do something.”
Singh doesn’t agree with Paul on every issue, but that hasn’t dampened his appeal to Paul supporters—or staff. I counted seven past and present Paul staffers at Singh’s April 6 campaign kickoff in Alexandria. One former Paul field coordinator, Nena Bartlett, who organized get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota, has joined Singh’s campaign as coalitions director. “I learned about it through the Ron Paul Meet-Ups,” she says.
“I would say that most of our supporters were former Ron Paul supporters as well, not all of them, but it’s definitely an area of recruitment, as we share many of the same ideals,” Singh relates, noting that he also finds broad support among “conservatives who are fiscally responsible.”
Only two non-incumbents have so far picked up endorsements from Paul himself. One is Senate candidate Murray Sabrin of New Jersey. The other is Jim Forsythe, who has raised over $100,000 in his bid for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s first congressional district. Like Singh, Forsythe has recruited a Paul campaign veteran, former finance director Jonathan Bydlak. “I look at him and I see in him the potential future of the movement,” Bydlak says of Forsythe, “He may not be as philosophical as Ron … but I do believe he’s got the political wherewithal, he cares about the way he articulates the message.”
Not long after talking to Bydlak, I learned that Forsythe might withdraw from the congressional race, possibly with an eye toward running for the state legislature instead. That may be a wise move. All the Ron Paul Republicans running this year face long odds against making it to Congress.
In any event, there is more to the Ron Paul movement than political campaigns, as one of Bydlak’s other activities shows. He has launched an ambitious project to connect individual donors with students needing scholarships through a website, www.discoverscholars.org, bypassing university financial-aid offices. “The concept for Discover Scholars is very much born out of Ron’s views and my political beliefs,” he says, “in that it’s this idea of letting the free market decide educational funding.”
Key to his plan is the power of financial transparency, which Bydlak discovered working for the campaign. “I think it was revolutionary not just for the Ron Paul campaign,” he says about showing fundraising numbers online in real time, “but to political campaigns in general. If you look at other campaigns, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had fundraising widgets on their site, Hillary had a counter for the number of phone calls made. For all the talk about Obama’s campaign being the innovative online campaign, they were the ones copying us. We saw the results of the transparency. It empowered individual supporters, who were smaller in numbers than those of other campaigns but raised similar or even larger amounts of money.”
On his website, Bydlak describes the motive behind his project: “I care most about helping individual students have as much of an opportunity to succeed as I did.”
Youth is a common denominator in the efforts inspired by Ron Paul—somewhat ironically, considering that at 72, Paul was the oldest candidate in the 2008 field. The Ron Paul Republicans running for Congress, as well as their staffs, tend to be young. Amit Singh is 33. Jonathan Bydlak is 24. And Jeff Frazee, organizer of the largest youth-based Ron Paul spin-off, is 25.
Frazee remains on Paul’s campaign staff as national youth coordinator. He’s transitioning Students for Paul—with 500 chapters across all 50 states—into something the Right has not had in nearly 30 years: a nationwide organization of young conservatives and libertarians. What Young Americans for Freedom was to Goldwater and Reagan, Frazee hopes his group, Young Americans for Liberty, will be to future Ron Paul Republicans.
“Its mission is winning on principle,” Frazee says of YAL. “I like to see it as a kind of a variation on the Leadership Institute mission to identify, train, and place conservatives in media, public policy, and government—training and placing right-wing libertarians and learning how to win on principle, taking the Leadership Institute and putting more of an ideological bent on it.” As Frazee explains, the Leadership Institute—Republican activist Morton Blackwell’s organization, where Frazee once worked as deputy national field director—is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that cannot turn anyone away from its programs or endorse candidates or legislation.
YAL will have a 501(c)(4) component: supporting and opposing candidates will be very much part of its mission, and it won’t necessarily be open to everyone. “It will be restrictive in the sense that it will be identified with some philosophy,” Frazee says. The group’s activities are planned to be “kind of a take off of the tradition of Young Americans for Freedom, in terms of the amount of activism and youth organization. But at the same time it’s very different from Young Americans for Freedom, too, because of its issues and its philosophy”—which will parallel the ideas of Ron Paul.
Frazee has a mailing list of over 31,000 students, and he’s administrator of a Paul group on Facebook with over 62,500 members. Paul’s personal support for the project means that Frazee should have little trouble raising money. Already he has drawn up plans for a national student conference this summer. “From the interest we’ve had this far, I’m pretty confident we can have at least the low end [attendance] of 250 students, and maybe 500 at the high end.” Once the group is established, Frazee plans to target states “where there’s actually a possibility that a libertarian Republican can win, building up the chapters around there, as well as in some of the key states where we already have strong Students for Ron Paul chapters, and also key states like New Hampshire, where we already have a libertarian mindset.”
With only the College Republicans and College Libertarians to compete with—both of them limited by their status as party auxiliaries—Young Americans for Liberty has the potential to reshape the youth politics of the Right. And as part of a panoply of institutions arising out of the Paul campaign, YAL could be even more influential.
What other institutions might emerge from the Paul revolution remains unclear. Not everyone associated with the movement is confident of its future: “People are running in different directions,” says one former staffer, “Unless there’s some sort of centralized apparatus to continue to feed them the message, I don’t think that a lot of [Paul supporters] are going to be the kind of people to stay in it. The young, or the ones who don’t have as much to contribute, are going to be the ones who stick around.”
In the near term, at least, there is a vehicle for Ron Paul’s message—his new book, The Revolution: A Manifesto. Unlike his previous books, which were compilations of speeches and essays, this one is an organic whole, a cohesive portrait of Paul’s philosophy. “The revolution my supporters refer to will persist long after my retirement from politics,” he writes. “Here is my effort to give them a long-term manifesto based on ideas, and perhaps some short-term marching orders.” “Reading orders” might be more accurate—The Revolution ends with a list of 48 recommended books. The list won’t win any elections. But it may form a few maturing minds.