Ron Paul spoke at the Waterfront hotel in Springfield, Virginia last night, toward the end of the primary elections in Michigan and Arizona. He was introduced by his son, Senator Rand Paul (R–KY), who compared his father to noteworthy figures from other difficult times in American history: “I come from the great state of Kentucky, home of Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser. Now it’s also home to Cassius Marcellus Clay, the abolitionist. My question to you is, do we need another Great Compromiser, or an abolitionist?” One person shouted from the crowd, “We need Ron Paul.”
When the Texas congressman and former Air Force flight surgeon appeared onstage, he was welcomed by signs, cheers, and the blare of a vuvuzela. “We’re still winning a lot of delegates,” he said, “and every once in a while, they include my name in the polling, and that is always helpful. Just recently there was a pretty good poll out…. It says that we do the best against Obama.”
Despite their enthusiasm during his speech, some of Paul’s supporters seemed doubtful when asked about his prospects for winning the GOP nomination. In last night’s primaries he came in fourth place, with 8.4 percent, in Arizona and third in Michigan, with 11.6 percent, well behind Senator Rick Santorum’s 37.9 percent.
Paul supporters agreed that, if nothing else, his candidacy serves as a good vehicle for the message of liberty. Past that, though, supporters had difficulty deciding for whom they would vote if not Ron Paul in the general election.
There was consistent disdain for Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Jesse, a Virginia resident from Oregon, thinks Newt doesn’t stand a chance and doubts the former speaker’s character “based on his affairs and personal life. It takes a lot of lying to pull that kind of thing off.” He was put off by the idea of a general election between Barack Obama and Rick Santorum but guessed that he would vote for Santorum “in the same way I voted for McCain in 2008. It wasn’t ideal, but I had to pick one.”
Few Paul supporters showed much interest voting for the Libertarian Party should the Republican nominee not meet their standards. Paul Kilmartin, a Virginia resident originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, identified as a libertarian who “got duped by the Republican Party for a number of years” by what he now considers its fraudulent devotion to free-market principles. He said he likes Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, although “his position on the monetary situation isn’t interesting … but I’m sympathetic to his message, even though it’s weak.”
No matter which way they leaned in a scenario without Ron Paul, his supporters were staunch in their criticism of Obama’s record on civil liberties. Bruce Emattare from Maryland has been volunteering in Republican activism for many years and says he will “vote the party” even if Ron Paul doesn’t get the nomination. When asked how he chose Ron Paul out of the other Republican candidates, he said he was motivated by the birth of his first child to “spend extra time researching the candidates in this campaign… I chose Ron Paul based on my worries about fiscal policy and the encroachment on civil liberties.”
Lauren Wagner, from Baltimore, quietly acknowledged that she had voted for Obama in 2008, along with many of her friends. Now when she goes door to door for Ron Paul in the 2012 campaign, she says, “I use the Democratic angle to get a lot of my friends interested in him.” She says that when Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (with its provisions for indefinite military detention of American citizens), failed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and expanded the program of unmanned aerial vehicle attacks in the Middle East, she began to take Ron Paul more seriously. When asked what her political involvement will look like if Ron Paul doesn’t get the nomination, she threw her hands up and said, “I’ll either write him in or vote for whoever I feel like at the time that isn’t the Republican nominee or Obama, knowing it’ll be a throwaway vote.”
Unsure as they might be about how they will vote this November, many of Ron Paul’s backers have a presumptive front-runner for their votes in 2016. During the two Pauls’ speeches, members of the audience chanted for Rand Paul to run for president in four years’ time. For now, however, the Paul base is left without a clear second choice if the doctor from Texas doesn’t take the GOP nomination.
Julie Ershadi is a freelance journalist and was a winter 2012 intern for Reason.