And though convention staffers worked to quell any potential Paul rebellion, Politico reports that Romney’s campaign has repeatedly reached out to Paul’s advisers, making sure they felt included in the party and festivities. “It’s a marked contrast from four years ago, when party leaders for all intents and purposes froze out Paul completely,” wrote James Hohmann.
On Tuesday night, for example, Romney’s campaign will play a video tribute to Paul. “We look forward to showing a short film about Ron Paul,” Romney strategist Russ Schriefer said on a Friday conference call. “Several of his colleagues will give testimony to his principles and his dedication to America.” And Senator Paul was scheduled to speak on Monday, before the entire day was cancelled because of Isaac, an approaching storm.
By the time Paul took the stage late Sunday after an introduction from Senator Paul, the seats at the Sun Dome were near capacity. After listening to a series of Paul-supporting speakers, the crowd was more than ready to hear its hero, who hunched over the metallic, futuristic podium, looking every bit a septuagenarian. His message was optimistic, and chants of “Paul 2016!” filled the air. But the event celebrated the closing of an era. Paul has been a national libertarian leader for the past three decades, and a critical figure in presidential politics since 2007. The crowd seemed eager for his movement to push forward, but no one agreed on the best path.
Sitting in the back, at a table in the press pen watching it all was Brian Doherty, a writer for Reason magazine and a Paul biographer. “It’s a confusing time for the movement,” he said. “A lot of people here feel alienated; they feel like they played the GOP game, and became delegates, only to see the rules changed at the last minute. When Paul began to run again last year, there were high expectations, and I think many supporters were disappointed that it’s ending like this,” with the movement a “faction of the party, not dominating it.”
Nevertheless, Doherty — who first saw Paul speak in 1988 when he was running the libertarian student group at the University of Florida — says there is much for libertarians to be happy about in Tampa. “Paul is not speaking at the actual convention, but this is a long game, and what he has fought for will continue to be important,” he said. “The open question is what’s next, and I don’t think the answer right now is clear.”
At least one Paul loyalist is hoping for a repeat run. “It’s true, Ron will be 80 in ’16,” economist Walter Block told the Sun Dome crowd. “But it’s a young 80.” At that, the Paulites roared.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.