Minneapolis – Whatever comes next for the followers of Ron Paul, it won’t involve voting for John McCain. Not a single person I talked to at Paul’s “Rally for the Republic” in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday plans to vote Republican for president this November, and my survey included an alternate delegate to the Republican convention.
“I don’t see that [the Republicans] have really much to offer,” Steve Hackbarth, an alternate delegate for Minnesota, tells me. Hackbarth is a stout man with a handlebar moustache who tells me he served in the military for eight years. “The problem is they lost their philosophy,” he says. “I’ve been in the party ten years. I used to be president of some of the organizations around the cities here. But they just gave up on what we stood for to win elections.”
Hackbarth says Ron Paul supporters are treated poorly at the Xcel Center, where the Republican convention is underway. “They talk about their big-tent philosophy, but they’ve been close-minded and hostile toward us,” he says. “I’ve worked numerous campaigns, I’ve been involved for over ten years, and yet all of a sudden, because the Paul people voted for me as a delegate, everyone got hostile toward us.”
Paul and his supporters organized Tuesday’s event at the Target Center ostensibly to protest his exclusion from the Republican convention. (As a member of the Texas delegation, Paul has access to the floor, but he was not offered an opportunity to speak.) Paul’s alterna-convention was MC’d by MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson and featured a line-up of speakers such as Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura and John Birch Society president John F. McManus. Ron Paul gave the keynote address.
But protesting the Republican convention wasn’t the main item on the agenda Tuesday. In fact, the primary purpose of Paul’s activities this week has been to spread the word about his new nonprofit advocacy group, Campaign for Liberty. It makes perfect sense that Campaign for Liberty, or “C4L,” is Paul’s next move. Paul’s campaign was able to raise a lot of money and generate a lot of intensity among its grassroots supporters, but it failed to translate those advantages into big numbers at the ballot box. This isn’t a good formula for winning a presidential campaign, but it’s ideal for starting a grassroots advocacy group.
To the extent that Campaign for Liberty becomes an effective lobby for limited government and reduced spending, conservatives should welcome it to Washington. Unfortunately, like everything else involving Paul, it comes with a lot of kook baggage. As anyone who has been to his rallies can tell you, Paul attracts a lot of fringe-types, and he doesn’t turn anyone away. The odious “9/11 Truth” movement, which trafficks in all sorts of ridiculous conspiracies about the attacks, has always seen in Paul a kindred spirit, even though he denies believing such nonsense.
Sadly, the truthers got an opportunity to shout “Amen” this year when featured speaker Jesse Ventura brought up the subject. “Why is it that when you ask questions about 9/11, it’s out-of-bounds?” he asked. He proceeded to insinuate that the 9/11 attacks might have been a U.S. government conspiracy, which got the crowd chanting “inside job, inside job.”
There were many other, less malignant forms of kookery on display. A majority of the speakers talked ominously of the “North American Union,” a fabled plot to unify the U.S., Canada and Mexico into a giant superstate. The Federal Reserve came in for more than its fair share of opprobrium, and chants of “End the Fed” were frequent and loud. One gentleman I met at the bar attached to the arena tried to convince me that every president who ever tried to weaken the central bank had either been assassinated or had an attempt on his life. One of the names on his list was Warren G. Harding, who died of a heart attack.
Almost every speech featured a lot of overblown hyperbole about the tyranny of the two-party system, and only Grover Norquist pointed out that an Obama administration would be much worse than a McCain administration for liberty lovers. His words fell on deaf ears. I asked several people afterward if they had any preference between McCain and Obama, and they all gave me the same answer, summed up most succinctly by a man who gave me the name Robert Taft. “Taft” was wearing a tricorne “in the spirit of the founders,” and he told me he drove all the way from Atlanta to attend the rally. When I asked him about McCain, he replied, “McBama?” and shook his head.
— Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.