It wasn’t billed as such, but Ron Paul’s moment at the Republican Convention Wednesday evening marked the effective end of a long and remarkable political career as the libertarian gadfly within the GOP.
He gave no scheduled speech here; he had refused to let the Romney campaign pre-approve any comments he might have made. And his supporters fought hard and very vocally to the end – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – against the Republican Party’s last-minute efforts to restrict the number and voice of future insurgents, obviously referencing the 177 delegates Mr. Paul had won in the party’s presidential caucuses and primaries and were pushing to have his name at least entered into nomination before the roll call vote.
But it does the Republican Party and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign no good to alienate an active and unique slice of conservatism – one with considerable overlap with the tea party movement.
So early Wednesday evening (before prime-time convention broadcasts), US Rep. Paul received a video tribute to his career. And in a speech a few minutes later, his son US Sen. Rand Paul let Republicans know that his father’s brand of libertarianism remains a force within the party.
In comments from a range of politicians – at least one of whom confessed that at first he thought Ron Paul was “crazy – the 12-term Texas congressman was lauded as one who “never wavered, never backed down.”
“I used to tell new members that they could make a difference or they could make a point,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “Ron Paul is the only one who’s made a difference by making a point.”
In his speech a few minutes later, and with a twinkle in his eye, Rand Paul referred to his father just once – as “a certain congressman from Texas who ran for the presidency of the United States.”
But he sounded very much like the elder Mr. Paul when he thundered about the Constitution, citing Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in arguing for limited government. And he was very clear in his support for Mitt Romney as “someone who believes in America's greatness … someone who understands and appreciates what makes America great, someone who will lead our party and our nation forward.”
It’s unclear whether Rand Paul’s position today will mollify his father’s supporters still stinging from the Republican establishment rebuke they perceived.
Many found the party rules changes aimed at them and those like them dispiriting.
"If you're trying to win a presidential campaign and put on a show, you shouldn't poke a sharp stick in the eye of conservative activists,” Colorado delegate Dudley Brown, who leads a gun rights organization, told the Associated Press. “That's what happened.”
Sarah Palin (whose absence at the convention is a sore point with many of her supporters) tweeted that the rule changes are “a direct attack on grassroots activists by the GOP establishment.”
But Paulites see positive aspects to their presence here as well.
“Many of the amendments our campaign fought for were included in the new GOP platform,” Paul campaign manager John Tate said in an email to supporters Wednesday. “Four years ago, many politicians in both parties scoffed at our efforts to audit the Federal Reserve. Now it’s in the Republican Platform – along with internet freedom, war only under a Congressional declaration, support for a gold commission, and fighting back against domestic drones.”
On Tuesday, Paul did make an informal appearance on the convention floor, moving among his delegates in states where he did particularly well: Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, Maine, and his home state of Texas. But he has yet to endorse Romney, although the men are said to have a good personal relationship.
"I am endorsing, you know, peace and prosperity and individual liberty, the Constitution, and I'm more intense on that than I am on the politics of it," Paul told Fox News.
But Rand Paul has officially endorsed his party’s presidential nominee – waiting politely until Romney had secured enough delegates (1,144) to claim the nomination lest he be seen to turn against his father.
"Well, you know, my first choice had always been my father…. He is still my first pick," Sen. Paul told Fox News in June. "But now that the nominating process is over, tonight, I am happy to announce I am supporting Governor Romney."
Some Ron Paul supporters were turned off by Rand Paul’s aligning with the party establishment’s choice to head the ticket, which some saw as political apostasy.
But others see the logic in the younger Paul’s move, noting too that he beat the establishment Republican in his US Senate primary race in Kentucky (a candidate who had the blessing of Sen. McConnell, also of Kentucky) and that he was a founding member of the congressional Tea Party Caucus.
This was reflected in the chants that greeted his speech at a big Ron Paul rally Sunday: “Paul 2016!”
“Rand symbolizes the incorporation of Ron Paul’s liberty message into the mainstream GOP,” South Carolina State Sen. Tom Davis, a key early-state Paul backer, told Politico. “[Ron] Paul is more like John the Baptist, sort of the guy wandering in the wilderness for years speaking truth but eating locusts and honey. Enough people follow…his message starts to spread. Rand Paul is the logical progression.”