Ron Paul is scaling back his Republican presidential campaign but not his bid to inject more libertarianism into the Republican party, encouraging his supporters to take over the GOP in the long term.
Paul's announcement that he won't spend the "tens of millions" of dollars needed to compete in the upcoming Republican presidential primaries has disappointed some of his followers. Many of them can't accept the notion that front-runner Mitt Romney will actually be the Republican nominee even though Romney is on the verge of gaining a majority of national delegates. But Paul strategists point out that he didn't actually end his campaign or even suspend it. He is urging his followers to continue pushing at the state and local levels to amass enough delegates to make a difference at the Republican National Convention this August. That was his main goal before the announcement, and it remains his main goal now.
He still wants to build the libertarian movement by moving the Republican party in his direction. "Ron Paul has not called off the liberty movement and the transformation of the Republican party," senior Paul adviser Doug Wead told me Tuesday morning. Nor does he want the "educational" aspect of his candidacy to end, especially his desire to inform Americans about what he considers the excessive power of the Federal Reserve and the government's botching of monetary policy.
But Paul advisers say that in recent weeks he became concerned about the level of confrontation shown by and toward some of his followers. He felt that the stridency of some of his die-hard supporters was alienating too many conservatives in the GOP and others outside of the party. He remains concerned that his followers might show up en masse in Tampa and stage angry protests outside the convention hall that could be an embarrassment.
Another reason for his scale-back is that Paul's campaign lacks the money to compete effectively in the upcoming primary states. And Paul, at 76, is said to be weary after many months of cross-country campaigning.
Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas, has inspired some the most intense loyalty of any presidential candidate this year with his support for severe cuts in federal power and spending, and his call for the United States to pull back from its many military commitments overseas, including the war in Afghanistan. He doesn't want to disappoint or jeopardize these supporters by giving up completely.
But, at the same time, he doesn't want to jeopardize the nominee's chances of defeating President Obama by encouraging a raucus and unruly insurgency in Tampa. That would set back Paul's objective of advancing the libertarian philosophy in the GOP, of moving his supporters into powerful positions within the party, and promoting his son Rand, a GOP senator from Kentucky, as a future libertarian leader.
"The fact is that all of this fighting makes Ron Paul nervous," Wead wrote in a blog after Paul's announcement Monday. "Yes, he is taking on the establishment. Yes, he wants the monetary policy reformed so that the poor and the middle class and even the excluded rich can know the thrill and opportunity of free markets that aren't rigged for insider trading. But Dr. Paul is a happy warrior on these issues. He is a person who has always believed in respectful dialogue and debate. As [Paul campaign strategist] John Tate says, 'That is what he wants his legacy to be.'"
"Shouting people down is not Ron Paul's way," Wead added. "Winning a battle of ideals based on principles, in a respectful way, is how he approaches the contest and it is how he wants others to approach the contest as well. By ending the primary battles, Ron Paul is signaling to the field that this is the end of hostilities. In primaries, you end up tearing each other down. It is millions of dollars spent on negative advertising. In caucuses, as brutal as they may be, you change the Republican Party, you empower the new and challenge the established."
So Paul agreed to, in effect, recognize publicly that he cannot catch Romney and win the nomination. His campaign sent an important signal about this over the weekend. When his followers appeared overly eager for confrontation at several state conventions, a senior Paul adviser felt compelled to announce that Ron Paul doesn't condone any "hostile takeover" of state parties and convention delegations.
But that doesn't mean that Paul supporters will stop trying to get as many delegate slots as they can, which could mean enough power at the national convention to merit a prime-time speech by Paul and some degree of influence on the party platform, and perhaps on Romney's choice of a vice presidential running mate. Some Ron Paul backers say Rand Paul should be in the vice presidential mix.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.