He’s out there somewhere. Somewhere, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is out there, talking up freedom and the Constitution, tut-tutting the state of the economy, taking aim at the Federal Reserve, inciting his fervent supporters to … something.
But will that something ever amount to anything?
During the 2008 presidential campaign, no Republican had more enthusiastic supporters than Paul, the quirky libertarian who had been the Libertarian Party nominee for president back in 1988. When it became evident that Paul wouldn’t be the GOP nominee — and of course, that was evident to every Washington, D.C., wise guy from the very beginning — his supporters more or less scattered.
Not into the wind, exactly, but in a thousand different directions, as befits a man whose own views are hard to pinpoint on any kind of ideological scale. Some worked for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the eventual Republican nominee. Others launched quixotic bids of their own for public office. A few probably even worked for Democrat Barack Obama. And many no doubt chose to sit on the sidelines, throwing rhetorical spitballs wherever they could.
Spitballs may be effective in short spurts. But they don’t win any long-term wars. Although Paul has lists with hundreds of thousands of supporters and runs a surprisingly diverse political operation, he has never tried to unleash the network in any kind of cohesive way.
Now, with the 2010 midterms under way, it’s time to ask whether he will be a factor and aid the Republicans’ cause. After all, Paul in theory commands an army that’s substantially bigger than any kind of troops that Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Michael Steele or Dick Cheney can rustle up.
Jesse Benton, who runs Liberty PAC, Paul’s political action committee, says yes, the Congressman has every intention of playing a big role in the 2010 campaign.
“I don’t know that we’ll be working in tandem with Republican committees, but we will be quite active,” Benton said.
Paul is expected to set up a campaign he’ll call “Ten in ’10.” While he may personally endorse any number of candidates during the course of the cycle — and in a few races, he already has — he’ll invite candidates for all offices to seek special attention and assistance from his PAC.
They’ll be asked an array of questions in an endorsement process that
Benton describes as “pretty organic.” The one essential for any Liberty PAC endorsement: a commitment to support H.R. 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, Paul’s bill calling for a Government Accountability Office audit of the Fed in 2010. The bill had more than 175 co-sponsors as of late last week — ideologically and alphabetically, from Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
But what then? Paul has a list of 500,000 “microdonors.” The PAC will urge Paul supporters to help the 10 designated candidates. And then? Well, it’s anybody’s guess.
“It’s more than just money that Ron can do to help a candidate,” Benton said.
Through the years, Paul has had an uneasy relationship with Republican leaders, although a GOP insider this week said he’s had conversations with a few state party chairmen. And Benton said two things are different this cycle. For starters, Paul will not work to defeat Republican incumbents.
“We think there are more ways to be productive than opposing Republican incumbents,” Benton said.
Another difference is that Paul has “a friendly relationship” with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, according to Benton, and will confer with his fellow Texan on how he can aid GOP candidates this cycle. Ken Spain, an NRCC spokesman, said Sessions is looking forward to the help.
“Chairman Sessions enjoys a positive working and personal relationship with Congressman Paul,” Spain said. “Harnessing the power of the Ron Paul Revolution to defeat Democrats in Congress is something Chairman Sessions is very interested in.”
But it’s fair to ask: Will the “Ten for ’10” be candidates of substance with real chances of winning? Or are the past few days illustrative?
Last week, two candidates touted their support from Paul. One was ex-Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R), a candidate for governor of New Jersey who is decidedly NOT the favorite of party leaders. The other was Adam Kokesh, an anti-war Iraq War veteran who plans to challenge freshman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) but hasn’t decided whether to run as a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian or an Independent.
In addition to his official Congressional operation, Paul has four different entities that help promote him and his causes. There’s his PAC (with $184,000 on hand as of March 31) and his House campaign committee (with more than $2.2 million). That war chest will come in handy if he gets a tough Republican primary challenge, though so far only high school social studies teacher Jeff Cherry (R) is planning to run against him.
There’s also Paul’s 501(c)(4), the Campaign for Liberty, which, according to its president, John Tate, will not endorse candidates in 2010. And then there’s his education foundation, the Free Foundation.
Another intriguing aspect of the Ron Paul story this election cycle is the possibility that his son, Rand Paul (R) — who, like his dad, is a physician — will run for Senate in Kentucky. The younger Paul has created an exploratory committee but says he won’t run if Sen. Jim Bunning (R) seeks a third term.
Benton says father and son “talk all the time,” but he notes that Rand Paul has a political operation all his own called the Kentucky Taxpayers Alliance that’s separate and distinct from anything the Congressman does. As of Friday, Rand Paul’s online fundraising appeals had yielded $23,000 for the exploratory effort.
And is it too early to be talking about 2012? Some of Congressman Paul’s supporters don’t think so. The Web is full of speculation — and there are sites dedicated to Paul that are not operated by Paul’s team — about how he can best position himself to run for president again.
Other supporters are suggesting alternatives who can carry Paul’s mantle into 2012, such as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who is almost certain to sculpt a White House bid out of his opposition to the Obama stimulus plan, or former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R), who is more famous for his athletic feats, like climbing Mt. Everest, and for calling for the decriminalization of drug use, than anything he did during his eight years in office.
Ron Paul will be 77 years old in 2012. Is he thinking of running for president again?
“It’s not something that’s extremely likely,” Benton said. “It is something he’s keeping an open door to. It’s very premature. We don’t know what the country’s going to look like in 18 months.”
And we also don’t know what kind of factor Paul and his supporters will become in the politics of 2010.