Ron Paul, CPAC, and the Future of the Conservative Movement

I’m a Ron Paul supporter.

A few years back, that was an anathema in a lot of conservative circles.In the wake of CPAC, I think it’s safe to say things have changed to a significant degree and I wanted to use this post to explore what those changes might mean for the future of the conservative movement, and how the RedState community and other conservative activists can help make sure those changes help us grow a stronger conservative movement, rather than a more divided one.

Before you typecast me, I should also say that I’ve avidly supported and donated to (among others) Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Tom McClintock, Doug Hoffman, even Scott Brown (though I must confess that that one was a strictly tactical play.)In other words, I consider myself a mainstream, small-government conservative–libertarian-leaning certainly, but not a Libertarian by any stretch. In part ofmy day job I work with a number of prominent figures in the conservative mainstream—the man who hired me for that job was one of Reagan’s most trusted and senior aides—and a name that would be known to everyone in the RedState community.

Two years ago, I felt like a pariah in conservative circles for supporting Paul, and doing so quite avidly.It’s not that I fail to recognize Paul’s shortcomings, his occasional forays into Libertarian fundamentalism, some of his loony followers, his legislative impracticality, his sometimes simplistic views of foreign policy questions (although as someone who is not a fan of nation-building or Neo-Wilsonianism, I’m closer to Paul’s views on Iraq and Afghanistan than I am to the views of most folks here at RedState).But to me, and many others those weaknesses were overcome by his strengths—a willingness to focus on conservative first principles when too many other Republicans were forgetting them, a willingness to criticize the Bush administration for its many departures from conservatism, his ardent defense of freedom as a core conservative principle, his reverence for the Constitution, and many others.Among a field of candidates in 2008 that often seemed often all-too willing to toady up to a Republican establishment that had sold conservatism down the river, Paul’s approach was a breath of fresh air.

Our efforts a few years ago were generally received with great hostility by the conservative establishment, but things have changed a lot in two years, with a list of conservative luminaries too numerous to mention acknowledging Paul, ranging from Sarah Palin to Ann Coulter to Glenn Beck.Numerous others have taken on Paul’s causes, such as Jim DeMint, the Senate’s first Sponsor of Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill. Closer to home, Erick’s endorsement of Rand Paul for Senate in Kentucky was noticed and greatly appreciated by many Paul fans (it is important to note that while Rand Paul shares many of his father’s views, in generally both in style and substance he is also closer to the Republican mainstream).Palin’s endorsement of Rand Paul helped a*a lot*.I’ve been a bit involved with Rand Paul’s grassroots and I can tell you that the more polite reception he has gotten (despite the D.C. establishment led by McConnell being as hostile as ever) has helped tremendously in mainstreaming that grassroots so that they are working *with* rather than against other party conservatives.On Paul-related message boards and forums, the crazies have been diminished greatly in number and the practical libertarian-conservatives who want to work with other GOP candidates have seen our numbers and influence greatly increased.

This is a long way of saying— respect is a two way street.There’s no doubt that among Paul’s following there are some that are truly unhinged.But recognize that the disrespect shown to Paul by many establishment Republicans had (and has) a lot to do with their anger.And there’s a huge not-so-silent majority of his supporters who don’t tend to spend all of their time picking fights on Internet forums.Many of them are now beginning to play an active role in Republican Party leadership.And anyone who has been around the Tea Party movement knows the critical role that Paul’s followers have played there. Since we feel that we are out there fighting for conservative principles, we take the nasty personal comments some make about Paul and his followers seriously—I know I do.If you don’t like the nuts, ignore them and reach out and strengthen Ron Paul’s many mainstream conservative supporters.The more of us there are, the more power we have to shut up the crazies.We may not ever agree on every principle, but we ought to be able to work together to defeat the Obama nightmare by realizing our many common goals.

Overall, as someone who considers myself a mainstream conservative, I’m more encouraged than I dared hope I would be two years ago about the ability of the Paul wing to get along with other groups within the conservative coalition.But I want to end with a warning note: some in the conservative blogosphere and most in the conservative establishment were quick to downplay Paul’s straw poll win.That is a huge mistake.I agree those who say that Ron Paul is very, very unlikely to be the Republican nominee in 2012—but, believe me if he runs, he will be a *big* factor in the race.Paul’s support is real and it is not just deep but broad, especially among younger party activists.

His 2008 effort was disorganized and had no time to build—he raised a lot of money, but the money came too late and the media didn’t treat him like a first-tier candidate.Despite all of this, he took well more than 1 million votes in the primaries and finished quite well in several contested caucuses. All of that has changed in 2012—Ron Paul has the money, organization and message to be a major factor in the 2012 primaries if he runs.Even if he does not run, his organization will deploy usefully on behalf of candidates that fight for small-government conservative principles.That’s a good thing.

I have no doubt that Paul’s army can be a big factor in helping organize a GOP victory in 2012 and beyond but if they (we) are gratuitously insulted (e.g the booing that came from some establishment corners when the CPAC straw poll result was announced.) or told that we are not “real conservatives” it is just as likely we could be looking at a nasty scene on the GOP convention floor– andthat Paul voters will stay home in November, rather than actively mobilize to support other GOP conservative candidates.

Idon’t want that to happen, and assuming we all share the goal of stopping the leftist juggernaut that threatens to destroy this country, I think it’s safe to say few others on this forum do either. So I end this with a plea—please welcome us in – don’t shut us out. If someone’s a crazy ignore him or ban him if you have to, but in general try to smile tactfully at the idiots and welcome in the many of the rest of us who want to be powerful activists for a reborn conservative movement in the U.S.If you passionately disagree with Paul’s ideas on this or that issue, have the humility to at least consider the possibility that Paul and his numerous followers might in fact have a point worth considering. You’ll catch a lot more flies honey than you will with vinegar. Where we disagree, let’s do it without being disagreeable.

And lets keep our eyes on the prize—ending the Democratic Party’s attempts to run this country off a cliff. Together we can lead a great conservative rebirth in this country.

Lets do it!