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What Ron Paul Wants If His Supporters Back Romney

May 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Ron Paul announced Monday that his campaign would not spend any more money in the presidential primaries. But he's not suspending his campaign. Judy Woodruff looks at Paul's chances of continuing to impact the GOP -- and its upcoming convention -- with Jon Ralson of the Las Vegas Sun and Brian Doherty of Reason magazine.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s announcement that he is suspending his campaign for president.

Paul’s camp says that it will not spend any more money in Republican primaries, but will continue to try to amass delegates to the Republican National Convention through district and state party conventions.

In a memo, chief strategist Jesse Benton said Paul won’t quit, even while acknowledging Mitt Romney’s certain nomination. He wrote, “Our delegates can still make a major impact at the national convention and beyond.”

But many of Paul’s active grassroots supporters apparently aren’t happy, insisting he has a chance still to grab the nomination.

Well, to help us sort all this out, we are joined by Jon Ralston, political columnist with The Las Vegas Sun. And Brian Doherty, he’s an editor at the libertarian-leaning magazine “Reason.” He is the author of the new book “Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.”

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

Jon Ralston, to you first.

It’s not a — it hasn’t been a secret for some time that Mitt Romney has this nomination locked up. So what precipitated this announcement from the Paul camp?

JON RALSTON, The Las Vegas Sun: Well, I think he’s out of money, Judy. And that’s the real problem for him in terms of going forward.

So he’s going to do something that no other candidate in history has. He’s going to run backwards. That is, he’s going to go back to these states where he’s been able to infiltrate the county and state conventions and grab as many delegates as he can to the national convention.

That’s what he’s done in Nevada. Long after he got crushed in the caucus here, he went back, did just that and won a majority of delegates to the national convention, 22 of 28 here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brian Doherty, how do you see it? You’ve studied Ron Paul. Can they actually go out and collect delegates, even though they know he can’t win the nomination?

BRIAN DOHERTY, Reason.com: They absolutely can.

One reason is that, to a lot of his fans, they still actually believe he can win, which I think is part of the reason they made this announcement. It was sort of expectation-managing for their own fans.

Over the last weekend in both Oklahoma and Arizona, state GOP conventions were sort of driven to chaos by fights, in some cases actual fights between Ron Paul people and Romney people. And I know that that sat the wrong way with the official campaign. They don’t want their movement to be marked as the movement that leads to state GOP conventions breaking up.

In the case of Oklahoma, the Ron Paul people went out in the parking lot and held their own rump convention, which they claim procedurally was the real convention. I don’t know, “Robert’s Rules of Order”-wise, who’s right. So these people are going to go on.

Ron Paul’s announcement that he’s pulling back is not going to discourage that delegate process from moving forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you say it upset the official — you mean the official Ron Paul campaign.

BRIAN DOHERTY: Right. Yeah, the actual campaign, not the grassroots people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this — you mentioned, Jon Ralston, what you have seen in Nevada. Is — how much of a disconnect is there between the official campaign and then the grassroots supporters?

JON RALSTON: Well, certainly, I think Paul can try to distance himself between some of the folks that we just talked about who actually still think he can win, when he has no chance to win.

But the Ron Paul folks are animated by a lot of different things. Some of them really believe in what Ron Paul believes in, libertarianism, liberty above all, getting out of Afghanistan, not fighting wars the way that the Republican Party has advocated fighting wars.

But the bottom line is, Judy, is that he can’t control them. And that’s really what the issue is here. He is afraid that they are going to be portrayed or caricatured. But I think that that horse is out of the barn. That’s already been done. And you can’t stop it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brian Doherty, help us understand the difference between what Ron Paul wants out of this process and what his — many of his fans and supporters want.

BRIAN DOHERTY: I think what they want in the end is the same, which is to prove to the Republican Party and the world at large that their set of ideas has real pull in the Republican Party.

And you could say, well, if you’re not going to win, why bother? But for that purpose, it does matter if you’re coming in with 200 delegates vs. 500 delegates. It’s a bigger signal to the world that, we are not just a fringe minority that can be ignored. We are important to the party moving forward. And he and his fans share that desire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much of that are they likely, Jon Ralston, to get from Mitt Romney? What — I mean, changes in the party platform, what?

JON RALSTON: Yes, that’s the fascinating question here, Judy, because they may be able to get some things in the platform, but no one pays attention to the platform after the convention.

Can Ron Paul get a decent speaking slot? I think the Romney folks are going to be nervous about that. They’re going — they’re already nervous. The Republican National Committee’s fully integrated with the Romney campaign. They don’t want disruptions on the floor. These conventions are supposed to be beautifully choreographed, no incidents, just a coronation of the nominee.

That’s why Paul poses a threat. Plus, what happens after the convention? Can he keep them in the tent? Because it is a significant number of people, and in a close election in some of these swing states, including perhaps Nevada, those Ron Paul folks could make the difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there, Brian Doherty, the possibility of disruption at the convention? And — and what are the Paul supporters going to do in the fall? Are they going to support Mitt Romney, or what?

BRIAN DOHERTY: I don’t think they will support Mitt Romney. People talk about the Ron Paul vote, as if the vote is something that can neither be created nor destroyed.

But, in fact, what I think will happen to most of the Ron Paul vote is that it will disappear back to where it came from, which I have found is the great mass of Americans who tend not to vote at all. It’s like 40 to 50 percent of Americans in most elections.

I think Romney will pick up a fringe of them who are really afraid of Obama. I think libertarian Gary Johnson will pick up a fringe of them. But Ron Paul people leave in what Ron Paul believes in. And they trust him in a way they don’t trust any other politician. So I do not think that even if he wanted to could Ron Paul deliver his people to a Mitt Romney, who they didn’t believe stood for what Ron Paul stands for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jon Ralston, we should point out that there is a Libertarian Party out there, which Ron Paul is not associating himself with.

So I think some people are confused looking at this saying, he is a libertarian in his thinking, but what he wants is separate from what that party is asking for.

JON RALSTON: Right.

Gary Johnson is the Libertarian nominee. And so Ron Paul is not going to go to the Libertarian Party. But I think some of his supporters will vote Libertarian. And I think Brian is right. They are going to dissipate. And they will decide what to do afterwards.

I do think, though, that Ron Paul running for president this time has gotten a lot more Ron Paul supporters engaged in Republican Party politics. They want to stay inside the tent. They want to be effective. That’s why it’s such a delicate dance for Romney at the convention, because if they feel that they haven’t been at least paid attention to, if not kowtowed to, then I think it could be a problem for him afterward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And remind us, Brian, what is it that they want most to change in government policy?

BRIAN DOHERTY: They want spending cuts that are real and that actually get you to a balanced budget in five years, like Ron Paul’s budget proposal.

They want a foreign policy that disengages from the world and the Middle East and just sort of concentrates on national defense. They want a government that’s not trying to manage Americans’ lives. Ron Paul is very concerned with things like raw milk rage, federal agents busting down people’s door for selling raw milk. These lifestyle issues that the federal government insists on policing, Ron Paul people don’t want them to police anymore, which separates them from the GOP mainstream.

So, they — in their minds, they want a return to what they think the original constitutional purpose of government is, which is basically just to protect our life, liberty and property, not redistribute income, not manage the world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quickly, Jon Ralston, that at this point is not what the Republican Party and its nominee is talking about.

JON RALSTON: Well, exactly.

And that’s why, again, they want to let the Ron Paul people be inside the tent in Tampa, but they don’t want some of these ideas, which are heretical to what the modern Republican Party is, to be there in a prime time, I don’t think. That’s, again, part of this delicate dance the Romney campaign and the RNC are going through.

They don’t want these people to feel alienated, the Ron Paul supporters who believe in the things that Brian talked about, but maybe not to the level of volume, decibel level that can be heard across the country in August.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear the two of you.

Jon Ralston, Brian Doherty, thank you both.