Ron Paul's swan song: Has he launched an enduring movement?

After three runs for the White House, US Rep. Ron Paul is retiring. Will his libertarian brand of Republican politics survive without him? A younger generation of elected officials and activists say it will.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Rep. Ron Paul (R ) of Texas speaks at a rally at the University of South Florida Sun Dome on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday.

Can the Ron Paul movement survive without Ron Paul?

Many in the GOP no doubt are just as glad that the 12-term Texas congressman – much more a libertarian than a traditional Republican – is retiring after years as perhaps the US House’s most prominent gadfly, a man whose principles and policies challenged the very basis of how the US government is thought of by both major parties operates here and abroad.

At what likely was the last major political event of his career, Mr. Paul bathed in the adoration of an estimated 10,000 admirers who greeted their hero at the University of South Florida in Tampa Sunday with cheers and thunderous applause. But it also had the feel of a swan song as he gave a sweeping survey of 20th-century history, laying out the points at which government became more powerful – in particular as it applies to foreign wars and economic and monetary policy.

They’d heard it all before as he ranged from war in Afghanistan to the Federal Reserve to government regulations on raw milk. But it was music to the ears of Ashley Nicole York and Antonio Rivera, both 26-year-old students, enthusiastic supporters of the “liberty movement,” as they prefer to call it, and the likely face of the future of the movement – if it is to have any future at all.

They’d each heard mention of Paul from a friend, then turned to the Internet – especially YouTube videos of Paul speeches – to become true believers and local Paul activists.

“He was talking on a deeper level, and that opened my eyes,” says Ms. York, who lives in Henderson, Nev. Now, she says, “I feel like we’re his voice, we’re his legacy.”

Mr. Rivera, from Boca Raton, Fla., says his “awakening” came during the 2008 presidential debates, when he first heard Paul. Since then, he says, Paul has “enlightened” him on the workings of the Federal Reserve, health-care policy, and immigration.

“A lot of people say it’s the end of the Paul movement,” he says. “But I think it’s just the beginning.”

Paul himself agrees that the movement he launched over three runs for the presidency – winning 177 delegates to the Republican National Convention this year, more than anybody except Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum – needs many more people like York and Rivera to succeed.

“It won’t be a true revolution unless the college campuses are aligned with those principles,” he said Sunday at his “We Are the Future” rally.

In one recent way, his influence already is being felt in Congress.

After years of his badgering Federal Reserve Board chairmen and Treasury secretaries in committee hearings, the House (including about 100 Democrats) last month approved a measure ordering an audit of the Fed. In the Senate, there are 29 cosponsors to do the same.

Leading that Senate effort is Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, Ron Paul’s son and a libertarian who looks likely to be as annoying to establishment Republicans as his father was in the House. (Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, had endorsed Rand Paul’s primary opponent, so the younger Mr. Paul feels a special independence from the party line.)

Rand Paul will not assume his father’s movement mantel – no one can do that, he says – but he is one of a growing number of younger elected officials eager to fight at least some of the same fights.

“Together we are changing the Republican Party from the bottom up,” says Rep. Justin Amash (R) of Michigan, first elected to the House of Representatives two years ago at age 30. “It’s our responsibility to grow it into the majority it can be.”

Another is Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah (the youngest member of the Senate), who ousted veteran Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010.

South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis (R) had the crowd (metaphorically, at least) grabbing for tar and feathers when he thundered that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is “a traitor and a dictator!”

“Ron Paul has pulled the curtain aside and said, ‘Look at what these people are doing,’ ” he said.

One policy area, Ron Paul acknowledges, will continue to keep most Republicans from supporting his cause: cutting the defense budget, refraining from overseas military action, and vastly reducing foreign aid – including to Israel.

Here in Tampa, some Paul supporters grumble that Republican convention rule-setters have put the squeeze on any influence Paul delegates might have had – even though Paul himself has said he wants no disruption.

The Republican National Convention seating chart shows the delegations from Nevada, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, and Oklahoma all located on the outer fringe of the convention floor, Politico reported Sunday. Each are states with significant Paul followings.
Paul himself might have had a formal speaking slot, but he rejected two requirements: that his speech be pre-approved and that he formally endorse Romney.

He refused, telling The New York Times, “It wouldn’t be my speech. That would undo everything I’ve done in the last 30 years. I don’t fully endorse him for president.”

Instead, the convention is scheduled to air a video tribute to Representative Paul, early Wednesday evening before the major speakers.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.