With reality beginning to dawn that Ron Paul is not going to get the Republican nomination despite the enthusiasm and hard work of his supporters, those supporters now face the difficult choice of what to do with their votes once November rolls around. A lot of them are young and have never been heavily involved in politics and now they're all wound up with no place to go.
McCain seems too moderate and too 'establishment' for them, even though he's the choice of the party to which Ron Paul attracted them. Many consider themselves libertarians, but the Libertarian Party did them a dirty trick and leapt towards the mainstream by nominating former Republican warmonger Bob Barr. And even Paul's most anti-war supporters realize that on almost every other issue Barack Obama is a raving socialist with whom they have nothing else in common.
It's quite a dilemma and it's now being made worse by indications that the most likely candidates, who by all logic ought to be courting their followers who produced just under a million votes in the primary, actually don't want them very much. Or to be more specific, the McCain and Barr campaigns seem to have decided that the extremists in the Paul camp have tainted the movement to the point where they'd rather not be seen courting or even associating with them.
Ron Paul has noticed the hostility of mainstream Republicans to his followers. In a comment to The Washington Times he said, "I don't think they want them. We don't agree with them. We agree with the Old Right, and they're the New Right, which is 'The Wrong,' [because] the New Right has morphed into neoconservative."
In a recent blog entry on the neocon rag The Weekly Standard McCain's Deputy Communications Director Michael Goldfarb writes, "let me just say to Ron Paul supporters everywhere, and on behalf of the New Right (by which I assume Paul means the Jew Right), get lost." Goldfarb may not be speaking officially for the McCain campaign, but he is certainly speaking for a lot of Republicans who are offended by some of the extremist rhetoric and unpleasant beliefs and associations of many Ron Paul supporters, especially those who are openly anti-semitic.
Officially the McCain campaign has been more reasonable, with senior campaign adviser Charles Black pointing out that since Paul has not yet withdrawn from the race the McCain campaign hasn't felt it was appropriate to approach his supporters. That at least holds out hope that they might be welcomed at some later date.
Uncomfortable with McCain and unwelcome by his campaign, Ron Paul supporters might consider turning to the promising Libertarian campaign of Bob Barr, but they may not find much succor there either. In response to a backhanded endorsement from prominent white supremacist James Buchanan, Barr Campaign Manager Russ Verney commented, "The Barr campaign is not going to be a vehicle for every fringe and hate group to promote itself. We do not want and will not accept the support of haters. Tell the haters I said don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out!" That's a pretty unequivocal rejection of the John Birch-inspired extremists. On a recent appearance on the Glen Beck show, Barr himself commented about the "9/11 Truth" movement, "I don't pay any attention to that," another rejection of one of the sacred cows of many Paul supporters.
So it looks like there's no happy home for Paul supporters with the Libertarian party. They would need to shed their more radical associations and beliefs to find any kind of welcome there.
Improbable though it seems with their professed conservative and libertarian values, some Ron Paul supporters are seriously considering voting for Barack Obama in November. It seems to be a real option for those who are motivated more by alienation from the current system than by any real ideology. If they just want someone who seems honest, believable, and in favor of political change I can see why they find Obama appealing. Never mind that the change he proposes is towards a bigger state and more socialism; for some who are most concerned with the war or with government corruption, that may be a secondary issue.
For the more radical and ideologically motivated Paul supporters — the 'Paulbots' and 'Paulistas' — who are all over the Internet spreading the most controversial subset of the more general Ron Paul message, there may also be hope of a homecoming. Many of them seem to be inspired by the rhetoric of the John Birch Society, and while some of his more reasonable supporters became disillusioned when Paul's Bircher connections came out and he announced that he was speaking at the JBS convention this fall, they celebrated it. The good news for them is that Chuck Baldwin, the candidate of the ultra-religious Constitution Party, will be joining Ron Paul as a speaker at the JBS convention and seems to embrace their values. The response from Paul's more extreme followers who find the socially progressive aspects of libertarianism unappealing, has been very positive towards Baldwin and his party. This may be the place where the most vocal and most extreme of Paul's supporters find a comfortable home.
Ultimately I suspect that the more reasonable and practical of Paul's supporters may decide to stick with the Republican Party for the long haul, thinking beyond just the McCain candidacy in 2008. Daniel McCarthy lays out a very convincing plan for the future of the movement in an article in The American Conservative, and I suspect he expresses the viewpoint of a lot of Paul supporters who may have been Republicans or Republican leaning independents before this campaign. They'd like to stick with the party and continue to support local liberty-oriented candidates and move the party as a whole in a more positive direction as a long-term project. The great difficulty for them is going to be separating the movement from its titular leader. While they are right that many of Paul's ideas need to be preserved and promoted, before they can really accomplish anything they need to accept the reality that Paul himself is too tainted, too unappealing, and too old to continue to be their spearhead. They need to look for a younger, more practical, and more marketable candidate with principles in common with Paul, someone like Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. I imagine many of them will hold their noses and vote for McCain in the meantime, just to put up some resistance to the Democrats.
I hope that the best of the Ron Paul movement will stick with the GOP and have a positive influence while the crazies and extremists go to places where they will be more welcome, like their parents' basements or the Constitution Party. The GOP could certainly use an influx of young, enthusiastic, and liberty-loving activists and I think party insiders will welcome them once they see that they are serious and not just refugees from the lunatic fringe.