Ron Paul and the Future of Conservatism

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As Justine Sharrock reports in our current issue, the hottest new conservative organization under the sun is Oath Keepers, a group that recruits uniformed soldiers, police, and veterans and urges them to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Their founder is Stewart Rhodes, a former aide to Rep. Ron Paul.

So does this mean that Paul’s star is on the rise? After spending the weekend at CPAC, the annual conservative shindig in Washington DC, Dave Weigel thinks it is. Paul easily won the straw poll of attendees with 31% of the vote, and although the Republican establishment did its best to downplay this, Dave sees more going on:

The importance of minimizing Paul’s win united conservative activists like almost nothing else that came from the three-day conference. Even Brad Dayspring — who, as a spokesman for GOP whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), counts on Paul for “no” votes — fired off two tweets dismissing the result. But the 2,395 ballots cast were a CPAC record, up from the 1,757 cast in 2009, when Mitt Romney scored his third conservative win. And moments after the Paul results were booed, the crowd gave a roaring ovation to radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck, who rewarded it with a 56-minute lecture on “progressivism’s” war on American values with historical lessons — the evil of the Federal Reserve, the destructiveness of Woodrow Wilson, the folly of “spreading democracy” — that had featured prominently in Paul’s speech, too.

….Paul’s victory […] provided a look at the ideological hardening going on within the conservative movement as it girds for the 2010 elections….The far-right John Birch Society, of which Paul has been a longtime supporter, made a showy return to the mainstream conservative fold with a co-sponsorship and booth at CPAC; because the organization helpfully offered free, spacious merchandise bags, plenty of CPAC attendees walked around sporting JBS logos. Oath Keepers, a year-old coalition of right-wing military veterans, helped distribute copies of the Paul documentary — a favor to Paul activist Michael Moresco, who had won the organization’s “citizen activist of the year” award for biking from the Statue of Liberty to Alcatraz Prison.

….Outside of the conference, some critics accused activists of a kind of nihilism that wouldn’t be productive for Republicans. “CPAC has becoming increasingly more libertarian and less Republican over the last years,” grumbled Mike Huckabee on his Fox News show, “one of the reasons I didn’t go this year.” Huckabee would only allow that the Paul win reflected “the anger and the mood” that was fueling Tea Party protests and Democratic losses in some key elections.

Now, Dave is a libertarian and (I assume) a Ron Paul fan. So there’s some special pleading here. Paul’s views on civil liberties, torture, and overseas wars, after all, make him a perpetual outcast from mainstream conservatism no matter how much press the tea partiers get. Still, this year’s CPAC spectacle, fueled largely by Ron Paul’s worldview, might spell more trouble for the GOP than its leaders think. Dave’s piece may oversell Paul’s appeal, but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind as the meltdown of the Republican Party careers along.

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