Mr. Second Place
Why Ron Paul has other Republicans running scared in Nevada.
Photograph by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.
LAS VEGAS—The room seats 315 people, and Ron Paul’s speech is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The room is full at 12:20. There are middle-aged people with Ron Paul gear—vintage 2008 stuff, homemade designs with Paul wearing a surgical mask—and students from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. They keep themselves amused.
“Socialism sucks!” yells one kid wearing a knit cap.
“Ron Paul 2012!” yells another student.
“Rand Paul 2016!” yells an older man cradling a tot.
The show starts on time. Paul’s wife Carol, a petite woman with big blonde hair, walks to a reserved seat and gets immediate cheers of recognition. Peter Tariche, a serious-looking computer programmer who directs Youth for Ron Paul in the Western states, rises for the introduction.
“Only one man has defended liberty and the Constitution,” says Tariche. “History will look back kindly on him, for our generation has the power, the will, and the courage to restore a free society. We, the youth of this campaign, will fuel this movement. We will fix the problems that now face this generation.”
That’s Paul’s cue. He strides onto the stage and begins with this: “A lot has happened the last couple of years.” Thus begins a 35-minute lecture about Austrian economics, Keynesian economics, Randolph Bourne (who coined the idea that “war is the health of the state”), the origins of the housing crisis, and the road to serfdom. He talks up his new plan to cut $1 trillion in 2013, and thereby balance the budget, by scrapping foreign aid and five Cabinet departments, and starting to scale back entitlements. But he’s really much more comfortable on the philosophy.
“The Austrian economists,” says Paul, “the free-market economists who predicted the downfall of the Bretton Woods agreement and the collapse of so much of what has happened over these years, they’ve also made this predictions about an interventionist planned economy of the Keynesian type—that it would eventually lead to this bankruptcy. It would lead to more government, not less. If it didn’t get stopped, it would lead to a fascist type of socialism. Guess what?”
That’s a rhetorical question. Talking to members of the crowd after the speech, I don’t find any voters still shopping around. These are Paul diehards who would chug hemlock before voting for someone else. The difference between them and, say, the Paul diehards who flood other states’ straw polls, or wave signs outside of debates, is that they’re in Nevada. This is a caucus state. This is a place where Ron Paul matters, where Ron Paul’s fans can rattle the GOP.
Four years ago, no one knew what would happen in Nevada’s caucuses. They were sort of an experiment, a way to make a diverse Western state matter. The final Nevada polls predicted that Mitt Romney would win the caucuses narrowly, with about 26 percent of the vote, and that Paul would pull single digits and come in sixth. That didn’t happen. Romney won 51 percent of the vote; Paul came in second.
When the state conventions came up—the caucus vote was non-binding—Paul’s supporters stayed solid, dragging out a floor fight, demanding their delegates. It was a legendary battle locally (I still have DVDs that the Paul fans pressed and distributed afterward), and it would presage what happened in 2009 and 2010, when outsider activists took over their Republican parties in state after state. In Nevada, the activist rebellion ended up producing U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.