A Short Visit to the Center of Ron Paul's Universe

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 21 2013 5:29 PM

A Short Visit to the Center of Ron Paul's Universe

CHANTILLY, Va.—For three and a half days, this Washington, D.C., suburb close to the Dulles airport was the hub of the Ron Pauliverse. Liberty PAC, one of the manifold action groups that grew out of Paul's 2008 presidential bid, held its fifth annual conference, which consisted of two and a half days of speeches and networking, a day of training, and nights of hotel-friendly partying. The nexus of the weekend was a "Ron Paul reception" on Friday night; I had to miss that, to run into D.C. for some television work, but I hung out around the Paulians as long as I could.

Discovery No. 1: Edward Snowden is a hero here.

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These shirts were being sold by the Project for Open Government, whose founder (of three weeks vintage) Peter Chamberlain worked for the Paul campaign. "[The Electronic Frontier Foundation] works on the courts," he said, explaining why the world needed a new anti-NSA pro-privacy group. "We want to find allies in Congress."

Elsewhere in the exhibit hall, I found Liberty-branded products appealing to the hard right of the Paul movement ...

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... and, inevitably, Generation Opportunity's stall promoting its "opt out of Obamacare" campaign. New to the pitch: a handy palm card informing the reader of "Great Moments in Government Healthcare History," putting Obamacare up there with the Tuskegee experiment, forced sterilization of Native Americans, and the Manhattan Project.

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But this was an organizing conference, not some libertarian trade show. The focus of the speeches I saw: strategy, largely intra-Republican strategy and theories of how to take power in the party. Morton Blackwell, the longtime Republican activist and founder of the Leadership Institute, spoke at length about how he tried to take the RNC to the mat at last year's convention, and prevent the committee from changing rules that bound delegates to primary results. The Paul movement, he said, needed to learn from the mistakes of Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign. "He didn't put any time, talent, or money into helping all the people who'd taken leadership positions in the party," said Blackwell. "The liberty movement hasn't made that mistake."

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David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.