The Case for Ron Paul's Agents of Chaos

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Fighting the GOP establishment for influence is the only chance they have of drawing attention to their issues at convention time.

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Reflecting on the indefatigable Ron Paul supporters who are still trying to win delegates at various state GOP conventions, Doug Mataconis writes, "By and large, it appears pretty clear that they are antagonizing mainline Republicans every time they pull this stunt. That's hardly the kind of thing that will win friends and influence people, nor is it the kind of thing you should do if you want to become a voice of influence in the Republican Party as Paul supporters claim that they do."

I suspect he's wrong.

The Tea Party started antagonizing mainline Republicans as soon as it came onto the scene. In the course of gaining influence, it ridiculed the GOP establishment, denounced long-serving GOP officials, and otherwise acted as an agent of chaos. The 2012 Republican presidential primary showed the weaknesses of the Tea Party approach. Many think the movement is now exhausted. But for all its shortcomings, it managed to gain more influence in the GOP than have libertarians.

Ron Paul supporters and Tea Partiers have different, if sometimes overlapping, goals. And the particular goals of Paul supporters are well served by causing a big scene at the Republican convention by amassing enough delegates to make themselves heard. What do they have to lose by trying? It's the only way an anti-war message or a critique of drug prohibition or a case for reclaiming civil liberties is going to get articulated. The GOP establishment knows that the rank and file is more open to those critiques of the bipartisan consensus than establishment Republicans, who've largely been co-opted by neoconservatives and the military-industrial complex.

I don't know if Paul supporters will succeed in their bid to be heard at the GOP convention, but I am certainly rooting for them, and I wish they had an analog on the left that was as zealously positioning itself to raise the same issues at the Democratic convention. More than anything else, the Paulistas prove that motivated citizens can influence the process in ways that make insiders very uncomfortable, if only they are sufficiently determined. The notion that they'd be more successful if they played nice with the GOP is naive. Most establishment Republicans are committed to hawkish interventionism, a sprawling national-security state empowered to spy and kill on the president's word, and the failed drug policies of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

They need to be confronted by libertarians, not placated.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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