|Well-organized support for Ron Paul's candidacy raises questions about the future of the state GOP.|
Baton Rouge entrepreneur Charlie Davis is only 36, but already he's a Republican lifer. Davis ran for chairman of the College Republican National Committee in 1997. He served as president of the 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference, as an elected member of the party's state Central Committee, and as director of the Republican Party of Louisiana.
He also happens to be a white, Christian, small-business owner who home-schools his three kids. Seriously, could this guy get any more Republican?
But some of his compatriots think he has committed heresy by backing the technically-Republican-but-?really-more-of-a-Libertarian Ron Paul for president. While most Republicans were resigning themselves to Mitt Romney—maintaining party tradition by nominating the next guy in line—Davis and many Paulites around the country kept fighting. The intraparty scrum that resulted already has been an embarrassment for the state GOP; whether it was merely a blip, a potential cause for a party leadership shakeup, or the start of something bigger probably won't be clear until after the election season.
“The party is going through a paradigm shift; they just don't realize it,” Davis says. “It only becomes obvious after the fact.”
While most states assign their presidential convention delegates through primaries or caucuses, Louisiana does both.
Ron Paul garnered only about 6% of the vote in Louisiana's Republican primary. But by the time the April caucuses rolled around, only Paul still was challenging Romney, and the party mainstream was in the process of uniting behind him.
Voters in each congressional district were able to vote for 25 delegates or for one of several slates of delegates. None of the delegates or slates was tied to a specific candidate, although most delegates leaned toward someone.
Caucuses mostly are attended by the die-hardiest of activists, especially when the nomination is all but sewn up. The low attendance at Louisiana's caucuses created an opening for a motivated, well-organized minority, and the Paulites dominated, winning four of six districts.
“Not only were these Ron Paul supporters prepared, but they had studied the rules,” says UL-Monroe political scientist Joshua Stockley. “They had studied the rules, they worked within the rules, they knew numerically what they needed to do, and they brought enough people to get it done.”
Chad Rogers, publisher of The Dead Pelican and a Paul supporter, handed out “voter guides” that either brought some clarity to a convoluted process (as Paulites contend) or misled caucus-goers into backing Paul-supporting delegates (the party's view).
Days before the June state convention in Shreveport, the state party, with the cooperation of the Republican National Committee, attempted to tighten things up.
“We had gotten several calls from other state parties about the chaos the Paul forces had created at their conventions,” by using various tactics to attempt “delegate stealing” from other candidates, says Jason Doré, executive director of the republican Party of Louisiana.
The supplemental rules, among other things, seem to give the party executive committee authority to remove and replace delegates. (Whether those adjustments constitute impermissible changes under party rules is a matter of contention; Davis' argument can be read at liquidventures.com.)
Some of the chaos that ensued in Shreveport still can be watched on YouTube. One Paul supporter was dragged away by police as delegates chanted, “The chairman must remove!” The Paul delegates responded by turning their chairs around, forming their own convention and electing their own chairman, who also was seized by police.
“It was organized chaos,” Doré says. “They had rehearsed their whole act.”
“One of the elected delegates, who was just standing up and speaking, was literally dragged to the ground and locked in a room handcuffed for 30 minutes,” Davis says. “I wouldn't have believed that could possibly happen.”
In a deal brokered by the GOP days before the national convention, the Paul supporters were granted 17 delegates to Tampa.
The Greater New Orleans Republicans called for the resignations of state party leadership after what they called an “ill-conceived and confusing caucus.” Doré says their call created a minor media stir that quickly blew over. But it wouldn't be surprising if the mess of the presidential nominating process is revisited once the race against President Barack Obama is over.
“I would be shocked if there isn't change,” Davis says.
But will the Ron Paul movement change the Republican Party? As Albert Samuels, a Southern University political scientist, points out, Ron Paul was a tea partier before it was cool.
Yet Paul has largely been marginalized, perhaps because he extends the principle of limited government to the military, typically a sacred cow for Republicans, and the war on drugs, which he calls “a total failure.” Paul also carries a fair amount of baggage, including racially charged comments in newsletters that went out under his name during the 1980s and 1990s. (Paul claims no responsibility for the offending statements).
Republicans would love to harness the enthusiasm of the Paulites, especially in a presidential election where they're running a candidate not known for exciting the base, or anyone else. But many Ron Paul fans are all about their guy and see little meaningful difference between Romney and Obama.
Davis says he spends a lot of time with young tech entrepreneurs. To them, Paul makes perfect sense, he says, but older Republicans often find the idea of backing Paul strange and radical. Like any true believer, Davis sounds confident that he's just ahead of his time.
“I spoke to the Republican Party about a year ago,” he says, “and I made the comment. 'If you want to be for Ron Paul, you need to watch a little less Fox News, read a few more books, and give yourself a year or two.'”
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