On Tuesday evening, nearly half of Ron Paul’s Maine delegation stalked off the convention floor. It was, they said, a last resort. In the lead up to the Tampa event, Republican officials had decided to take away half of Paul’s Maine delegates and replace them with loyal Romney supporters. After railing against the move for days, the endangered Paul delegates still took their seats as the roll call vote neared. The so-called Ronulans tried one last time to voice their objections from the floor. But their appeal went unheeded. So off nine of them they went, in a righteous huff of protest for all the cameras to record, and out of the hall. The Romney delegates remained.
After they left the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Paul’s Maine state campaign director enjoyed symbolic shouts of “President Paul!” with his fellow Mainers. Nearby a couple Romney backers rolled their eyes; streams of Republicans and media walked past them into the building. The director didn’t seem to notice, or at least to care. “This really was a tipping point,” refugee delegate Eric Brakey said. “If Mitt Romney is truly interested in uniting the Republican Party, you don’t do that by alienating people.” There was only a small gaggle of the faithful—identifiable by white “Paul 2012” baseball caps they wore. But they were loud.
Gathered soon after in Tampa’s convention center, the delegates, mostly white men ranging from teenage years to late middle age, reveled in the communal sense of “that’ll show ‘em!” – still high on the delicious solidarity of people sticking up for each other. “We’re ten times stronger than we were two hours ago,” said Maine committeeman elect Mark Willis. “I feel reinvigorated,” said Bryan Daugherty. “This whole week has been emotional. I feel like I’ve had a boot on the back of my neck the whole week. And it’s been relieved.”
The next question was what to do next.
The first thing many planned to do was not vote for Romney—unless he changed his ways. “If Mitt Romney disses us and continues to do so, we’ll feel isolated and therefore won’t vote him,” said Jim Azzola. Some delegates said they might try to rally the Paul movement behind the likes of libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson—in an attempt to deprive Romney a crucial chuck of the vote. “It’s our party. Not the party elite’s party,” said Daugherty. “It’s our party.” They spoke about the bright future of the movement. But where was that strength to be focused? Their 77-year-old figurehead has said he’s retiring. And the backers of the Liberty movement aren’t ready to accept Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul as an automatic heir to their enthusiasm.
Most said that in the long term, they’d focus on electing Paul-esque candidates to state and local offices. “What did the people do when there was no more Ghandi? What did the people do when there was no more Martin Luther King?” says Brakey. “The movement lives on.” They agreed that Ron Paul did not make the movement. He was only the torch-bearer. “We’re gonna move forward. We’re gonna find new candidates,” said Russell Montgomery. “We’re gonna find liberty-minded people.” But it’s hard to make a national stand without a national candidate, without something as grand as a presidential race to focus on. They said they’d surely find someone for 2016. They just couldn’t name names.