Senator Rand Paul walked onto the convention stage on Wednesday night knowing he was a rickety bridge between his father’s supporters and the Republican establishment. A contingent of delegates loyal to Ron Paul had stalked off the floor in protest the day before because they felt they had been marginalized by the Republican National Committee. But while the first-term Kentucky Senator threw his father’s libertarian acolytes a few bones, his speech was largely devoted to validating Mitt Romney — and that wasn’t enough to stop a repeat of Tuesday’s disruption.
Before Rand Paul’s speech, there was a tribute video for Paul the senior, a 12-term Congressman who “never wavered” and “never backed down.” It featured testimonials from Ron Paul’s family and colleagues — such as liberty-movement favorites Senator Mike Lee and Representative Justin Amash — as well as footage of Ron himself. The film was an olive branch extended to Ron’s zealous fans by the convention organizers. The homage lasted five minutes, during which the crowd cheered wildly, thrusting cowboy hats and “Ron Paul” signs into the air.
Then came a Paul in the flesh. The first section of Rand’s 15-minute speech was dedicated to something that everyone could get behind: criticizing Barack Obama. “There’s only one option left,” he said. “We have to have a new President!” His central rhetorical trope was that people did build the things that Obama allegedly thought they hadn’t built. And that included people in Mitt Romney’s tax bracket. “Businessmen and -women did earn their success,” he said. This got very little applause. “You say the rich must pay their fair share,” he continued, “but when you seek to punish the rich, the jobs that are lost are those of the poor and the middle class.” “Punishing” the Exxon Mobil executive hurt secretaries who held that stock, he said, countering Obama’s favorite story of Warren Buffett’s assistant.
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Rand never mentioned his father by name, though he did single out “a certain Congressman from Texas” who ran for President when retelling his family background. And he gave a nod to his father’s belief in noninterventionism overseas, saying Democrats and Republicans had to recognize that “not every dollar spent on the military is necessary.” At one point, he channeled pure Ron Paul, emphasizing the importance of personal rights. “We must never, never trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security,” he said to wild applause. But he ended with a wholehearted endorsement of Romney, which was awkward, given that his father never agreed to give such an endorsement himself. “I understand why he’s doing it,” Ron Paul supporter Guillermo Jimenez said after the speech. “But it kinda hurts.”
Other Ron Paul supporters weren’t so accepting. Senator John McCain took the stage after Rand, but the Republican Party’s previous nominee was interrupted. Just as they had the day before, Ron Paul supporters started shouting over the proceedings, protesting the treatment the Maine delegation had received and committee rule changes. Tuesday it was the Maine delegation; on Wednesday delegates from various states chanted, “As goes Maine, so goes the nation!” The onstage programming paused for a 10-minute instrumental interlude while the commotion wore on.
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Ron Paul’s delegates, some of the most dedicated Republican supporters out there, may find some way to protest again on Thursday, but the official Paul-related convention events in Tampa are now over. The political landscape won’t be quite the same. Mitt Romney is the official nominee, and three-time presidential candidate Paul has said he’s retiring. That leaves the liberty movement at a loss for a leader. While Ron’s supporters loudly applaud Rand at rallies, they don’t view him as an automatic heir to his father’s legacy.