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Can Dr. No’s Supporters Take Yes for An Answer?

Rand Paul and the GOP promised land.

By 8.30.12

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TAMPA, Florida -- When Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) concluded his speech at the Republican National Convention, one writer was particularly effusive in his praise.

Paul's national debut "can only be described as a humdinger." His speech was "brilliantly succinct" in its dissection of the anti-business populism currently in fashion among Democrats. It was an "undeniable triumph." The senator himself is "a star."

Surely this scribe publishes at the American Conservative or Chronicles. Perhaps LewRockwell.com or somewhere more conventionally libertarian, like Reason.

Actually, it was Commentary editor John Podhoretz, son of Norman. So surely this was indeed an undeniable triumph?

Don't tell the Ron Paul delegates. Many of them are still protesting the Republican National Convention's refusal to seat more Paul delegates from Maine, establishment chicanery that was designed prevent a nomination showdown between the elder Paul and Mitt Romney.

As the hour of the Pauls gave way to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) call to advance the "forward strategy of freedom" in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, some Paul delegates began to protest. "As Maine goes, so goes the nation!" they chanted. Others were passing around buttons reviving the old Spanish-American War slogan, "Remember the Maine."

The Paulites' displeasure was understandable. They worked hard to secure delegate slots in places like Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Maine, only to have the Republican leadership thwart them at every turn. (Though some deals were cut to include more Paul delegates ahead of the convention.)

But isn't their convention presence -- and acceptance from the party leadership -- clearly greater than at any time in recent memory? The Washington Post noted in a piece about the RNC's winners and losers, "The idea that a full hour of nighttime programming at a GOP convention would be dedicated to the Pauls would be unthinkable as recently as a few years ago. Tonight it became a reality."

The Romney camp approved a salute to a primary opponent who hasn't even endorsed the Republican ticket. Paul Ryan openly appealed to Paul supporters.

Wouldn't a video tribute touting Ron Paul's succesful activism and impeccable credentials as a fiscal conservative do more to sustain the Paul movement's momentum within the GOP than a disruptive and ultimately futile convention fight?

The video didn't mention foreign policy (though it did feature four antiwar Republicans and two others who sometimes vote with Paul on these issues). Neither did Rand Paul's speech, though he did push back against the GOP consensus on defense spending and civil liberties.

American Conservative's Jordan Bloom called it "a shame" Senator Paul didn't delve more into foreign policy. Reason's Jesse Walker tweeted, "Apparently, if you challenge GOP orthodoxy on civil liberties and military spending, it's a good idea to rush to the Reagan references next."

Well, yes. A political audience is likely to be more receptive to your more challenging arguments if they accept that you are generally on their side. As Podhoretz put it, though I'd certainly quibble with some of his phrasing, "Having established his bona fides as a mainstream Republican, he then dipped into his father Ron Paul’s kit bag -- calling for defense cuts and offering a libertarian attack on homeland security."

One of the biggest problems Ron Paul had with a majority of Republicans is that he seldom stressed areas of agreement: the fact that he was a pro-life and pro-gun congressman who had never voted for a tax increase or unbalanced budget, who had voted for all the Reagan and Bush tax cuts. The second is the heavy-handedness with which he expresses his disagreements on foreign policy and elsewhere.

Rand Paul is trying to correct both problems. But will his base look at positive press from Commentary and conclude he is selling out?

The danger, of course, lies in completely silencing the foreign policy disagreements and becoming indistinguishable from docile Romney Republicans. Yet winning in politics requires a willingness to risk defeat -- and to build on the little victories.

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About the Author

W. James Antle III, author of the new book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?, is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a senior editor of The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jimantle.