It's Friday and the King Dude is on the air. Normally, Mike Church uses his early morning Sirius program as a platform to bash the faux conservatives he calls "Decepticons." But this time he is criticizing Rand Paul, the Tea Party senator from Kentucky. Church pushes back against a friendly listener who disagrees.
"If the goal is the U.S. Constitution as it was enforced, kind of, during the Jefferson Administration or during the Pierce Administration or during the Tyler or Cleveland Administrations, pray tell, sir, how do we get there if we cannot keep people like Rand on the straight and narrow?" Church asks.
The night before, Rand Paul went on television and endorsed Mitt Romney for president. "My first choice had always been my father," Ron Paul's son told Sean Hannity. "I campaigned for him when I was 11 years old. He's still my first pick. But now that the nominating process is over, tonight I'm happy to announce that I'm going to be supporting Gov. Mitt Romney."
"My dad has a legion of young followers who are on the Internet," the younger Paul said. And many of those young followers were hopping mad. "Rand is dead to me," one wrote at the popular website Daily Paul, a clearinghouse of information about the libertarian Republican's campaign. "He never should have done this." The opening comment on a thread discussing the Romney endorsement said, "Sorry Rand, but you CANNOT make a deal with the devil." A poster on Alex Jones' website called the senator a "wolf in sheep’s clothing."
The Atlantic's John Hudson dubbed it the libertarian equivalent of the folk purists' reaction to Bob Dylan going electric. Some of these modern-day Pete Seegers directed their ire toward Ron Paul himself: "We will never vote for Romney or your flimsy son."
These are the growing pains of a young movement, but the dissension is about more than an endorsement. After the high-water mark of Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul's campaign strategy focused on integrating his supporters in the Republican Party. That meant storming state conventions, capturing delegates, and winning party leadership positions.
In states as diverse as Alaska and Maine, Louisiana and Minnesota, Iowa and Nevada, the strategy paid dividends. Ron Paul supporters now chair state parties and hold seats on the Republican National Committee. Some are winning GOP primaries and have a decent chance to prevail in November.
But there is a limit to how much you can accomplish within the GOP if other party members doubt your Republicanism. The Paul supporters must reach beyond their own base to maintain positions of influence. Ron Paul struggled in closed primaries, where he needed the votes of party regulars.
Rand Paul's endorsement of Romney is predicated on the idea that working within the party will sometimes require reciprocal party loyalty. The risk is obviously that Paulite votes for Romney will end up ratifying an agenda they abhor, from preventive wars to Obamacare lite. The potential reward is that Rand Paul goes further electorally than his father and helps some of their movement's goals become the law of the land.
Yet some of these supporters don't want anything to do with any Republican not named Ron Paul -- including Rand. They signed up to elect the Texas congressman president and only help the man who cured their apathy. They are no more interested in electing Romney than reelecting Barack Obama.
Other Ron Paul Republicans embrace their new role in the party, helping to elect candidates like Rand Paul and House candidate Thomas Massie in Kentucky, a state where the elder Paul won just 13 percent of the vote. They are even willing to work with more mainstream conservatives to achieve spending cuts and push the party rightward.
Rand can certainly live without some of his father's supporters, such as those attributing the Romney endorsement to the malign influence of the Bilderbergers. His ability to influence the party will be enhanced by turning off the 9/11 truthers. But he does need to keep the majority of his father's movement together. What journalist Matthew Continetti called "Rand Paul's balancing act" is being tested as never before.
"[Rand Paul] is now a lot more difficult to dismiss as some ideological Libertarian crank. That's a good thing. Let's look for the glass half full," Mike Church concludes. "Just know, Rand, I'm watching you."