When an expected 88 delegates for libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, descend on Minneapolis-St. Paul for the Republican convention, they won't be crashing the party. From their perspective, they have a simple goal: defending the U.S. Constitution.
Officially, Paul's presidential campaign has shut down. But it's still operating a group, called Campaign for Liberty, that is planning a rally during the convention at the University of Minnesota on September 2. Paul's delegates initially pushed to secure him a convention speaking slot and are frustrated that he'll probably be denied the right to address the crowd. So, they say, they'll try to make their voices heard in other ways.
"The main issue is constitutional government," says Thomas Kiene, a Paul delegate from Oklahoma. "There's hardly any part of the Constitution that the federal government hasn't trampled on.... Paul understands that and stands up for it."
Steve Rogers, a Paul delegate from Minnesota, adds: "I'm just trying to spread the message--conservatism, liberty, honesty. We're just trying to have an influence as a voice against the crowd."
Another Minnesota delegate for Paul, Kris Broberg, even harbors a glimmer of hope for a convention revolt against John McCain. But Broberg concedes, "I realize that is a lonely hope."
Some Paul delegates have grumbled that pro-McCain forces have used heavy-handed tactics to prevent them from attending the national convention. Broberg recalls that at the Minnesota state GOP convention, a Paul delegate was replaced late in the game on a technicality. "The party always told us, if we adjourn this convention, whatever the results are, that's the way it stands," Broberg said. "And then they went and had their contest committee turn around and remove him as a delegate."
Patrick Eisenhart, a Paul delegate from Maine, is planning to put concrete amendments before the platform committee. "I would like to have the Republican platform demand that Iraq begin using its cash surpluses to pay for its own security forces," Eisenhart says.
Paul's staunch opposition to the Iraq war is a component of his delegate support, but it's certainly not the defining issue. "I was completely against [the United States] going in the way they did. I agree with the way Paul voted on that," says Paul Clayton, a Paul delegate from Oklahoma who fought as a marine in Iraq. "But given the situation currently, I don't think we can just up and leave right now."
Instead, the Paul supporters share the broad goal of a smaller federal government. They say that the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., championed that principle, and they believe that McCain, Goldwater's successor in the Senate, has betrayed it.
The Paul delegates are a diverse group: Rogers from Minnesota is a firearms instructor who learned about Paul through membership in gun-rights organizations such as Gun Owners of America. Jeff Waksman, a Paul delegate from Wisconsin, is working on his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).
Paul delegates argue that they're not black-helicopter-chasing lunatics but rather normal, conservative Americans. "I think the media has gone a long way to try to discredit us as a bunch of '9/11 truthers' and conspiracy theorists, when that's not what most of us are," Waksman says.
Eisenhart concurs: "I'm 31 years in the military. I'm not some peacenik or some wacko."
This article appears in the Aug. 2, 2008, edition of National Journal.