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What Does Ron Paul Want? Hint: It's Not About The 2012 GOP Nomination

Ken Rudin collection

Ron Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. Even Ron Paul knows it. His acknowledgement that Mitt Romney will be the nominee is just stating the obvious.

But what exactly did he mean when he said last week that he will "no longer spend resources campaigning in primaries in states that have not voted"? Was he telling us that he was dropping out of the race?

Not quite.

There was a time, early in this year's cycle, where the guess was that Paul was going to perform far better in 2012 than he did in 2008, when he also sought the GOP nomination. He was better known, his iconoclastic views were thought to be more popular, and his supporters had a better understanding of the system. But after all was said and done, he failed to win a single primary or caucus. Yes, he finished a strong second in New Hampshire, barely lost in Maine, and took 40 percent in Virginia (in a one-on-one with Romney). But first place? Didn't happen.

And so, as Romney's competitors slowly dropped out, Paul was the last challenger left standing.

But for what purpose? He wasn't going to win in Tampa. It wasn't about a prime-time speaking slot at the convention. It's probably not about influencing the party platform, though he will certainly try to get his views about monetary policy and foreign policy represented. And for all the talk about well, maybe he can win on the second ballot ... that is a fantasy that's just not going to happen. No Republican nomination has gone past a first ballot since 1948. He undoubtedly knows that as well.

And it wasn't just to get enough delegates to disrupt the convention. Paul seems quite cognizant that any confrontations at or outside the convention hall would be counter-productive. (Paul supporters have reportedly been booing Romney backers at other party conventions, such as in Arizona and Oklahoma.)

For most of the past year, nearly every journalist who interviewed Paul felt compelled to ask him if his ultimate goal was to run as the Libertarian Party nominee (as he did once before, in 1988). Paul kept saying he had no "intention" to do so, but few believed him.

Everyone seemed to miss the obvious: It is all about the future of the Republican Party.

Paul says his campaign will not spend any money in the 11 states that haven't yet voted, and he won't. For one thing, he doesn't have the money. But he will be — and has been — packing county and state conventions with his supporters and electing Paul-friendly activists as delegates ... even if they are committed to voting for Romney in Tampa. "I hope all supporters of liberty will remain deeply involved," Paul wrote. "Become delegates, win office and take leadership positions." In Nevada, for example, 22 of the 25 at-large delegates selected at the recent state convention were all Ron Paul backers — even though Romney easily won the state in the February caucuses. (Former Gov. Bob List, a Romney delegate who lost his Republican national committeeman post to a Paul supporter, talked about the situation during last week's Junkie segment on TOTN. See below for link.) On Saturday in Minnesota, Paul supporters took 12 of the 13 national delegate positions that were at stake; he now has 32 of the state's 40 delegates pledged to him. Paul supporters have performed similarly in Maine. In Alaska, a Paul backer was elected state GOP chair.

Unless lightning strikes — and it won't — Romney will easily win the Republican nomination in Tampa on the first ballot. But many of those delegates in the hall will be Paul supporters, even if they are bound by party law to vote for Romney.

The convention, however, is only four days long. And November is right around the corner. Pretty soon, we'll be talking about 2014. And the presidential campaign of 2016. That's what is happening with the party conventions right now. It's not about 2012. It's about the future. And these "champions of liberty" may find themselves with a far bigger role than they do today.

James Abdnor dies. Former Sen. Jim Abdnor, a South Dakota Republican who ended George McGovern's Senate tenure in 1980, only to lose his seat six years later to Tom Daschle, died May 16 at the age of 89.

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

A longtime elected official — first as a member of the Legislature and later as lt. gov. — Abdnor won an open House seat in 1972, the same year McGovern challenged Richard Nixon for the presidency. Eight years later he took on McGovern himself, who was seeking a fourth Senate term. Riding a huge anti-liberal tide, with Ronald Reagan recapturing the White House for the GOP, Abdnor won by a 58-39 percent margin. A low-key lawmaker not known for his great oratory, he was challenged for renomination in 1986 by Gov. Bill Janklow, who called Abdnor too weak to hold the seat in November. Abdnor won the primary but narrowly lost to Rep. Thomas Daschle in the general election.

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Time for some questions from readers. The first two are in response to comments I made during the TOTN Junkie segment last Wednesday:

Q: Your position on recalls, specifically of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, kinda surprised me. The discussion — prompted by callers — seemed to turn on "did Walker change positions from his campaign?" (Also, did Walker even mention reversing decades-old bargaining rights in his campaign?). Your cavalier "so what? every candidate does it" response is neither helpful nor insightful. And your example of Obama's "close Guantanamo" position-reversal is instructive. While Gitmo certainly affects the lives and rights of detainees, Obama's reversal affects the lives and rights of very few Americans. Scott Walker's "reversal" (or unmentioned position) is a statewide issue with a very large constituency. His reversed (or brand-new — I would argue "hidden until after the election" agenda) impacts the working lives of many, even perhaps most Wisconsinites. Recall is an instrument — albeit blunt — at their disposal, and they should use it. — Bill Wilson, Los Angeles, Calif.

Similarly ...

Q: I understand being squeamish about recalls — I'm a California Democrat, after all! But consider this: Walker's failure to describe his policy on collective bargaining was a major deception on his part. It was not a conscientious change of heart come to after wrestling with unexpected issues in office, but rather an immediate line of attack, taken within weeks of his swearing in. One protection against frivolous recalls is having a very high bar for how many signatures are required to initiate one. Wisconsin certainly met this test. — Phyllis Meshulam, Sebastopol, Calif.

A: Both of you make valid points. My point was not that Wisconsin voters don't have the right to recall their elected officials, and I certainly wasn't judging their recourse or defending Walker's actions. But for Walker opponents to say the reason they are going ahead with the recall because the governor never talked about taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees during the campaign just seemed specious to me. Attempt to recall anyone you want, if the laws of that state allow it. There are many people in the Badger State absolutely furious with Walker's policies. But, at least in my way of looking at it, using "well, he never said he would do that during the campaign" as a justification just feels disingenuous.

For the most part, Democrats love, and Republicans detest, the gov. recall in Wisconsin.  Which is the opposite of how they saw the 2003 California recall.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
For the most part, Democrats love, and Republicans detest, the gov. recall in Wisconsin. Which is the opposite of how they saw the 2003 California recall.

And you know that if Walker is recalled on June 5, his supporters will attempt to recall Tom Barrett (D) at the next opportunity. That was the tit-for-tat mentality I fear the most, something we've watched on Capitol Hill for decades. (You voted to bring down Robert Bork? OK, we'll bring down Jim Wright. Or, you blocked Clinton's judges? OK, we'll block Bush's judges. You filibustered Bush's appointees? We'll filibuster Obama's appointees. Ad nauseum.)

Still, having said all that, in listening back to the program, it sounded as if I were dismissing the arguments for the Walker recall outright. That wasn't what I meant to do and I apologize if it came off that way.

Q: It is entirely possible that Mitt Romney might not win his state of Massachusetts in the general election. I believe Al Gore failed to win Tennessee when he ran in 2000. Who was the most recent presidential candidate from a major party who failed to win his own state in a general election? — Matt Potter, Ardmore, Pa.

A: For the purposes of your question, we'll count Massachusetts as Romney's home state, even though he was born in Michigan. (I'm using the same criteria for making Texas the home states of George Bush Sr. and Jr., even though they were born in Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively.) Thus, Gore would be the most recent example of a candidate who failed to win his home state. And, for the record, had he done so, he would have won the presidency.

Other examples in the past half-century: George McGovern (lost South Dakota in 1972), Richard Nixon (a resident of New York when he ran in 1968), and Adlai Stevenson (lost Illinois in both 1952 and '56).

Q: If Willard Mitt Romney is elected President, would he be the second President, along with Stephen Grover Cleveland, that would be primarily known by his middle name? Or have their been others? — James McKinstra, Aurora, Minn.

A: Here are three more since Cleveland: David Dwight Eisenhower, John Calvin Coolidge and Thomas Woodrow Wilson. And Gerald Ford, who was adopted, was born Leslie King Jr.

Q: How can I listen to Political Junkie on the internet? I live in San Diego, and I can't get the political junkie through my NPR local station. — Ernesto Mendoza, San Diego, Calif.

A: I assume you're talking about the Wednesday Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. It's usually available by 6 pm Eastern time the day of the show at http://www.npr.org/programs/talk-of-the-nation. The Junkie segment also can be heard on iTunes as a separate podcast. You can just go to the iTunes web site and subscribe to it there. But I also post the links on Twitter and my Facebook page.

Q: I so wish Jon Huntsman would become the presidential candidate for the Americans Elect movement. He is a Republican who makes sense. I was furious when I read that he was uninvited from attending a Republican fundraiser in Florida recently because of his views. Agree? — Roberta Brown, Santa Fe, N.M.

A: Huntsman made headlines when his invitation to speak before a GOP fundraiser in Florida was rescinded. His response: "This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script." That's a nice soundbyte, but there's more to the story than just speaking off script. Huntsman has been a bit critical of Mitt Romney as of late, which is fine, but he also said encouraging things about a third party. It's difficult, in my mind at least, to consider inviting someone to appear at a Republican fundraiser when he has been going around the country calling for a third party.

As for the Americans Elect movement, it is no longer. The group, which has spent some $35 million thus far with the goal of getting on all 51 ballots with an online convention-chosen centrist independent presidential candidate (and a VP candidate of the opposite party), was doing well with ballot access — they made it to 28 as of this week. But this week was also the group's deadline for coming up with a candidate, and it couldn't. The criteria: 10,000 online signatures. No one reached that number (former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer got 6,000), and the group says it is shutting down.

Edition 300 of the podcast. Well, we made it. The drug-induced experiment that began in 2006 — the weekly podcast entitled "It's All Politics" — had its 300th episode this week. To celebrate the occasion, Ron Elving, NPR's Senior Washington editor and my co-conspirator in the podcast, made a cake that had an outline of the state of Arizona on it, with the locale of Yuma singled out; what better way to acknowledge one of the six jokes I constantly use on the podcast?

As always, this week's episode discussed the current political events. But we also brought back some great moments of the past. And we read some of the wonderful tributes sent in from The Listener.

And speaking of The Listener, here are some more of the lovely notes that filled my in-box this week:

Ming Diaz:

Your formula keeps me glued to my work computer every week. In our facility there are co-workers who also listen and bring their "Did you get the one where Ken/Ron said...." into my lab or meetings. Thank you. No other media source comes close to the rapier wit, the direct and sharp poke, the dismissal and move on to the next target.

Emma Hollister:

What I love most about the podcast are all of the dorky political puns and jokes. They are usually the kind of terrible jokes my dad would make (I really mean that in a good way) and they make me chuckle and groan in turns. Thank you for all the chuckles and groans, the occasional stunned silence and full-on belly laugh. It's been a good first 300 episodes.

Laurie Larson:

Congratulations on the 300th podcast! I thought it was a lot more ... but I think that's because I listen twice to make sure I savor all the puns.

Ryan Cecil Smith:

You guys provide my favorite political conversation and bad humor every week. I hope you'll keep it up for 300 more.

Sean Walbeck:

My favorite moment is a selfish one — I pointed out in an e-mail Orrin Hatch's previous presidential run when Ron & Ken had forgotten it during a discussion of Mitt Romney's unique position of being a Mormon presidential candidate. My correction was not only noted in the next Podcast, but I was identified as The Listener! ... Meanwhile, about a month later, somebody else was named The Listener. How could you that to me, guys? I thought we had something beautiful here. I'm not enough Listener for you? Well, you're not losing me that easy, misters. I care enough about this relationship enough for the three of us, and if you stumble trying to find joy with other ears out there, you just know I'm here to take you back and listen, no judgment, until you realize the good thing you've got going here. We'll get through this rough patch together.


My favorite moment? The Eric Massa tickle scandal.

Simon Cheng:

I'm writing from Hangzhou, China. Believe it or not, I started to follow It's All Politics podcast from episode 5. Congratulations for making it this far and thank you guys for providing me with analysis and jokes about U.S. politics ... though, coming from a Chinese background, some of the jokes I never understood.

Maura Spiegelman:

Ken made a throw-away joke in a 2006 podcast that I still laugh when I think about it. I believe Ron was listing newly-elected Democratic senators, and Ken interrupted to add "Amy Keloheinu" to the list. There was no pause for laughter or even any acknowledgement of it, but I've thought about this joke every time I've heard a reference to Senator Amy Klobuchar in the past five and a half years. Well done.

Taylor Henninger:

My favorite thing about the podcast is that it always catches me up on the latest thing, so I don't have to subject myself to the cable news networks to find out about the most recent gaffe or engineered scandal. I can still be in-the-know around the water cooler without having to watch another purposeless hologram on CNN.

Barry Murphy:

Writing from Dublin, Ireland. I've been listening to the podcast for about 4 years now. Your style is about right - informative, erudite, irreverent and doesn't outstay its welcome. Keep up the good work.

Charles St. Onge:

I can't tell you how many times I get in the car, smile, and think: "there's a new episode of 'It's All Politics' on the iPod today!"

Janine Blaeloch:

It was when you hummed "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in mock-Donovan Leitch heavy vibrato. Hilarious! I have come to love your puns.

Jack Goodman:

I'm writing to let you know that I am The Listener, at least as far as Australia goes. I've been listening since podcast #1. I was so impressed with Ken's call predicting Ned Lamont would defeat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut. I had to wait for another 290 or so podcasts until Ron figured out the exact date when Rick Santorum would throw in the towel. At this rate, I'm guessing you guys will nail the 2018 mid-term elections. Looking forward to that one. P.S. My wife hates your podcast. She says it makes politics sound like a game or sport. Then again, she's Australian, and politics generally involves public blood-letting here.

Sam Blatt:

My favorite moment was when Ron said with absolute certainty that Rick Santorum would drop out at the beginning of the next week. I didn't think he would do it so soon, and I really thought Ron was wrong. When I heard the announcement, the first thing that I thought was, "Ron was right!" You guys are a great combination, and I've enjoyed listening to your podcast for the last couple of years. Keep it up!

Nathan Leitner:

Although I have only been religiously listening to your podcast since January of this year, I already have many fond memories of listening to It's All Politics — usually during slow Friday afternoons in the office or driving home for the weekend. Either way I'm generally left in stitches (harder to explain in the office than alone in a car) and a healthy dose of topical, political knowledge. But honestly, I probably would have been a much better student of political science had I had you two as professors and had I been such a NPR addict as an undergrad.

Paula Fitzgerald:

As for my favorite moment - that has to go back to the 2008 election, and the coverage of Sarah Palin. The Saturday Night Live coverage got all of the attention, as Tina Fey was so dead on. But the It's All Politics coverage was so much more incisive. I retired five years ago to San Diego, and happily have all the time in the world to indulge my obsession with politics. It's All Politics is so essential to that. Ron and Ken are so well versed, and so entertaining.

Tim O'Connor:

I've learned more about the political system listening to you for the last three or four years then I did in the proceeding 28. Keep up the great work. I promise to keep listening.

Once again, thanks to all who wrote. Thanks to NPR, for allowing Ron and me to blabber on each week for these past six years. Thanks to our long-suffering editor, Cathy Shaw, as well as the podcast producer, Brakkton Booker, as well as a shoutout to our podcast producers of the past: Evie Stone, Muthoni Muturi, Gisele Grayson, Tom Dreisbach and Kimberly Adams — who have made each episode a memorable one.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week focused on the issue of civil unions in Colorado, with special guest Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Ron Paul's delegate success in Nevada, with special guest former Gov. Bob List.

May 16 Junkie TOTN segment

In addition, we did a segment on Monday about opposition research, which you can listen to here.

opposition research segment

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Monday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!

Previous winner: Kevin Cross of Baltimore, Md.


May 22 — Primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky.

May 29 — Texas primary.

June 5 --Wisconsin gov. recall election. Also: primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota.

June 12 — Special election in Arizona's 8th CD to succeed Gabrielle Giffords (D), who resigned. Also: congressional primaries in Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia.

June 26 — Congressional primaries in Colorado, New York, Oklahoma and Utah.

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at politicaljunkie@npr.org.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: In the most expensive election in state history, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell wins the Democratic primary for governor of Pennsylvania, easily defeating state Auditor General Robert Casey Jr., whose late father had served as governor. The two spent a combined $30 million on the race.

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

Rendell, who beat Casey 56-44 percent, will face state Attorney General Mike Fisher (R) in November. Incumbent two-term Republican Tom Ridge is barred from running again. In a matchup between two sitting House Democrats thrown together because of redistricting, John Murtha clobbers Frank Mascara (May 21, 2002).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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