Once Ron Paul is knocked out of the GOP contest, what will become of his supporters? Will they dissipate, gravitate towards someone else, or reemerge with a third party bid? Whichever way the Paulites go, other candidates would be smart to study their movement's trajectory. Like the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, or the McCarthy campaign in 1968, the Paul campaign could be most important for its ability awaken and define a new generation of political citizens.
Since I expressed that idea in my Apostles of Paul feature yesterday, many Paul supporters have contacted me to insist that that the real story is Paul's serious chance of victory. They point to thecaseforronpaul.com, which, among other things, discounts Paul's abysmal showing in phone polls by arguing that young people use cell phones and new voters aren't on call lists. In 2004, supporters of Howard Dean, who placed much better in those phone polls to begin with, made the same case. I'd say it's a weak argument.
The campaign's strange optimism is abetted by the belief in a rather unique mainstream media conspiracy. Paulites neither accept the leftist narrative that the media is controlled by the purse strings of CEOs, nor the right-wing notion that all reporters at latte liberals. Although they probably lean a bit more towards the latter, they despise Fox News. Where is this leading us? For the moment to Digg and exclusively Paulite organs such as dailypaul.com. Everybody else is compromised.
What makes all of this interesting is the way it illustrates and reinforces the political naivete of Paul supporters. They have often never volunteered for a political campaign or even voted. Unlike campaigners for Ralph Nader, or even past Libertarian Party candidates, they are deluded enough to think they can win. And that sets them up for the kind of post-election disillusionment that could send them back into their shells.
The long-term relevance of the Paulites will depend on their ability to join or create more enduring institutions. The libertarian magazine Reason would be a natural home (see their curmudgeonly discussion of our libertarian timeline) as would the more radical LewRockwell.com. The Paulites have often been called "Paultards" for their tendency swarm other blogs and plaster them with robotic slogans. But other Paul supporters have legitimately enlivened dialogs on this site and other general interest political blogs. It would be interesting if a few Paulites made more permanent homes there.