Lessons from Ron Paul's Leadership Failures

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In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the ghost of Yoda tells the aging Luke Skywalker that one's own failures are the greatest lesson a teacher can pass on to a student. I completely agree with that lesson. I never sat around over tea and had an honest discussion with the libertarian legend, Congressman Ron Paul, but I was a volunteer with a rank and duties in the campaign, and I campaigned for him in multiple states. The whole time, I kept my eyes and ears open for years so I could pass on these lessons.

Nothing I'm about to say is a rejection or a condemnation of Dr. Paul. I write these criticisms so we can learn, improve, and never let these mistakes drag the libertarian movement down again.

Nothing can understate my admiration for Dr. Paul--the man, his work, and his message. Let me be the first to argue that the world is unmistakably a better place because of the work he's done. That being said, I believe his own leadership failures are ultimately what hindered his chances of being President of the United States. The same issues also undermined the rest of us. If people are shocked or mortified to be reading this, then they've fallen victim to their own ideal illusions of their heroes they see on TV.  Remember, human beings are fallible.

Now here's what he did wrong.

The racist newsletters

The first failure was lending his name so liberally to the corporation that published libertarian-leaning newsletters in his name. Dr. Paul was a Congressman at the time and not involved in writing the newsletters. Nonetheless, articles were published in his name that included some appalling comments that were very racist and therefore highly collectivist.

There's no excuse for the hyperbole of blaming black men for "racial terrorism" in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, nor that order was only restored when the time came to pick up their welfare checks. Anyone spending more than five minutes reading Murray Rothbard's commentaries on police brutality and black liberation, or retired LAPD Detective Mike Rothmiller's book about witnessing and participating in police brutality and corruption that specifically targeted black men in South Los Angeles, would know that the LA Riots were a domestic form of blowback, and ultimately the fault of the government.

We in the campaign had to answer directly to voters over this stupidity. I had the honor of being one of 250 Youth for Paul volunteers selected to campaign for him in Iowa for the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Hearing Fox News blare endlessly about the issue was infuriating.  We knew Dr. Paul's record of helping people on the basis of their humanity, not their skin color. That includes but isn't limited to pro bono OB/GYN treatment for black and Latino citizens and Vietnamese refugees. Nonetheless, Ron Paul let a group of good ol' boys in Alabama run their typewriters about black Americans on multiple instances between 1992 and 1996, and it came back to bite him.

I still recall how embarrassed I felt as I explained all this to a black Republican voter in Cedar Rapids who immediately brought up the issue. She was very gracious and maybe she believed me. But I could tell by the look on her face, the emotional impression of Paul was already imprinted in her mind. Ben Shapiro loves to say that "facts don't care about your feelings", but it's even more true that voters' feelings don't care about your facts.

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(Image: trolling Romney supporters at an Iowa caucus site. 2012.)

Nepotism

The second failure was nepotism. There's nothing wrong with hiring relatives per se, if those relatives are extremely competent at their jobs. That's not necessarily the case here, as the think tank Campaign for Liberty was fundraising in Ron Paul's name. Much of that money was used to create political jobs in C4L, the Ron Paul congressional campaign, or other pro-Paul PACs, generously pre-packaged with high pay and little-or-no real work involved. These jobs were created for his daughter, his grandson, his daughter’s mother-in-law, his granddaughter, his grandson-in-law, and other friends and relatives. Most of these gigs paid between $48,000 and $100,000 a year.

The absolute worst case of nepotism was allowing his grandson-in-law Jesse Benton to be his 2012 campaign manager. While Ron Paul was known as an insurgent within the Republican Party, Jesse Benton was introduced to the Paul camp by friends of the neoconservative Senator Mitch McConnell. (Yes, I'm implying that the Paul camp was infiltrated by the Republican establishment.) Jesse Benton's tenure as campaign manager is filled with too many boondoggles, but one stands out above all the rest.

This isn't a rumor, this is documented fact and now part of the public record. Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign manager Jesse Benton was convicted in a federal court for bribery and attempting to conceal campaign expenses. Jesse Benton, campaign consultant Dimitri Kesari, and Campaign for Liberty president John Tate pleaded guilty and were convicted in 2015 along with the Republican state senator Kent Sorenson. Early in the 2012 cycle, Sorenson was bribed for $73,000 to drop his support of the candidate Michele Bachmann and instead support Ron Paul. The Republican state senator reportedly said on the phone to Bachmann, "Everybody in Iowa sells out. Why shouldn't I?" 

What's worse is that so many Ron Paul supporters dug deep to be able to donate whatever few dollars they could to the Ron Paul "Money Bomb" fundraisers. We know at least $73,000 of our donations went to bribing a corrupt politician, and Sorenson is just the idiot who got caught. Lord only knows who else's pockets our money went into. Ron Paul didn't do these things, but I simply can't believe someone so proactive and aware of what's going on in the world as him could also be completely blind to what his senior lieutenants were up to.

Dr. Paul was responsible for his subordinate commanders just as Dwight Eisenhower was responsible for the wild behavior of General Patton. Perhaps if his campaign wasn't weighed down with corrupt neoconservatives, he would have become the Republican nominee for the Presidency.

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Collaborating with the GOP after August 2012

The third of Ron Paul's leadership failures was bending the knee and working with the Republican establishment that blatantly cheated him out of the nomination. Republican state parties stripped Ron Paul delegates of their credentials, had Ron Paul delegates removed from convention halls and arrested for trespassing, then there was the incident at the National Convention with the Rules committee, not to mention Ron Paul delegates being trapped on the 'bus to nowhere'. The 2012 Republican National Convention should have been Dr. Paul's moment to leave the party that worked so hard to sink him.

I give major credit to the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus for bringing him back to our ranks, even if only unofficially. That being said, Dr. Paul ignored the mass exodus of his own fanatical supporters--his grass roots cadre--into the Libertarian Party in 2012. Instead, he endorsed the totally unknown Ted Cruz for the Senate. I wasn't there, but my spider sense tells me Ron and/or Rand Paul made a backroom deal with Ted where, if elected, the freshman Senator from Texas would turn around and endorse Rand Paul for the presidency in 2016. Well, that never happened.

Ron and Rand Paul endorsed a half-assed fiscal conservative in the face of a progressive boogeyman. In my book that equates to betraying libertarian principles in order to support the lesser of two evils. It was Dr. Paul's own political consultant, the brilliant Mike Rothfeld, who taught me that supporting the lesser of two evils is still supporting evil. People who are 'fiscally conservative' but still support laws regulating moral choices or lifestyle choices, aren't even "classical liberals" let alone libertarians. Supporting the lesser of two evils has never gotten us libertarians anywhere.

Ted Cruz quoted just enough of the Constitution and enough sexy phrases by the Founding Fathers to vacuum up Rand Paul's supporters. (This is the man who lost despite being convinced that the Holy Spirit personally approved his bid for the presidency.)  I believe, based on the chin of events, that helping Ted Cruz in 2012 destroyed Rand's chances of advancing to the Republican top tier in 2016. Then Donald Trump became the nominee.

For the sake of supporting the "constitutionalist enough" candidate, America got neither the Diet Coke constitutionalist nor the libertarian Republican. Instead, the Republican nominee was the man who started a tariff war with China, increased military spending in Afghanistan, banned bumpstocks, started deporting Cuban refugees back to communism, and yells at the Federal Reserve for not expanding the debt bubble enough with lower interest rates. 

Final thoughts

Ron Paul's 2012 campaign goals were very clear: abolish the Federal Reserve, bring all our troops home, cut one trillion dollars in federal spending in the first year, and drag the government into compliance with the Constitution. With the exception of electing Amash and Massie, working with the Republicans has largely undermined Ron Paul's goals.

All too often libertarians compromise on their goals and principles for what they think will get them ahead on the short term. That's the biggest mistake we could make. Sometimes building a movement with an effective corps of activists and cadres takes time. The Libertarian Party is consistently growing ever since the Republicans drove the libertarians out of the party during and immediately after 2012. It might take ten years to build up a party and political movement that commands the resources Ron Paul had during his peak in early 2012. So be it.

I'm thankful to Dr. Paul for everything he's done for human freedom. Had I not read his book The Revolution: A Manifesto, I never would have found my mission for human freedom. Had it not been for his campaign and the experiences I had in it, I wouldn't have some of the friends I do today in the global libertarian movement.

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(Image: some of the Libertarian Party of Nevada's 2018 candidates, plus my friend who argues with people online)

 

If you believe I'm wrong or mistaken about anything, feel free to address it directly with me at zach.foster@lpnevada.org