The Ron Paul Universe was turned upside down this afternoon, with the news that Paul will not compete in the remaining Republican primaries, and instead focus on picking up delegates at district and state conventions. The announcement is the closest Paul has come to conceding defeat. But Paul’s campaign chairman Jesse Benton insists that it does not mean he is dropping out of the race.
“No, not at all,” campaign manager Jesse Benton said, when we asked if today’s news meant the race was over. “We will focus all of our resources on winning delegates and party leadership positions.”
In many ways, today’s statement is merely the formal acknowledgment of a strategy that has actually been in place for several weeks. Paul and his advisors have known for some time that it would be virtually impossible for the candidate to win the nomination, and have focused the bulk of their efforts on promoting Paul’s movement at the local and state party level.
“We’ve know this was coming for a long time,” senior campaign advisor Doug Wead said of today’s announcement. “It was a signal to the forces in the field — we have to concentrate our resources and primaries would require huge amounts of time and money.”
According to Wead, the decision to stop competing in the primaries was the result of a combination of factors, but was “primarily driven” by the surprising success of the campaign’s delegate strategy, which has netted Paul a disproportionate number of RNC delegates at state conventions across the country.
“We are in the process of remaking the Republican Party — and it has been more successful than we ever expected,” Wead told Business Insider. “It is truly a movement.”
But not everyone in Paul Land is down with the new program. Crushed Paul fans flooded the Ron Paul blogosphere with reactions that ranged from disgust to denial and disbelief that Paul would ever betray his loyal army this way. Perhaps predictably, a few media conspiracy theories are already starting to gain some traction among Paul’s online following.
The backlash underscores a tension between the Paul campaign and its grassroots supporters that has been quietly simmering since the Texas Congressman’s 2008 presidential campaign. While it may be hard for the uninitiated to believe, there is a cadre of Ron Paul hardliners who still believe their man could be president, and who have no aspirations about changing the party Establishment.
“It is passionate, and it is heartbreaking to have to deal with reality,” Wead said. “And like all political movements of this nature, there are different degrees of commitment and passion.”
Several media reports have speculated that Paul’s announcement today is an attempt to further distance the candidate from his grassroots base, noting the increasingly contentious delegate battles between Paul and Romney supporters. In Arizona on Saturday, the Romney campaign accused Paul supporters of booing the candidate’s son, Josh Romney, and the Paul delegates countered that Romney’s people refused to compromise and even turned off the air conditioning at the convention to literally sweat out Paul’s people. Tensions were similarly high in Oklahoma, where Paul delegates accused their Romney counterparts of turning off the lights, and forcing unreliable voice votes.
Wead denies today’s announcement signifies any lack of support for Paul’s grassroots activists, and rejects the idea that the campaign has somehow ‘lost control’ of its supporters. Instead, he said, the decision to stop campaigning in the primaries signals that Paul’s campaign has decided to put all of its resources behind state-level party activists.
“There is nothing but admiration and love for the people in the field,” Wead told BI. “They have stuck it out and they are winning.”
On a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, Paul’s political director Jesse Benton said that the potential disappointment among Paul’s supporters “weighed very heavily” on the candidate.
“I hope by being so open and laying out our strategy, we hope that that keeps our supporters from feeling abandoned,” he said.
But he also said that the campaign does not have high expectations for its May 17 moneybomb fundraiser.