GOP Maverick Paul Shunned in SpartanburgSubmitted by retrorepublican on Thu, 07/05/2007 - 18:33
Like a gunslinger from the Old West, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul hasn't backed down from a fight - even though the fight, at times, backs down from him.
When Paul, a Texas congressman, defended an explanation of the 9/11 attacks known as "blowback" - that American intervention in foreign affairs as far back as 1953 was, in part, a catalyst for the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil a half-century later - at the GOP debate in Columbia this year, the crowd seethed.
Paul's position prompted an indignant response from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who received rounds of applause. It was one of the few heated debate moments so far.
But when Spartanburg County Republican Party Chairman Rick Beltram left Columbia that night, he decided he'd heard enough of Paul's largely libertarian views. He decided to boycott Paul from any future county party events.
"He can stay home," said Beltram, who for months held that this county would welcome all Republican candidates.
"Well, the door's closed for him."
Paul, 71, is used to being excluded because of his views.
In 1988, he was the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate. The 10-term congressman has voted against such championed Republican causes as the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. And because of his different philosophical points of view, Paul has contributed more varied responses to the discussion amongst Republican candidates than other lesser-knowns, like former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson or former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Even though Paul typically polls between 1 percent and 2 percent nationally in the race for the GOP nomination, he left the Columbia debate ranked second by a Fox News text-message poll.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was first, four points ahead of Paul with 29 percent of that vote. Giuliani was third with 19 percent.
Of the 10 declared Republican candidates, Paul and Thompson are the only two who have not visited Spartanburg at least once.
Paul plans to visit anyway
But despite what Beltram says, the Paul campaign is planning visits across the Palmetto State, including the Upstate.
"South Carolinians are a little slow to embrace what Ron is saying about foreign policy. And those are good things, that South Carolinians are loyal and love their country," said Jesse Benton, a spokesman for the Paul camp.
But "it's a phenomenon around the country that people are starting to wake up to. Even the most loyal conservatives who want to stay loyal to the president are starting to realize that this war is a folly. The people of South Carolina who elected President Bush did so on a humble foreign policy, where we don't police the world."
As for Beltram's boycott: "It's a little bit of a shame. The county party apparatus is there to help Republicans hear from all the candidates. For them to start selecting out candidates at this point is premature and not the proper course of action," Benton said.
"Ron and Rick Beltram would have a lot to talk about."
Paul is an advocate for low taxes and less government, and he's against abortion.
And this is a state that put Mark Sanford, who also has been described as libertarian-leaning, first in Congress and then twice in the Governor's Mansion.
"The governor and Congressman Paul voted together a number of times in Congress," Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer stated in an e-mail to the Herald-Journal. But "the governor is staying out of the primary, and isn't going to get into talking about what individual candidates are saying in these forums."
Paul's positions on immigration - he is against amnesty, and is adamant about securing America's borders - and opposition to free-trade agreements should play well here, too, said 25-year-old Gary Coats, a Paul supporter who also favors Sanford.
"He is consistently trying to shrink the government, or prevent the government from becoming more powerful, and to give the states their rights," Coats, of Boiling Springs, said.
Beyond traditional Republican limited-government beliefs, though, Paul also calls extraneous most federal departments created in the last century - including the Department of Energy, the Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security.
And he's sticking to his guns about 9/11 and blowback:
"Giuliani was demagoguing the issue and was trying to claim I was unpatriotic by finding out why people are anxious to harm us. I think logical people would say, 'That makes a lot of sense to me.' You need to find motives why people kill. If you're looking for a murderer, you always look for the motive," Paul said in a phone interview this week.
And despite being well behind in the polls - and fundraising - Paul is counting on a solid philosophic base turning out to support him in South Carolina.
"People have been converted to these views because they instinctively know they're right, and they believe in the Constitution," he said. "The people in South Carolina have that instinct, and they elected somebody who is very libertarian, and I think those people will automatically gravitate toward our campaign."
Cold shoulder from county party
In Spartanburg, though, Paul will have to seek out those people without the assistance of the county party.
"I'm not going to extend him an invitation to come here because he has managed to insult and in many ways abuse Republican activists with his strident lingo. When he attacked Bush, that we created 9/11 - that's an absolute lunatic talking," Beltram said.
"I can't put up walls to keep him out, but I don't have to invite him here to a county function."
Paul says that won't stop him.
"It's the control by the political establishment to want to exclude the viewpoints, which many people consider telling the truth, and that's sort of a reflection of people like (Beltram). They don't want to hear it, so the best thing to do is exclude it," he said.
"But there's a limit as to how much they can do to silence us."