After playing his usual punching bag role in last night’s Republican debate, Ron Paul found himself surrounded by his most devoted and fervent friends on Sunday afternoon.
The occasion was Paul’s keynote address at the annual convention of the Free State Project, a group of libertarians who are essentially trying to colonize New Hampshire. The group’s goal is to convince 20,000 people to move to the state within five years. Others have pledged to follow the initial settlers if the 20,000 threshold is met.
Paul, who was preceded at the podium by the President of the John Birch Society, entered to a raucous standing ovation and spoke for about 45 minutes.
“You’re a good crowd,” he told the 400 or so Free Staters crammed into a conference room at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Nashua.
“You’re a good candidate,” one of them shouted back, sparking yet another standing ovation.
At another point, Paul began preaching his gospel of foreign policy non-intervention. When he paused, one of the Free Staters exclaimed, “The Prime Directive!”—an apparent reference to Star Trek.
After his speech, he exited the stage quickly and without working the audience, retreating to a conference room that was heavily fortified by a half-dozen bulky campaign volunteers—who, after a little persuasion, let me in to talk to the candidate.
Asked what would constitute success for him in Tuesday primary, Paul said, “Better than we did in Iowa,” where he notched 10 percent and came in fifth place.
I asked whether he thinks he had an adequate chance to explain his views on Iraq and international affairs during last night’s debate, where Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney routinely interrupted and castigated him. Paul shrugged it off.
“I’m not surprised that the status quo is defended by the party,” he said. “They get locked in—even though when Clinton did the same thing in foreign policy, they condemned everything he did. And now all of a sudden they feel like they have to be blindly loyal to the party position and they can’t use good judgment.”
If he’s not the nominee, I asked, which of his fellow G.O.P. candidates would he prefer to see nominated?
None of them, he said—”not unless they change.”
“They subtly change a little bit of their tone,” Paul explained. “But a major change to convince me that they believe what George W. Bush believed in 2000? He talked about not [intervening overseas] and condemned Clinton. Somebody would have to talk like that and be believable.”