West Columbia, South Carolina—When I arrived at the airport hangar where Ron Paul was scheduled to hold his first South Carolina rally, my plan was to talk to attendees and photograph the area. After all, I was early to the event, and wanted to use my time productively. Unfortunately, I locked my keys in my car, and with them, my bag, my camera and my notebook. And so, instead of getting a head start on covering the event, I stood outside my car for 45 minutes—in the rain—waiting for a locksmith to come and correct my mistake.
By the time I got to the hangar, the event had already begun, and Ron Paul was midway into his by-the-numbers denunciation of the Federal Reserve, and his push for a return to “sound money.” The crowd—which fills a good portion of the hangar—loves it, and cheers for the policy, despite the fact that his approach would destroy their livelihoods and plunge the world into economic crisis.
Likewise, Paul also received big cheers for his promise to remove the United States from its international relationships. “We now have international government that’s very involved through environmental laws, education laws, institutions like the United Nations and the IMF—I strongly believe that we ought to adhere to the Constitution and not give up any sovereignty.” Given the extent to which Americans have unusual notions of how much the government spends on foreign aid, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see that audiences are enthusiastic when candidates promise to cut it.
With all that said, one of the great things about Ron Paul is that he attracts a surprisingly diverse group of people. After the event, as Paul was making his way through his crowd of admirers, I spoke to a few of them. Reuben Booker was one of the “Veterans for Paul” who attended the rally.
With four years in the Army, Booker is proud of his service, but he is against the GOP’s support for wars in Iran and elsewhere. Which is why he supports Ron Paul. “Whenever I hear Republican politicians bang the drum for the next war,” says Booker, “I worry that they don’t have the best interest of soldiers at heart.” Booker is a registered Republican, but he also admires Democrats—like Dennis Kucinich—who take an anti-war stance.
Booker is also African-American, and is self-aware about the fact that he is a minority in Republican circles. I asked him about his thoughts on Ron Paul’s newsletters—which seem to condone, if not support, racism—and he took a nuanced approach. “I understand that they contain things that you might call racist, but as far as Ron Paul goes, you can’t be for liberty and racist against minorities. He’s for individuals,” Booker said, “And if you go back to the debates, you see that he’s against the drug war and other policies that are unfair to minorities.”
I asked another supporter about this as well, and he gave a similar answer. “Scrutiny is fair for all of the candidates, and he probably should have had better oversight. But to go a step further and say that he’s racist? That’s not fair”, said Trevor Tiesson, a Canadian who can’t vote in the election, but was willing to “cross the border” to help Paul.
In other words, Ron Paul’s explanation for his newsletter seems to sit well with his supporters, even if it’s less persuasive among liberals and progressives.
As for Ron Paul’s chances in the South Carolina primary? It’s hard to say that he will be successful. Unlike Iowa, and to a larger degree than New Hampshire, South Carolina has a strong establishment bent, despite its right-wing politics. Ron Paul’s message of small government and states’ rights certainly appeals in the home state of John C. Calhoun, but that’s not enough for him to eke out a win. Still, with he’s in a strong position than he was four years ago, and it will be interesting to see how he performs on primary day.