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The Republicans were coming! In lieu of eating pizza with Herman Cain, we popped in on a Ron Paul confab, looked for the sequestered bobbing heads of protest outside of the convention center and figured out that – surprise! – conservatives are talking about Jesus weather again. We were blown away.

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To most voters, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is an eccentric loser. The libertarian candidate’s policy positions mortally offend The Left (he wants to abolish practically all government assistance), aren’t bloodthirsty enough for The Right (he wants immediate military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan) and are simply too insane for The Center (he wants to abolish FEMA, the TSA, the SEC and practically every other government agency you can think of). Yet at the end of last month, Paul was polling in third place behind Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, which may partly be due to the work of his (in)famously tireless and outspoken supporters. These disciples of Paul – whom at one point we labeled “Paultards” – coalesced in Ballroom G of the Rosen Centre Hotel on Sept. 23, which was also day two of the Presidential 5 conservative bonfire out in touristan. Perhaps not coincidentally, Paul and his followers were assigned to the ballroom at the very end of the hall.

After the impish Paul took the stage to thunderous applause and ear-splitting whistling, he served the crowd some traditional Republican red herring – “Do we need tyrants? Do we need to be totally dependent?” – before easing into the main course: the Utopia of Paul, with a side of Social Darwinism. “Yes, there’ll be discrepancy [in wealth],” he said. “This is what bugs a lot of people. In a free society, some people may be more effective, and more efficient and produce more. But you know, as long as somebody becomes wealthy in a free society by serving the consumer, and getting no special benefits from the government or anybody else, we shouldn’t resent people making money under those conditions.” More applause and hooting. We scanned the room for any wheelchair-bound war vets who may have been thinking of a way to get off the government check and produce, goddammit, but alas, none were present.

Naturally, Paul’s disciples – such as 33-year-old Silas Barr, who sat next to us during the speech – rejected the notion that Paul wasn’t the frontrunner in the presidential race. “Is that according to real people, or are you talking about the people on TV, in the boxes?” challenged Barr, conspiratorially. We considered our own reality, then, after the speech, managed to get a sound byte from the Campaign for Liberty’s Mark Cross, whom we’re told will soon be Paul’s Florida campaign manager. “The big difference this year [as opposed to 2008, when Paul also ran for president] is the excitement,” Cross said. “You saw the crowd. Ron Paul is a rock star.”

Certainly, packed in that humid air of admiration for nearly an hour, we were starting to think that perhaps this twiggy-armed nerd had done some heavy lifting and could seriously challenge the varsity football jocks of the Republican Party. But cold water awaited supporters outside Ballroom G – in the midst of gushing over President Paul, Thom DiGirolamo spotted a group of 30-something Ken Dolls strutting purposefully along, their suit coats sporting elephant lapel pins. “Here we go,” DiGirolamo coaxed. “Any Ron Paul fans?” he asked. “No sir,” one replied without bothering to turn around. Then, the back of his colleague’s head delivered the punch line: “We’re Republicans.”The men’s bodies shook with rancorous laughter, and DiGirolamo was left to smile tightly.

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