Why Ron Paul Still Runs

John McCain may have clinched the Republican nomination on March 4, but for Ron Paul and his 800,000-strong army of supporters, the GOP primary isn't over ... at least not yet. Seventeen days and two primaries later, the Texas congressman is vowing to continue his campaign. In fact, he tells NEWSWEEK that his candidacy is "indefinite" and says that--unless the Arizona senator drastically alters his campaign platform--McCain can forget about a Ron Paul endorsement.

Paul, with a mere 14 (or 42, depending on who's counting) delegates in his column, cannot possibly overtake McCain for the nomination; the GOP front runner has well over the 1,191 delegates needed to secure his party's mantle. A March 7 speech in which Paul admitted that "victory in the conventional political sense is not available in the presidential race" led many media outlets to report his withdrawal. But what they missed was what Paul went on to say: that he does "still encourage all efforts to gain the maximum number of votes and delegates in all the remaining primaries." Flagging pols typically run into fund-raising hurdles, but thanks to massive online fund-raising efforts, Paul still has a hefty war chest. As of the end of last month, he still had more than $5 million in the bank. In Paul's view, he's in second place: his campaign Web site displays a graphic of the 11 original GOP candidates, nine of whom have big red X's drawn across their faces ("There were 11. Now there are two", reads the caption).

Paul spoke to NEWSWEEK's Sarah Elkins about why he keeps campaigning, his qualms about McCain and his thoughts about Ralph Nader. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: At this point, the most obvious question is: why are you still doing it? Life on the trail is exhausting, and John McCain has already won the Republican nomination. What keeps you going out there?
Ron Paul:
First off, I don't really feel exhausted at all. There were certainly times when I was [exhausted], when there were six or eight or 10 primaries to campaign for. But right now I feel really rested because I came back to Texas and paid attention to my congressional race, which we won easily with 70 percent of the vote [Paul won the GOP nomination, and does not face a Democratic opponent this fall]. So I had time to rest and rethink things, and I feel really good about [the race]. Right now, out of 11 [original Republican presidential] candidates, I'm still out there. We have time and we're still in the race, picking up delegates here and there, and the troops are still very enthusiastic ... I think what I've done over the years is different from other people running for office, because most of the time people run for only one reason, which is to win a political office. They go out and they take polls and figure out what they need to say because the goal of winning comes before anything else. In my case, winning is important, but I need to win on principles that are important to me. If I win on other peoples' principles, I lose.

OK, but at some point you've got to think "enough is enough." When do you decide it's time to throw in the towel?
I will keep campaigning for as long as people are supporting me and the money is there and that's what they want. I feel badly about just quitting. We have 30,000 voters on our list in Pennsylvania, and if I just quit tomorrow--and people can make a case for that: how long should I do this?--I would feel badly. I would feel as though I had let them down. So for me, it's indefinite.

You said earlier that your "troops" are still very enthusiastic, but they've got to be at least somewhat discouraged. What seems to be the general mood among your supporters right now?
It's a mixed bag. I would say 95 percent are just happy with what we've done and continue to do. Of course, others are discouraged and say, "Well, we should have done better, we should have done better," but the rest are so energetic. They say we should keep going and they almost believe some kind of miracle is going to happen [laughs]. I try to keep them grounded in reality. But we are going to the convention, and my job is to tell [my supporters] not to be discouraged. For me, I never expected any of this to happen a year ago. I'd say overall it's been 100 times more successful than I ever dreamed.

You mention going to the convention. Is that something you are definitely expecting to do?
Yeah, sort of. I never thought it was about to happen, actually. I've always assumed it was not likely. But I think from the [Republican Party's] viewpoint, it couldn't hurt them. It would be wise on their part to give me a little time at the convention--what would it hurt to let me talk about monetary policy? I would be polite, and that is an important issue, especially given that the dollar is on the ropes.

Will you encourage your supporters to back McCain in the general election?
I'm not going to tell them what to do, but I honestly can't imagine any of them supporting him. That would be a tough sale. The odds of him all of a sudden coming to one of our rallies and being cheered on are not very high.

You doubt your supporters will vote for McCain, but it's generally political protocol for someone in your position to endorse the party's nominee. Will you throw your weight behind McCain?
I think that's very unlikely. The analogy I've used is that Goldwater led a movement, but that didn't mean that every Goldwater person later voted for Nixon. The Goldwater people backed Reagan. You don't have to support people who you don't believe in just because they are in the party ... But as far as at least being cordial, [McCain and I] served in the House together, and in the debates he would concede some things on monetary policy or inflation and say, "You know, I agree with Ron on this." On a personal basis we are always very civil. The most you can do is be cordial with people. And maybe if he changed his ways, I would [support him]--if he all of a sudden changed his stance on things like the war and monetary issues and McCain-Feingold [the campaign-finance law].

Many of your supporters are first time voters or people who might not ordinarily associate themselves with the GOP. Do you think the Republican Party will succeed in bringing these voters into the fold come November?
Well, [my supporters] are quite willing to work within the Republican Party, except they are not really always welcome. The fact is there are a lot of people who support me who are not members of the Republican Party. They are independents and they are the swing vote.

A number of conservative pundits and hard-line Republicans have said they won't support McCain in the general election. How do you view these claims, and how do you think they will impact party unity?
I've always dealt in a world of principles. That's the most important thing. Unity is a good thing, but if you have someone who is willing to compromise everything they believe in for the sake of [party] unity or victory, well, is that really the only thing that counts? I don't believe in that at all.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are engaged in a real political soap opera. Have you been following the Democratic race, and what is your take on it?
I follow it, I'm interested in it. But I don't dwell on it because, from my viewpoint, there is no real philosophical difference between the two [candidates]. I find it rather strange that so much animosity can be stirred up between two individuals who believe the same things. And the whole race issue bewilders me because we are talking about two Democrats who are not in the least bit racist. And yet race has become an issue, mostly stirred up by the media, who love this stuff.

Ralph Nader is a candidate who, not unlike yourself, campaigns outside of the mainstream. What are your thoughts on his entering the race?
I think it's fine. It's interesting. I think he represents some of the Democratic principles better than the Democratic candidates themselves. And I actually believe him when he says he doesn't want this war. Even though I disagree with him on some other issues, at least he stands for what he believes in. But he will be marginalized--he won't be able to get into the debates, because we don't have a true democracy in this country. The two parties are essentially the same, and a Libertarian candidate, a Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader--they are going to get nothing. Unless of course they are Ross Perot and have $10 billion, in which case they put you right in front on TV. The media isn't really interested in issues, they are more interested in notoriety.