Pretty soon, the media will finally have to admit that Ron Paul is going to play a major role in the selection of a GOP candidate. Leading in Iowa does that for a guy.
This is a nightmare for the GOP establishment.
I have been predicting this surge to anybody who would listen with a straight face for some time. I argued that it was only a matter of time before Paul’s message began to resonate within the “new” GOP base.
The Tea Party almost singlehandedly restored energy to a depleted party, devoid of any real platform or leadership. In turn, these grass-roots activists are given the choice between a human windsock that brought government involvement to health care and a politician-for-life narcissist. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney seem like some guys the Tea Party would rather tar and feather than help put in office.
Although most establishment Republicans, and most pundits, have dismissed the recent polls showing Paul in the lead in Iowa as an anomaly, his consistently decent showings, combined with the timing of his rises in Iowa and New Hampshire, lead me to think that he will come to be one of two things: a serious contender for the GOP nomination, or one of the greatest political spoilers in recent political history.
Paul’s position in Iowa, and appeal, is based on two things: Authenticity, and a promise of change.
If you asked most establishment pundits what Ron Paul’s biggest weakness is, I would venture a guess that a good portion of them would point to his willingness to articulate fringe positions very, very publicly. Or, in another way of looking at it, he refuses to play the game; his authenticity overwhelms any political discretion he may have.
When Paul says things like, “How many people here would use heroin if it was legal, I bet nobody would put up their hand … I don’t want to use heroin so I don’t need these laws,” people see the “Uncle Ron” version of Ron Paul, an excitable but well-meaning fringe character. This portrayal wouldn’t be accepted if it were any other candidate, but because he is so despised by the old guard in the GOP, it continues.
But why this candidate has been deemed less electable than the other hopelessly flawed candidates is beyond me. It is ridiculous that the guy who consistently espouses the most fundamentally conservative positions during a time when the GOP base desires both extreme measures and consistency is written off as “not serious.”
In fact, not only is it ridiculous, it is arrogant. If Ron Paul had the backing of the GOP establishment, there would be hell to pay for the frequent dismissals of him. The party operatives would be shrieking about media bias, and they would be right. Regardless of his sustained success in polls and fundraising, he is consistently dismissed as a second-tier candidate by the national media, emboldened by the attacks or lack of response from establishment Republicans.
Because of this dismissal, there has been almost no attention paid in the national media to Paul’s platform. If you look at it, it is the one platform that aligns most closely with the new Republican base.
The Paul platform: change — lots of change
Regardless of how one feels about Ron Paul’s politics, there is no question that he represents real change. In fact, if there were a continuum of potential change, Ron Paul would be at one pole, with the status quo on the other side.
He wants to withdraw from NATO, NAFTA, the WTO and the UN, eliminate income and estate taxes, the Federal Reserve and the departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Interior and Housing and Urban Development. This is just the beginning of it.
Regardless of what one thinks of these policies, they would certainly bring about major changes if enacted.
This is Paul’s appeal to the new GOP base.
While the GOP has expertly manipulated high-energy voters (Karl Rove’s manipulation of Christian conservatives) before, they were nothing like the Tea Party. If you haven’t noticed, these people aren’t exactly docile. Where the rest of the GOP is like a flock of sparrows turning in unison to obey the party’s leadership, courting the Tea Party is like guiding a massive pride of lions — not only can you not herd them, you better not even turn your back.
The Tea Party didn’t blink when it came to threatening default, and they sure aren’t going to blink at throwing away an election, especially if the choice is between Barack Obama and Obama-lite. Paul offers truly principled conservatives a candidate that they don’t have to hold their nose to vote for.
Who are these people?
In the Tea Party-induced froth that followed the passage of Obama’s health-care act, it became clear that this was a populist reaction to the perceived overreach of government. The door to politics got busted down, and the stream of people that came pouring through are just the type of people who are getting behind Paul in Iowa.
Populist movements are often strange assortments of unlikely bedfellows, people who normally haven’t been involved in politics and the fringe of the establishment.
These are Ron Paul’s people. And in Iowa, they are starting to coalesce into a movement.
Basing an Iowa strategy, much less a national strategy, on this melting pot of political misfits is risky and unorthodox, but what else would you expect from Ron Paul?
Jordan Hansen is a student, musician and writer from St. Paul. He also curates MinnPost’s Minnesota Blog Cabin. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanBHansen