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Ron Paul: contender or spoiler?

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.

GOP Poll Iowa
Graphic by Jordan Hansen

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.

Ron Paul dominates the rest of the field among independents and voters age 18-45
Graphic by Jordan Hansen
Ron Paul dominates the rest of the field among independents and voters age 18-45

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

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/22/2011 - 07:06 am.

    Dr.Paul has a ceiling of support which will prevent him from coming close to winning the nomination. But it’s too late to hurt him much so I don’t see his support eroding.

    I do admire him for being the only guy up there who has the guts or insanity to point out the elephants in the room.

  2. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/22/2011 - 09:08 am.

    “emboldened by the attacks or lack of response from establishment Republicans.”

    This is reason enough for the media to dismiss Ron Paul. He has no support among the country’s ruling elite and no chance of becoming President.

    And, frankly, Ron Paul knows it. Which is one of the reasons he is free to be “authentic”. His can suggest that people should be free to not buy health insurance and then rely on other people’s charity if they get hurt or ill and can’t afford to pay. That would not stand up to scrutiny for two seconds. But no one is taking it seriously. And it accurately reflects values that a core of the Republican party voters want to see articulated. He is a conservative version of Ralph Nader.

  3. Submitted by Jordan Hansen on 12/22/2011 - 10:06 am.

    I agree that he has a ceiling, but my argument is that a win in Iowa would have to change his role.

    There are hundreds of reasons for which people can justify writing him off. I named several. But the things that win elections are money and votes, not popularity among the media or among any other self-appointed pundit, myself included.

    This is a case where people who know quite a bit about politics think they know more than the voters. We’re getting it backwards.

  4. Submitted by Rob Reach on 12/22/2011 - 10:44 am.

    Ron Paul’s base is growing rapidly as people become more familiar with the principles he has upheld for decades. People are tired of war. They are tired of the Fed secretly controlling our money supply with no accountability. They are tired of bailouts. They are tired of Republicans and Democrats pretending to be two different parties when they both represent the same intrusive big government policies that do nothing but serve to meddle in our own lives and the lives of foreign citizens and their own affairs where we have no business and cannot afford to meddle.

    Ron Paul is the messenger of a philosophy of liberty, the voice of undying principles that will not be muffled, regardless of an election’s outcome.

  5. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/22/2011 - 11:29 am.

    Just as I admire the way Pat Buchanan was the first well-known politician to address the damage that “free” trade has done to America’s industrial base, I can admire the way that Ron Paul questions the military-industrial complex and the financial pirates.

    However, I cannot stomach either Buchanan’s or Paul’s Puritanism on personal issues or their “sink or swim” approach to the vulnerable members of society.

    There are voices on the Left who question militarism and financial game playing, too, but they get even less respect from the mainstream media than Ron Paul does. I’m thinking of Bernie Sanders and the other members of the Progressive Caucus in Congress. They are capable of calling for a humane foreign policy and regulations to rein in the banksters while at the same time advocating freedom to make one’s own decisions about personal behavior and supporting protection for the vulnerable members of society.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/22/2011 - 12:22 pm.

    It’s always great when young men wake up and start to embrace liberty and the virtues of smaller government. This culture has historically delayed that maturation until they’re well past 30, so Dr. Paul has been a terrific recruiter and change agent in that regard.

    But Dr. Paul’s anti-military message doesn’t resonate with most conservatives and certainly most Tea partiers because a large percentage of us are military veterans, who believe that the first role of the federal government is national defense.

    While I agree with his monetary policies and his position on the Fed and wholeheartedly agree with his ideas on closing most overseas bases, bringing the troops home and cutting the defense budget in half with savings on unnecessary personnel and weapons systems etc., I don’t trust him to be an aggressive commander-in-chief if and when we needed one.

    His supporters are primarily young men, many hearing the libertarian ideas being expressed in a national campaign for the first time, for which I’m thankful as I stated above. But his role in the Iowa campaign has been to help take out Newt Gingrich with negative ads, which hasn’t endeared him to most conservatives who prefer Newt to Dr. Paul and resent his role in acting as Romney’s right-hand man.

  7. Submitted by Jordan Hansen on 12/22/2011 - 03:41 pm.


    I hear your point on Paul re: military spending. I assume that would be a pretty huge change for most people to make. Neocon to isolationist in 4 years, you’re definitely right.

    I am not sure that Tea Party support of Newt could make less sense to me though.

    The guy that supported TARP, blasted Ryan’s Medicare plan, endorsed some version of a guest-worker program, has worked in Washington for 30+ years and made millions lobbying for special interests is now the darling of the Tea Party? I honestly don’t get it.

    Was his performance in the mid 90’s so good that the rest of history doesn’t matter, or is this field so weak that Newt is the best choice?

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/22/2011 - 04:14 pm.

    I don’t think Dr. Paul describes his economic prescription for America in his speeches: a consumption tax administered by the retail industry would replace the income tax and all other taxes; the rich would pay the tax only on the small portion of their income that they spend to exist while poor to middle class earners would pay it on 100% of their earnings. Proponents call it the Fair Tax; opponents call it crazy and completely unfair.

    His plan for giving up the ideas of American exceptionalism and American responsibility to keep the entire world “safe” is way overdue. Perhaps he should be appointed Secretary of Defense and given free-rein to cut and close and withdraw as he sees fit. We’d save enough to rebuild our economy in a few months.

  9. Submitted by Joe Williams on 12/22/2011 - 04:28 pm.

    I’m not sure you can tie a “Tea Party induced froth” so closely to the ACA. As I understand it, the Tea Party got its start in February of 2009, and the ACA didn’t make it through the Senate until well into December. Granted, Obama had voiced his plan while he was campaigning, but some pretty significant changes were made before it even made it through Congress.

    I agree that Ron Paul is the only candidate that the Tea Party could legitimately coalesce around, but I don’t think the ACA is the reason they exist.

  10. Submitted by Joe Williams on 12/22/2011 - 05:29 pm.

    I just realized you were likely saying the the TP got people mobilized against the ACA, so I retract my correction if that is the case.

    I still think that TP support for anyone other than Paul brings their stated grievances into question.

  11. Submitted by Albert Meyer on 12/22/2011 - 08:30 pm.

    Voters who want more war, more torture, more assassinations, more war-related deaths and wounded, more drone attacks that kill the innocent, more erosion of our civil liberties, more indefinite detention, more debt, more spending, more government, more taxes, more welfare, more graft, more greed and more of the same, Ron Paul is not their man.

    For those of us in whose hearts the fires of liberty burn brightly, we have found our liberator, Ron Paul, a man of unquestionable integrity, humble, self-effacing and wholly devoted to Constitutional government.

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