Is Ron Paul running for president in the wrong party?
The results of the GOP primaries, so far, would certainly seem to suggest that. Paul’s support draws heavily from two constituencies one doesn’t normally associate with the Republican party: young voters, who are overwhelmingly independents, and antiwar voters, who tend to be Democrats. He has carried the youth vote and garnered a significant proportion of independents in virtually every contest: more significantly, polls show him beating President Obama in the general election by winning a huge portion of the independent and youth votes. Combined with the anybody-but-Obama vote, Paul’s potential base of support in a two-way race defines the contours of a winning electoral coalition, one that could win him the White House, bring about a major political realignment – and upend the political Establishment in this country.
The problem, for Paul, is that the GOP leadership is implacably opposed to his candidacy: never mind all that nonsense about a Romney-Paul “alliance,” which was just an invention of the “mainstream” media pushed by the Santorum campaign. After all, the Romneyites stole the Maine caucuses right out from under the Paul campaign, and are doing their best to repeat the same fraud in the rest of the caucus states. Some “alliance”!
Three factors have kept Paul from being a real contender: not only the hostility of the leadership and the age demographics of the average Republican primary voter – which is well over 40 – but also the ideological factor. After a decade and more of neoconservative domination, not only of the party but of the conservative movement, the GOP is the War Party. For the Paul campaign, this is fatal. Ron has made his anti-interventionist views the linchpin of his campaign: he never fails to bring up the issue of war and peace, even when discussing some economic or social topic. That’s because he realizes – unlike some “libertarians” – the issue is central to the question of rolling back the power of government to rule our lives.
While Paul regularly invokes the “Old Right” and the legacy of Robert A. Taft and the Taft Republicans, this tradition has been long forgotten by Republican voters – and deliberately buried and disdained by the party’s intellectuals, such as they are, who regularly rail against “isolationism” and hail FDR and Winston Churchill as their chosen icons.
The result is that, after an initial spurt of success – starting out with a respectable showing in Iowa, and placing second in New Hampshire – the Paul campaign has fallen back to its 2008 levels, with Ron rarely breaking 10 percent.
The response of the Paul campaign has been to hunker down and reassure its enthusiastic supporters – and they haven’t lost their enthusiasm, not by a long shot – that they have a strategy. That strategy is to concentrate on getting delegates, rather than winning “beauty contests,” i.e. primaries in which the results don’t determine who gets the delegates. In many states, the process of delegate selection is long and involved, with county, regional, and state-wide conventions being held to determine who gets to go to Tampa. Given the dedication of the Paulians, and their superior organizational skills, the idea is that Ron will get many more delegates than his vote totals in the primaries would indicate, through sheer perseverance.
However, the process hasn’t always worked out that way. The Paulians, having devoted themselves to learning the arcane rules governing delegate selection, and playing by the book, often arrive at these conventions to find that the rule book has been thrown out by the party leadership. Huge fights have broken out at these shindigs, and the going has been pretty rough: when the party leaders arrive to find the hall packed with under-30 Paulians, all waving signs and wearing buttons, suddenly the rules are “revised,” and the Paulian playbook is no longer applicable.
The Paul campaign started out with the odds stacked against it: the GOP leadership and the “mainstream” media both did everything they could to smear, discredit, and discount him and his supporters. This effort failed: Ron emerged from the pack, and went on to create what is arguably the most vital and alive movement this country has seen since the 1960s.
However, the growth and development of the Paulian movement has now reached its limits within the confines of the GOP, like a potted plant whose roots can no longer be contained. Either the plant is put in the ground, or its roots will become so stunted that the plant will wither and die.
In short, the Paulians must make a decision: either break free of the bonds of the GOP, or else face a future of dwindling political fortunes.
Consider the two likeliest scenarios: 1) Romney gains the magic number of 1144 delegates before the Tampa convention, and is declared the winner: i.e. it’s a repeat of the McCain victory in 2008. And we all remember what happened in 2008: Ron was locked out of the convention, and the Paulians held their own well-attended convention down the street. Paul never endorsed McCain (perish the thought!), and the neocon-run McCain campaign managed to run their candidate – and the GOP – into the ground.
Now, however, we are confronted with a quite different prospect: a brokered convention. With no candidate winning the magic number of delegates, the usual nominating convention-as-coronation scenario is thrown out the window, and what the mainstream media and party officials refer to as “chaos” reigns in Tampa. Translation: the convention will revert back to the way these events normally played out in the Good Old Days, before Big Money and Big Media turned them into political Kabuki theater, with the players and the outcome predetermined from the start.
While this prospect is refreshing, and even exciting – as any disruption in our ritualized political process would be – it still doesn’t hold out much hope for the Paul campaign. The reason is because, short of Paul getting the nomination, there is nothing concrete to be gained from a brokered convention.
With Romney in the lead, delegate-wise, a brokered convention will center on efforts by the Not-Romneys to put together a coalition capable of grabbing the nomination away from Mitt. Yet the Paulians are highly unlikely to be a part of this Not-Romney coalition – unless, of course, they ditch their principles and their whole rationale for launching the campaign to begin with. For this would mean voting for an anti-libertarian schmuck, i.e. either Santorum or Gingrich. That, I believe, is never going to happen: if it did, the Paulian movement would immediately implode, given the enormity of the sell-out.
There is, on the other hand, another possibility, and that is allying with the Romneyites against the Santorum and Gingrich camps. Yet, again, we are faced with the question of what concrete rewards the Paulians could expect to gain from such a dark alliance. In my view, a realistic answer to that question is: exactly nothing.
In the view of some Paul campaign officials, however, the answer is not so clear, as this televised interview with campaign manager Jesse Benton demonstrates. Ignore the typically biased and obnoxious demeanor of the interviewer, and focus on Benton’s answers toward the end, when he says a brokered convention could yield all sorts of rewards for the Paul campaign, such as “a cabinet position,” changes in the party platform — and even “the vice-presidency”!
It’s hard to decide whether this kind of speculation is delusional or just a way of reassuring Paul’s supporters that there’s a good reason to keep sending in the campaign contributions and pinning their hopes on making a splash in Tampa. As we all know, however, a stone makes a splash before it sinks to the bottom of the pond….
The idea that Romney is going to offer the vice-presidential nomination to Ron – or his son, Rand, freshly elected to the Senate from Kentucky – is a pipe dream. The party leadership would never allow it, the convention might well rebel (as a way of expressing conservative discontent with the candidate), and – in my opinion – Romney would never offer it in the first place.
As for changes in the party platform [.pdf] – so what? No one pays attention to these documents, not even the candidates, who are not bound by them. A cabinet position would be a paltry prize indeed, and accepting such a deal – handing the nomination to Romney in exchange for, say, making Nick Gillespie the drug czar – or, more likely, making Rand Paul Transportation Secretary – would be a humiliating end to what started out as a noble crusade.
In each case, the price the Paul campaign would have to pay for such ill-gotten “gains” would be so high that the result would be the effective end of the Paulian movement: that’s because the price would be supporting the nominee, i.e. Mitt Romney, with a personal endorsement from Ron. I, for one, can’t imagine him doing that: whenever he’s asked if he would consider supporting the eventual nominee, Paul gives every indication that the answer is no. He explains why in this interview, in which he emphasizes the Republicans’ warmongering as a major reason not to endorse any of them.
Viewed objectively, and with the long-range goals of the Paulians in mind, there is only one road forward for the movement: the third party route.
Running on a third party ticket would give Paul access to the votes of his natural constituency: the young independents disgusted with both parties who yearn for real change – i.e. a revolution – in Washington. It would give the Old Right remnant in the GOP, which Paul has reawakened from its long sleep, a place to go in November, while also making room for independents, antiwar voters, civil libertarians, disillusioned Obamaites, and other constituencies unlikely to be caught dead voting in a Republican primary.
Polls indicate Paul would get anywhere from 18 percent to 21 percent running as a third party candidate, and the percentage seem to be climbing as the actual election draws nearer. These same polls indicate he would draw two-thirds of his votes from the Republican column, but I don’t think these “drill-down” analyses hold much water: what they leave out is non-voters, new voters, and – most important of all – future events. If the US starts bombing Iran before election day, or, say, we have another economic meltdown, as we did in the winter of 2008, then all bets are off – and the prospect of a Paul victory becomes more than mere wishful thinking.
A Paul third party candidacy would not only open up a prospect that, right now, seems highly unlikely if not impossible – i.e. Ron Paul sitting in the Oval Office – it would also place significant constraints on the other candidates, including President Obama. Faced only with a warmongering Republican, Obama can pretty much do whatever he likes when it comes to provoking, sanctioning, and threatening Iran: after all, antiwar voters have nowhere else to go. With Paul in the race, however, Obama is going to have to be very careful not to lose his left-ish antiwar constituency, which has so far stuck with him as the lesser to the two evils. If and when Obama makes his move against Iran, Paul’s third party campaign will be right there, scarfing up votes from the President’s disillusioned and angry former supporters.
Indeed, the ultimate effect of a Paulian third party ticket could well be preventing the outbreak of a major war in the Middle East. This, it seems to me, is a factor the Paul campaign is going to have to weigh in the balance as it considers its options. In terms of the Paulians’ own principles – especially their characteristic opposition to wars of aggression on moral grounds – this is a powerful argument for launching a third party campaign.
We don’t endorse candidates here at Antiwar.com, and for a very good reason: we’re a journalistic enterprise, not a political organization, and we don’t take orders from any party central committee or faction. Nor do we give a blank check to any politician – no, not even Ron Paul. There can be little doubt, however, that the Paul campaign has had a tremendous effect on the antiwar movement in this country, with several longtime peace campaigners taking up Paul’s cause. He has become a symbol of the anti-interventionist impulse in modern American politics, and his political fate is bound up to a large extent with the fate of the antiwar movement – and the prospects for peace in the 21st century.
He has moved the discourse forward, challenging the premises of the interventionists at every turn and upholding a consistent vision of a republic that respects the sovereignty of all and seeks to lead by example rather than by force. If his voice is stilled after the Tampa convention, American voters will be left with a “choice” of an outright warmonger in Republican clothing versus our somewhat less overtly belligerent albeit no less interventionist sitting President, whose foreign policy record is worse than his predecessor’s.
Ron Paul’s last hurrah cannot – must not — be a “deal” made in Tampa, and I’d be willing to bet the ranch no such deal will be forthcoming. Speaking as a political analyst, and not a partisan, I would venture to say the Paulian movement will peter out and come to nothing if it stays locked within a Republican straitjacket. Liberated from their partisan constraints, Paul’s supporters will be spared the Long March through the GOP apparatus, and instead of wasting their time running for county central committee they’ll be freed up to make the case for peace directly to the American people.
What course the Paul campaign takes in the next few weeks will determine the nature of his political legacy. If it ends in Tampa, then the fate of the Paulian movement will be reflected in this bit of verse from the poet Robinson Jeffers, whose fierce “isolationism” caused him to be exiled from polite “liberal” circles in the run up to World War II:
“While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire
“And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,
“I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.”
Paul has often been asked if he’d run as a third party candidate, and he always gives the same ambiguous answer – and that was necessary, at the time, and proper. However, the moment is fast approaching when ambiguity on this matter becomes increasingly counterproductive, as far as advancing the cause of peace and liberty is concerned.
In politics, timing is everything. Before the movement he created passes the apex of its influence in the GOP and begins to lose its relevance, the candidate and the campaign must stop at this crossroads and contemplate their ultimate direction. The hour of decision has arrived.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I would note, for my readers’ information, that this decision cannot wait until the Tampa convention this summer: the most likely vehicle for a Paul third party run, the Libertarian Party, holds its nominating convention at the beginning of May. While it seems likely the LP nomination is Paul’s if he seeks it, the reality is that Paul’s hour of decision will arrive a lot sooner than late August, when the Tampa convention is scheduled to take place. An alternative would be to run on the Constitution Party ticket, which has ballot status in many states: however, the baggage this particular political formation carries may well be a burden the Paulians will wind up wishing they didn’t have to carry. There’s always the course of launching an independent ticket from scratch, but that would be costly and prone to disruption by Republican operatives. Remember how the Democrats followed the Naderites from state to state, mounting harassing lawsuits and keeping Nader off the ballot in several instances? The GOP would no doubt launch a similar operation directed at Paul.
For more on this subject, including my take on how Sen. Rand Paul’s political future plays into all this, see my recent column in Chronicles magazine.