Explaining Ron Paul’s Online Appeal
Ron Paul may be an also-ran in the race for the Republican nomination, but he’s pretty big online and the Washington Post, in a remarkably positive front page article, takes a look at the phenomenon:
On Technorati, which offers a real-time glimpse of the blogosphere, the most frequently searched term this week was “YouTube.”
Then comes “Ron Paul.”
The presence of the obscure Republican congressman from Texas on a list that includes terms such as “Sopranos,” “Paris Hilton” and “iPhone” is a sign of the online buzz building around the long-shot Republican presidential hopeful — even as mainstream political pundits have written him off.
Rep. Ron Paul is more popular on Facebook than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He’s got more friends on MySpace than former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. His MeetUp groups, with 11,924 members in 279 cities, are the biggest in the Republican field. And his official YouTube videos, including clips of his three debate appearances, have been viewed nearly 1.1 million times — more than those of any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, except Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
No one’s more surprised at this robust Web presence than Paul himself, a self-described “old-school,” “pen-and-paper guy” who’s serving his 10th congressional term and was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president in 1988.
“To tell you the truth, I hadn’t heard about this YouTube and all the other Internet sites until supporters started gathering in them,” confessed Paul, 71, who said that he’s raised about $100,000 after each of the three debates. Not bad considering that his campaign had less than $10,000 when his exploratory committee was formed in mid-February. “I tell you I’ve never raised money as efficiently as that, in all my years in Congress, and all I’m doing is speaking my mind.”
That means saying again and again that the Republican Party, especially when it comes to government spending and foreign policy, is in “shambles.”
As the Post notes, Ron Paul is far behind even the middle of the pack in the Republican race, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming the rally point for a vocal group of supporters:
After the second Republican presidential debate last month, when Paul implied that American foreign policy has contributed to anti-Americanism in the Middle East — “They attack us because we’re over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years,” Paul said — he was attacked by Giuliani, and conservatives such as Saul Anuzis were livid. Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan GOP, threatened to circulate a petition to bar Paul from future Republican presidential debates. Though the petition never materialized, Anuzis’s BlackBerry was flooded with e-mails and his office was inundated with calls for several days. “It was a distraction, no doubt,” he said.
The culprits: Paul’s growing number of supporters, some of whom posted Anuzis’s e-mail address and office phone number on their blogs.
“At first I was skeptical of his increasing online presence, thinking that it’s probably just a small cadre of dedicated Ron Paul fans,” said Matt Lewis, a blogger and director of operations at Townhall, a popular conservative site. “But if you think about it, the number one issue in the country today is Iraq. If you’re a conservative who supports the president’s war, you have nine candidates to choose from. But if you’re a conservative who believes that going into Iraq was a mistake, Ron Paul is the only game in town.”
Added Terry Jeffrey, the syndicated newspaper columnist who ran Patrick J. Buchanan’s failed White House bid in 1996: “On domestic issues like spending and taxation and the role of government, Ron Paul is saying exactly what traditional conservatives have historically thought, and he’s pointing out that the Bush administration has walked away from these principles. That’s a very attractive argument.”
And the fact that it’s not attracting more support from so-called conservatives says alot about what it really means to be a Republican today.