Tuesday Open Thread: Why Ron Paul Failed, And Where The “r3volution” Goes From Hereby Doug Mataconis
In April’s print edition of
Reagan Reason, David Weigel conducts what will undoubtedly be the first of many post-mortems of Ron Paul’s Presidential campaign.
The most libertarian candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, began 2008 with an army of 100,000 enthusiastic donors. Before the primary season began, many of his fans clung to the hope that polls showing Paul stuck in single digits were cooked. Many, more pragmatically, hoped he’d play the kind of role Sen. Eugene McCarthy filled 40 years ago in the Democratic primaries, shaking his party out of its hawkish stupor and relocating its soul.
Neither of those scenarios unfolded. Nowhere was the disappointment greater than in the “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire, where the large independent vote and Paul’s substantial war chest were primed to shock the political system. Before the election, pollsters such as John Zogby and Scott Rasmussen thought Paul might come in third place. ABC News embedded a reporter with the campaign just to see if lightning might strike, and CNN sent cameras to cover Paul’s election night party live.
But, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, Paul finished a disappointing fifth and did worse in the Live Free or Die State than he did in a relatively pro-government state like Iowa. After that, it was pretty much all downhill. With the exception of a caucus or two, Paul never finished higher than fourth place and, even when there were only three candidates in the race, he was never a serious contender and had a statistically insignificant impact on the race.
So, what went wrong ? Weigel argues that it all started going downhill when the campaign went off message:
[A]fter a spike in fund raising and polling, Paul pivoted to the more crowded anti-immigration field, with mailers showing a work boot stomping on the Constitution and the legend: “Illegal immigrants flaunt [sic] our laws.”
This lunge for the Minuteman vote didn’t work. According to exit polls, Paul won only 8 percent of Republican voters who want to deport all illegal immigrants. That was 16 points less than immigration compromiser John McCain, six less than amnesty waffler Mike Huckabee, and even one point less than “sanctuary city” mayor Rudy Giuliani. Paul finished a poor fifth among voters who cared about immigration but came in a strong second place among voters angry at the Bush administration. In other words, he came in second among his natural constituency and fared poorly on an issue every candidate was already scrapping over.
That ad, which started running a few weeks before the New Hampshire Primary, attempted to characterize Ron Paul as somewhere to the right of Tom Tancredo on immigration and, as we later learned in Texas, it wasn’t an anomaly.
Would things have been different in the Granite State had the campaign stayed on message ? It’s unclear but it would’ve been worth a try. Pandering to the nativists certainly didn’t accomplish anything. But the truth of the matter is this — for over a year Ron Paul did pitch a limited government anti-war message to Republican voters, the people you have to convince to vote for you if you’re going to win the nomination, and they either ignored it or rejected it.
Is that Paul’s fault ? In part, perhaps, it is. He was, even his most ardent supporters would admit, not the most articulate spokesman for his message. But nobody can call McCain, Romney, or Huckabee great public speakers either.
The hard truth, it would seem, is that people don’t want to hear the message right now.
Finally Weigel wonders what’s next for the coalition that Paul brought to together:
Can the Paulites make lasting change? Eve Fairbanks of The New Republic described Paul’s supporters as “the closest thing this race has to the Deaniacs of ’04.” Those Web-savvy, young, and excitable supporters of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean may not have powered their man to the White House, but their influence remains a potent force in Democratic politics. Dean’s Web team, including Matthew Stoller and Jerome Armstrong, became some of the loudest voices in the lefty blogosphere and go-to gurus for all Democratic Internet campaigns. Ex–Dean staffers populate the Courage Campaign, a liberal activist group in the MoveOn.org mold. And Dean himself has run the Democratic National Committee since 2005. If Paul’s people wanted to copy a movement, they could do a lot worse.
I heard the idea of a Ron Paul RNC chairmanship tossed around by Paulites in New Hampshire, and I heard it afterward. They know it’s a pipe dream, but they’re starting to ask: How might an activist libertarian splinter movement influence a larger and more moribund Republican organization? “
There are, of course, significant differences between Howard Dean in 2004 and Ron Paul in 2008. The biggest one being that, for the most part, Howard Dean and his supporters were largely within the mainstream of the Democratic Party back then, at least on the issues that matter. The same cannot be said for Ron Paul. That’s why Howard Dean easily became Chairman of the DNC, and the outsider of 2004 became the ultimate political insider.
Lightening is not likely to strike twice. Whether John McCain wins or loses in the fall, Ron Paul is not going to be named Chairman of the RNC now or anytime in the near future. Unlike the Deaniacs, the serious Ron Paul supporters are faced with the task of remaking the Republican Party and turning it back into what it was in the 1980s.
The question is, given the clear rebuke that the libertarian message received from Republican rank-and-file voters this year, how do you do that ?