The Ron Paul Phenomenon

The Washington Post is the latest to play up the success of Ron Paul. Like Howard Dean, Paul has built up a tremendous following on line, but unlike Dean trails badly in the polls.

While there are obvious similarities, from the on line support to their shared opposition to the war, the situations are actually very different. Even though his support was never as great as reported by the pundits, Dean was a credible candidate even if he ultimately received less support than John Kerry once Democrats had to actually vote as opposed to talk to pollsters. Dean was far closer to the Democratic mainstream than Paul is to the Republican, and if things had turned out a little different in Iowa Dean could have conceivably won.

In contrast, Ron Paul does not fit in with the Republican Party and has very little chance of winning. Paul’s on line support comes not from a mass movement which could help him win the nomination, but from being appealing to a unique group of people.

For mainstream Democrats and Republicans there are many choices and most of us still have no friggin idea as to who to support. While some Democrats and Republicans do affiliate with a candidate on MySpace or Facebook, many more of us are spending the time watching all the candidates. Those who have committed are divided among several candidates in each party.

In contrast, there is only one Ron Paul. Obviously he has the interest of most Libertarians. In addition, those who seek out a Republican who both opposes the war and big government have no other alternatives. For them, the choice is clear. While this is a relatively small group in terms of the nation as a whole, their numbers are greater than the number committed to any specific Democrat or Republican.

The buzz on Technorati and YouTube is more a function of interest and curiosity than actual support. Many Democrats have even had favorable things to say about Paul, but that is also largely aided by the realization that he has no chance to win. Democrats can defend Paul against Rudy Giuliani’s absurd and uninformed attacks when Paul is right without having any thoughts of actually supporting him. There aren’t even any qualms about helping a possible general election opponent as most believe Paul will not win the nomination.

For Democrats, Ron Paul is preferable to the other Republican candidates for additional reasons, such as his support for civil liberties and fiscal responsibility. Brian Doherty, as a libertarian writer, offers a more realistic view of Democrats than we hear from partisan Republicans. Doherty writes:

Now, some Democratic intellectuals of the Jonathan Chait variety seem to think raising taxes is a primary political imperative, but I’m sure even most Democratic voters aren’t going to actually mind too much that he’s against raising taxes. So Paul has in many senses the best of the supposed appeal of Reaganite conservatism (small government, keeping the feds out of our lives), and is for many rights and against many abrogations of rights that progressives support.

It is t is a shame that such a simple statement which is contrary to the memes spread by Republicans will probably be seen by very few readers. In their bashing of all government, even when in control of all three branches, Republicans mischaracterize Democrats as desiring higher taxes and bigger government. While Doherty is right that some hold for this position, for many more Democrats government and taxes are necessary but not necessarily loved.

Update: I’ve often written about the fusion of liberal and small-l libertarian beliefs. We’ve seen this in Kos’s writings on liberal/libertarian fusionism, and today Libby provides another example of this view in the liberal blogosphere in her discussion of Ron Paul:

I’ve held back my endorsement because even with all his positives, he wants to shrink the government too far, which besides shredding the social safety net, would lead to further empowering corporate influence over our private lives. What I’m looking for is a progressive small L libertarian. But to tell the truth, if the tsunami of public discontent that I’m expecting in 08 unexpectedly sweeps him into office, I think we could we do much worse.

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12 Comments

  1. 1
    goldenequity says:

    Don’t be afraid of freedom.

    Who IS Ron Paul? They still need to know!!
    NOBODY explains Ron Paul
    BETTER than Ron Paul himself!

    Here is an interactive audio archive of
    Ron Paul speeches and interviews as a resource in chronological
    order.

    http://www.ronpaulaudio.com

  2. 2
    Michael Wagner says:

    Where exactly do you NOT see a “mass movement?”
    I see over 12,000 people who have joined over 300 MeetUp groups coast to coast.
    I see a MeetUp event in Kansas City attended by some 800 Ron Paul supporters. This event was created by the local KC MeetUp group, NOT the Ron Paul campaign. This was strictly grassroots work.
    I see Ron Paul’s financial contributions doubling every time he appears on TV.
    I see my son reporting to me that he is starting to see Ron Paul signs showing up all over downtown Albany, NY – deep in the heart of a very liberal state capital.
    I see nearly 1.5 Million people who have viewed Ron Paul’s material on You Tube.
    I see Ron Paul having MORE MeetUp supporters than ANY other candidate of EITHER party.
    Every time people are exposed to Ron Paul’s ideas for the first time, a great many respond “Where has he been? This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
    Where exactly do you NOT see the start of a real mass moverment?

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    “Where exactly do you NOT see a “mass movement?”
    I see over 12,000 people who have joined over 300 MeetUp groups coast to coast.”

    I’m not saying there is no mass movement. I’m just putting the size of the movement in perspective. There’s a difference between having 12,000 people in MeetUP groups (as well as many additional supporters) and having a legitimate chance at becoming President.

    “I see Ron Paul having MORE MeetUp supporters than ANY other candidate of EITHER party.”

    I already discussed how this (along with the number of You Tube viewers) is misleading in the post.

  4. 4
    Libby says:

    Thanks for the link Ron.

    I’m not so sure we should count Ron Paul out of the running just yet though. It’s a long way to election day and you never know what little nonsensical thing might tip the balance.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Libby,

    Paul’s views are too far apart from the views of Republican primary voters to consider him a credible candidate. All sorts of nonsensical things might knock out one of the front runners, but there would be others with similar views to take their place.

    Paul’s best chance would be if somehow Republican primary voters begin to resemble the rest of the country in their views on Iraq. Even then, Paul would stand little chance. Possibly a more mainstream anti-war Republican such as Chuck Hagel would enter the race. (I think Hagel would already be in if not for the realization that an anti-war candidate currently has no chance in the Republican Party. If there was that degree of change in views among Republicans, we’d also see some of the other candidates revise their rhetoric on the war in order to win.

  6. 6
    Libby says:

    Good point Ron. His appeal is clearly not to the base that is going to pick the candidate.

    On the other hand, suppose people like myself who aren’t inspired by any of the Democratic field, at least not enough to care who gets the nomination, decides to vote in the Republican primary instead. If the base splits up among the frontrunners, I have to wonder if he doesn’t have a shot at it.

    Just idle speculation but it could make it more interesting.

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    Libby,

    I doubt there would be enough cross over votes to give Ron Paul the nomination. Before calculating the odds it would be necessary to look at the various state laws and see how easy it would be for people to switch parties for a primary. Most likely those Democrats who aren’t excited by the choices offered by the Democrats will stay home. Relatively small numbers vote in primaries, and they are more devoted to the party line.

  8. 8
    Doug says:

    Ron Paul fits in better with the Republican Party than you might think. Except for the war, his positions fit the traditional smaller-government, pro-Constitution conservatism that only the leaders, not the voters, of the Republican Party have abandoned. And 25% or more of Republicans are sick of the war, too.

    The mainstream polls are missing a lot of his support, because they’re polling only “like Republican primary voters”, meaning people who voted in previous Republican primaries. Many Ron Paul supporters are currently independents, Libertarians, Constitution Party members, Democrats, or Republicans who haven’t voted for a while, because there was no one worth voting for.

    Will all of those supporters change their registration to Republican and vote in the primaries? Some say it’s unlikely, but Ron Paul supporters definitely seem dedicated, and even low-level support can have a big impact in the primaries, where turnout is usually very low, and there are many candidates on the ballot.

    On a personal note, my wife (an independent) and I (a Libertarian) both changed our registration to Republican today, solely for the purpose of voting for Ron Paul on February 5th. I think a lot of other people are starting to do the same thing.

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    Doug,

    “Except for the war…”

    First problem is that the war is too big an issue for Republican primary voters.

    “…his positions fit the traditional smaller-government, pro-Constitution conservatism that only the leaders, not the voters, of the Republican Party have abandoned.”

    That’s the problem. Too many Republicans have abandoned these views for someone who holds them to win, especially with opposition to the war.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron Paul does much better than the polls now show, but that isn’t the same as getting enough support to win the nomination. If he does have any outside chance, it would be because of all the other candidates splitting the big-government pro-war Republican vote.

  10. 10
    Libby says:

    I did consider that point Ron and I’m also wondering how hard it is in other states to switch parties for the primary vote. In Mass, it was easy. You just picked a ballot and were automatically enrolled in the party. The trick was to remember to fill out the card after you voted to reenroll in your original designation.

    I have no idea how it works here in NC. The whole system appears to be much different but I haven’t lived here long enough to figure it out yet.

    I have to say I agree with you generally. I think Paul will do better than expected but probably won’t get the GOP nod. I’m wondering if he does well enough, whether he would try an independent run in the general.

    But again, just idle speculation.

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:

    Libby,

    It varies from state to state. Most people who vote in primaries wouldn’t want to actually switch parties, so it comes down more to whether it is easy to cross over for a single election.

    Another factor is that people might not be excited over any particular Democratic candidate and be willing to cross over to vote for Ron Paul, but they might care about the primary for Governor or Senator in their state. Primary voters are probably more likely than the average voter to also be following the other races.

    Ron Paul did run as a Libertarian in the past. I believe that in recent years they have picked their nominee well before the Democrats and Republicans, so I don’t know if it will be possible for him to seek out the Libertarian nomination. If he is interested also wonder if the LP would alter their convention date, if necessary, for him. I’m sure many in the party would like to see him be their candidate now that he is much better known.

    The other question is whether he cares about keeping his seat in Congress. I don’t know if he can simultaneously run for President as a Libertarian and for Congress as a Republican under Texas law.

  12. 12
    Chris Lawton says:

    Go Ron Paul! Go Ron Paul! God Bless Ron Paul! Ron Paul for President 2008!

    Ron Paul in CNN debate on June 5, 2007!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwJKGfAWQUo

    “In the time of universal deceit, telling the truth
    is a revolutionary act” GEORGE ORWELL

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