Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why It Might Be Ron Paul

In light of several polls showing Ron Paul doing surprisingly well among contenders for the Republican presidential nomination - including the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference's straw poll - I felt it appropriate to reprint part of an addendum I added, on March 19, 2010, to my last post about the 2012 election.

For what it's worth, if the economy recovers before the 2012 election (and, of course, no other significant issues arise to tarnish the Obama Administration in the eyes of the American people), the chances are that:

i. The Republican Party will nominate a right-wing All Star - someone who, like Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern (for the Democrats) in 1972, is able to coast to the nomination on the enthusiasm of the GOP's grassroots base of right-wing ideological purists. This will happen because, in the absence of a climate in which defeating President Obama appears likely, the pragmatism that would normally compel Republicans to nominate a Mitt Romney will go by the wayside, leaving in its wake the vociferousness and zeal of the Tea Partiers and their ilk.

ii. Conventional wisdom among pundits dictates that the candidate of choice among these voters would be either former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The former can be ruled out of contention for the reasons I've already discussed (see; the latter, though admittedly popular among certain segments of the GOP base, is nevertheless reviled by libertarian purists, who are turned off by her lack of intellectual heft, close ties with the Christian right, and reputation for cronyism during her gubernatorial tenure. What's more, despite their passionate followings, a Republican party that is desperate to depose Obama may avoid both of them because they have been branded with the worst letter in American politics - a scarlet 'U' for 'unelectable'.

Besides, no matter how enthusiastic the supporters of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee may be, only one candidate has inspired the type of devoted following that conjures up memories of the Goldwater and McGovern revolutions - Congressman Ronald Ernest "Ron" Paul of Texas.

iii. Should the economy have recovered by 2012, I believe that Ron Paul's devoted and surprisngly widespread band of acolytes and well-organized grassroots campaign, combined with his cerebral mien, admirably consistent voting record, and novel ideological message, will make him the surprise victor of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

That said, the nomination won't come easily to Ron Paul. He will first emerge as a major contender after placing a surprisingly strong performance (either a flat-out victory or a higly-ranked runner-up slot) in one of the early Republican primaries, thus giving him momentum as the "upset" winner (the media has loved dark horses who defy low expectations since the days of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter). That said, although Huckabee and Palin would likely split establishment conservative votes between themselves, thereby permitting him to monopolize the right-wing base of the party, Mitt Romney will soon thereafter emerge as Paul's key adversary for the nomination. What Paul will have in the support of libertarian and right-wing ideologues, Romney will counter with the backing of the big business interests that control Republican party fortunes (which, despite Paul's laissez-faire policy proposals, remain deeply distrustful of his positions on foreign policy and the Federal Reserve), ideological moderates (especially in the Northeast and other blue states), Mormons who will want to produce their faith's first president, and establishment conservatives who will be frightened away from Paul by the perceived radicalism of his agenda. I suspect that a showdown would erupt, comparable to the Ford-Reagan nomination contest in 1976. However, while the moderate (Gerald Ford) ultimately defeated the radical (Ronald Reagan) in 1976, three factors will cause the radical (Paul) to defeat the moderate (Romney) this time around:
- Unlike Gerald Ford, Mitt Romney does not have the benefit of incumbency.
- The Reagan revolution of 1980 significantly altered the ideological composition of the Republican party from what it had been in Gerald Ford's day; while Ford had many moderates whose support he could tap, Romney will find that the supply has significantly dwindled over the past thirty-six years.
- The latent racism that permeates the extreme right has caused an intense backlash against Barack Obama that will add extra fuel to their desire to nominate one of their own. This hatred did not exist against any of the potential Democratic presidential candidates in 1976, including their eventual nominee, Jimmy Carter.

iv. Given the (generally well-founded) accusations of bigotry surrounding the Tea Party Movement, the chances are that Ron Paul would want to add some ethnic and/or religious diversity to his ticket. He'll also want to pick someone who is close enough to Paul's own ideology so as to not alienate his supporters, while at the same time capable of dispeling popular concerns about Paul's radicalism. Finally, he'll want someone who can bring balance to the ticket in age (Paul will be 77 in 2012) and geography (Paul hails from Texas). The most likely selections for Ron Paul include Jeff Flake (Congressman from Arizona), the Mormon and tax-hating libertarian; Peter Schiff, a Connecticut economist who was among the few perceptive and brave enough to diagnose the underlying problems behind our economic crash before they occurred, and who attempted to warn the public before it happened (he is also Jewish); and Marco Rubio, the young and handsome rising star who is likely going to become Florida's next senator (and is Cuban-American).

v. Barack Obama would defeat Ron Paul by one of the greatest popular vote landslides in American presidential history. This would be in no small part due to the success of his first term as president; however, the media will no doubt focus on Ron Paul's radicalism as a central issue of the campaign, much as they did for Goldwater in 1964 and McGovern in 1972, causing a knee-jerk reaction against it among the independent voters who are so critical in deciding elections. In addition, the lukewarm support Paul will receive from the well-moneyed interests that so often make-or-break GOP candidacies will significantly hinder his fortunes (despite what will probably be overwhelming financial support from grassroots constituencies). Finally, Ron Paul - unlike John McCain in 2008 - has made questionable comments on racial topics in the past, the significance of which will be accentuated by the fact that he will be running against our first black president. All of this will no doubt combine to put Ron Paul on the wrong end of the most one-sided popular vote margin in American presidential politics since the Johnson-Goldwater and Nixon-McGovern contests. His electoral vote tally will probably be somewhat better than those of his predecessors (he'll likely claim the entire South, Plains, and Rocky Mountain states), but not by much.

vi. What will the ultimate legacy of a Ron Paul campaign be? There is a temptation to claim that, like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, he will cause an influx of new voters into the fold of one of America's two major parties, significantly altering its ideological composition and the future course of American politics and thereby turning a landslide defeat into a historical victory. The problem with this, in Ron Paul's case, is that he would merely be repeating a revolution that has already happened; Barry Goldwater already brought the Paulesque elements into the Republican Party back in 1964, and Ronald Reagan handed them the reins of government in 1980. Arguments over whether the Reaganites were ultimately loyal to their own principles notwithstanding, the reality is that Paul wouldn't be forging a new coalition so much as he would be infusing energy into an old one. While many of the Republican Party's power-brokers will be leery of him, the chances are that his resounding defeat will enable them to find ways to win over his supporters in future elections while luring back those elements who defected during his campaign. In short, it is doubtful that Ron Paul will leave the Republican Party looking that much different than it had been before his brief time at its helm.

That said, there is one significant impact Ron Paul will have on the American political landscape. Since its creation during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, the Federal Reserve has been considered an untouchable institution - pundits and citizens may question its practices and policies, but rarely if ever has it been deemed acceptable to openly oppose its very existence. Although Paul's war against the Federal Reserve will be depicted at the time as radical, the very fact that his voice will at last be heard will end the long-standing taboo against challenging its existence. Considering that America does have a historical precedent for destroying national banks that control its economy (see Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Biddle, and American politics in the 1830s), people who begin to mull over Paul's opposition to the Federal Reserve and find that opposing its ilk is NOT un-American will gradually become emboldened to challenge it on their own. When you combine that with the growing populism caused by our recent economic calamity, what you get is a climate where the Federal Reserve may be in dear trouble in the near future.

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