Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Ron Paul Solution

Please note: I am not the Devil

Ok, let’s start with a couple of points that, while to most people are clearly true, will be upsetting for some; firstly, Ron Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee for President. Secondly, he is never going to be President. That is not to say that he isn’t the best of a bad bunch, and clearly the best (and arguably only) libertarian option in the 2012 race. And that is not to say that of all the candidates he’d be the one I’d back if I had any sort of influence or vote in the primaries or the general election in the US. But we have to face reality here, my good people; Paul may have performed consistently in the primaries, but he has not done well enough to get the prize he seeks.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about why Paul hasn’t done as well as perhaps he should have done. The first (and increasingly tired) excuse that a Ron Paul supporter might come up with is media bias; that Ron Paul simply does not get the same level of attention as other insurgent candidates who have apparently risen from nowhere to challenge Romney. This is partially true, but it is also partly because there is nothing really new going on with Paul’s campaign. He contends in primaries, he does ok in them. There are only so many ways in which the media can write that story and when you have someone like the barking fucking mad Rick Santorum winning primaries despite his inept and extremist campaign, that’s going to dominate the headlines rather than the story of “Paul did ok. Again”.

Then there are Ron Paul’s – how shall we put this delicately – presentational problems. He seems to only have three facial expressions, and each of them looks a little odd. He either looks bored and faintly grumpy, utterly startled or positively demonic. Of course, such things shouldn’t matter; unfortunately, they do. And while he doesn’t look as ridiculous as the rotund Newt Gingrich – who increasingly resembles a greying teddy bear who has just sucked on a lemon – he still seems awkward compared to Santorum (who seems to have lost his neck somewhere) and Romney (who seems to be the cliché of a career politician in every way, including how he looks). There is also the potentially more worrying problem of those apparently racist newsletters; I’m not going to reignite the debate over them (there are plenty of other places you can go to if you want to indulge in that); for now, it suffices to say that such newsletters don't really create the impression of someone destined for the nomination or for the highest office in his homeland.

But by far the biggest problem Paul has is that he’s ahead of the debate. What this primary season for the Republicans is boiling down to is what the last one was about as well; namely, the fight between mainstream statist republicanism and the more extremist Christian fundamentalist wing of that party. Last time it ended up being McCain vs Huckabee; this time it’s Romney vs Santorum. And there’s Paul, stood on the sidelines, making genuinely radical proposals with the mainstream just not listening to him. And because he stands alone among the candidates, he’s painted as some sort of an extremist when all he is really saying is “the state can’t cope with what we want it to do and therefore we should rely on it less”. I hope that there will come a point when Paul’s basic politics is considered the common sense mainstream; unfortunately, that time is not now.

So he’s not going to win either the nomination nor the presidency. So what should he do? Pack up and head back to Texas to chill with the idiotic Rick Perry? No. He should do something far more radical. He should run for President. As an Independent.

A number of questions immediately arise. Firstly, can he win? Almost certainly not; he would lack the massive get out the vote infrastructure that the two main parties have. Can he even run an effective national campaign? Here, I think he stands more of a chance. He has a band of devoted followers and passionate advocates; plus, he is able to raise money without dipping into his personal fortune (indeed, I’m not sure he really has one – especially when compared to the likes of Romney) and without begging from major donors. There are people out there to fund him and fight for him; it wouldn’t be a mighty party machine, but he could conduct the guerrilla politics of the independent candidate, and be able to move with far more fluidity and speed than those with large monolithic party bureaucracies behind them.

And he as the added advantage – assuming, as is almost certainly the case, that Mitt Romney wins the nomination – that there will be bugger all difference between the two main candidates. This means that the media will need some sort of different narrative, and what could be better than being able to report on a candidate who actually has different policies?

Of course, there’s the immediate charge that Paul might split the Republican vote and hand a second term to Obama. But there’s a couple of things to note there. Firstly, with each passing day, a second term for Obama becomes more and more likely. Yes, he’s been an appalling disappointment as President who has failed to impress even his own base let alone build up a wider consensus behind him in the US. But he’ll be fighting Mitt Romney, who has exactly the same problems and lacks the massive advantage of incumbency in the White House. Romney’s going to lose; thus Paul wouldn’t really be making a great deal of difference there.

But there’s a more fundamental point here; Paul has cross party support. He can win over small-state Republicans but, with his foreign policy, he can also win over younger people who stand against US bellicosity and who have been bitterly disappointed by a President who has, among other things, left Gitmo open. Put crudely, he could take votes from both left and right, and thus form a radical alternative that hits the vote tally of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

Yet… I’ve already said he’s not going to win. So why spend millions of dollars in an exhausting campaign that on first glance looks a lot like tilting at windmills? Well, Paul has the opportunity to change the terms of the political debate in the USA. I noted above that he’s ahead of the debate in the Republican party; if he can take votes from both parties, though, then at least one of them (most probably the Republicans) will start asking themselves what they can do to get these people back. And thus the debate in the Republican party might change from being an ongoing culture war between reasonable Republicanism and it’s virulently Christian extreme to being one between statists and libertarians. Likewise, the Democrats might start to clock that it is not good enough to promise a more sensible foreign policy and then do fuck all about it once in office. Ron Paul has the chance to show how popular libertarian ideas; but as this primary season and the one back in 2008 show, he needs to do so outside of the confines of the Republican party. A well-run independent campaign might push his ideas towards the political mainstream – where they deserve to be – and start laying the groundwork for a major party (again, most probably a Republican) nominee to actually endorse libertarian principles.

So Ron Paul 2012? Yes please. But as an independent candidate.


Dick Puddlecote said...

Great article, agree entirely.

A future nominee like, I dunno, Rand Paul? ;)

CC Truckston said...

Right on all counts. But I'm not hanging my hat on the Republican Party moving toward the political mainstream and endorsing libertarian principles. I think the Republican Party is dying and will not be around in another two decades. Consequently it is important that libertarian principles capture the imagination of the American public as soon as possible so that any new party that emerges to replace the Republicans will challenge the Democrats on a "statists v. libertarians" basis. In a void that will be created by the demise of the Republicans, unless a strong libertarian movement emerges, more than one party may fill the void, leaving the field to the Democrats for a very long time. But you have laid out the case quite well, and show a remarkable understanding of current American politics. Are you sure you're a Brit?

The Nameless Libertarian said...

Dick - Rand Paul would be the obvious choice, but it would be nice if someone else emerges just to avoid the sort of nepotism that the Clintons and Kennedys have in the Democrats and the Bush clan do in the Republicans. But that's just a minor gripe...

CC - yep, I'm English; just spent decades studying and observing US politics. And by studying and observing I mean more than watching season 1 to 4 of The West Wing, which tends to be the amount of research most armchair UK pundits of US politics tend to do.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

There is already a libertarian running for President with a proven track record of getting things done as Governor of NM (btw on one member of the HoR has ever been President, plenty of Govs have been). Gary Johnson is running as the Libertarian candidate for President. He doesn't have the "baggage" of Ron Paul and a likable fellow.

Ron Paul needs to take as far as he can in the Republican Party and then his supporters should back GJ.

CC Truckston said...

The Nameless Libertarian: Glad you didn't learn anything from The West Wing. It's rather tilted to the left.

Andrew also makes good points: 1. Gary Johnson is a good candidate who has no baggage like RP, but neither does he have the name recognition, which diminishes his chances of running a successful 3rd-party campaign (nevertheless, I will vote for him); and 2. Ron Paul's supporters should do likewise and vote for GJ in the general election.

One observation: As Nameless points out, it would be better if libertarian principles were adopted by the Republican Party, as that would frame a clear choice for Americans, who are loathe to vote for 3rd-party candidates. That said, the Republicans will not adopt libertarian principles. They cling to the religious and social right, and the internal divisions that causes will put the party out of business.

The Nameless Libertarian said...

Andrew - Gary Johnson is a good shout, and I hadn't clocked that he was running for President on the Libertarian ticket. But as CC points out, name recognition is a big problem. It would require Ron Paul to get his supporters to back GJ - which would be the logical thing to do, because surely RP is closer to GJ than to either Mitt Romney or the ludicrous Rick Santorum. But that is the great variable - what will RP do when it is finally, and beyond all doubt, clear that he's not going to be the Republican nominee?

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

I think the LP would be incredibly annoyed if RP jumped and ran as an independent. People are urging him to run on the "America Elects" ticket.

I look forward to campaigning with Gary Johnson in Maine. Maine LPers seem to be pretty excited to have a good candidate for President in Gary Johnson and a candidate for US Senate (me).

I think in Maine at least quite a bit of the RP vote will go LP come November (partly due to the shafting of Ron Paul in the Republican caucus).

Steve Perrett said...

I'm going to look up Gary Johnson. I have friends in Maine, and I've been urging them to vote for Ron Paul. Not because I think he's going to get the nomination, but rather to piss off the othe candidates! Frankly, I hope Obama wins a second term. Because those who vote for him, feckin well deserve him! And with any luck at all, the Dollar will be replaced as the world currency while he's still in office! That'll bring his little empire down wont it!

Mark Wadsworth said...

"[Paul] either looks bored and faintly grumpy, utterly startled or positively demonic."

That's very true, but I'm used to that. But there is the occasional photo where he is smiling at people or at other politicians in a perfectly friendly manner, and my first thought was "Oh shit, even Paul has sold out and become One Of Them".

Trooper Thompson said...

I must say, there seems to have been a lot of dodgy goings-on during these primaries.

Personally I hope Ron Paul steps away from the GOP right now. I don't think much more can be gained in continuing to participate.

I can't see Ron Paul's supporters backing any other Republican Party candidate, nor should they, in my view. It is time to come out of Egypt! If they all got behind the LP candidate (is Gary Johnson confirmed?), it could be the most important and interesting thing in an otherwise dismal election - I mean; Romney, Santorum or Obama? God help us.

Anonymous said...

It's strange that you say nothing at all about the fact that Ron Paul already did all this -- ie. leaving the Republican Party and running as a Libertarian candidate for President -- in the late '90's.

Anonymous said...

I don't think he will run as an independent, nor as a Libertarian (that will be Gary Johnson). I think he understands that if he does run and Romney loses to Obama he will be blamed for the loss, and with it the chance to repeal Obamacare. He would also damage his son's chances in 2016 (assuming there is a country left worth being President of). It is extremely depressing that the only real choice for the republican nomination is between a fake religious crank (who lost his senate seat by 18 points in 2006), and a shallow, empty suit.

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Ian E said...

'Please note: I am not the Devil

No, of course not, that would be Cleggeron!