What About Ron Paul?

But what about Ron Paul?”

This was the question asked in a monumental comment thread on one of our posts last Tuesday.

That thread, which at publication time has over 85 comments, was at times informative, anguished, and accusatory, but mostly just confused—exactly the tone of Ron Paul’s main base. (We thank Reddit for the traffic, but remind the dear souls at r/ronpaul that Ken’s Welcome Week hook-up post still got more eyeballs.)

Ron Paul is an interesting politician. His supporters are clearly among the most vehement in American politics, but possess an intellectual streak that other cultish candidates clearly don’t garner—you won’t see a Sarah Palin supporter churning out several 400-word comments in response to a student blog omitting her in a list (which, by the way, we also did — Palin was not on our list, and nobody complained).

To Ron Paul supporters, Rep. Paul is a man of ideals. And his record is exemplary, at least in terms of sticking to those ideals — Paul has repeatedly been on the losing side of elections, pushed legislation with no support, and generally put his money where his mouth is. The guy just doesn’t fuck around with politicking, and that’s pretty respectable (and rare) in Congress.

That tenacity, combined with the fact that his politics revolve around a strain of “leave me alone” libertarianism which is quite popular now (although the world has changed to fit Ron Paul — he had said the exact same things for decades to deaf ears), makes Ron Paul’s presidential ambitions justified. For a certain demographic (young, monied, educated, disaffected) he is the ideal candidate, though some blind spots like his staunch opposition to abortion and his questionable stance on the Civil Rights Act are overlooked. For everyone else, the response been polarizing.

Part of the furor of the Ron Paul movement is the disproportionate lack of media attention. Put simply, the mainstream still regards him as a little wacky. When he finished in a close second in the Ames Straw Poll vote — a questionable barometer of popularity that everyone makes a big deal out of — he was barely mentioned in the media coverage. Whether it’s a conspiracy, oversight, or (in our writer’s case) the conclusion that he isn’t a viable candidate, the media does not like Ron Paul. This, of course, only serves to galvanize the movement, at the risk of making it become really frigging crazy.

The question is, can he win? His supporters are louder than those of any other Republican candidate. This is the perfect climate for his ideals. The polls seem to show that he is, for the first time, on relatively equal footing with the mainstream Republican candidates. That said, the GOP will be hard-pressed to nominate a political outsider, given their preference for coiffed-do social conservatives with penchants for populism. The fact that he is opposed to monied special interests, while admirable, doesn’t really help his electioneering either. Unless Ron Paul enjoys a groundswell of support from a conservative base as-yet-untapped, such as rural voters, I don’t see the GOP nominating Ron Paul.

Then again, we have 20 months until the election. In September of 2007, Rudy Giuliani was the clear winner of the polls, with 34% of the vote (Fred Thompson was in second with 22%, but only because he announced his candidacy that same week). Ron Paul seems fringe now, but a year is an eternity in politics. By next September he could be facing President Obama, or a political pariah.