The results of the GOP primaries, so far, would certainly seem to suggest that. Paul’s support draws heavily from two constituencies one doesn’t normally associate with the Republican party: young voters, who are overwhelmingly independents, and antiwar voters, who tend to be Democrats. He has carried the youth vote and garnered a significant proportion of independents in virtually every contest: more significantly, polls show him beating President Obama in the general election by winning a huge portion of the independent and youth votes. Combined with the anybody-but-Obama vote, Paul’s potential base of support in a two-way race defines the contours of a winning electoral coalition, one that could win him the White House, bring about a major political realignment – and upend the political Establishment in this country.
The problem, for Paul, is that the GOP leadership is implacably opposed to his candidacy: never mind all that nonsense about a Romney-Paul “alliance,” which was just an invention of the “mainstream” media pushed by the Santorum campaign. After all, the Romneyites stole the Maine caucuses right out from under the Paul campaign, and are doing their best to repeat the same fraud in the rest of the caucus states. Some “alliance”!
Three factors have kept Paul from being a real contender: not only the hostility of the leadership and the age demographics of the average Republican primary voter – which is well over 40 – but also the ideological factor. After a decade and more of neoconservative domination, not only of the party but of the conservative movement, the GOP is the War Party. For the Paul campaign, this is fatal. Ron has made his anti-interventionist views the linchpin of his campaign: he never fails to bring up the issue of war and peace, even when discussing some economic or social topic. That’s because he realizes – unlike some “libertarians” – the issue is central to the question of rolling back the power of government to rule our lives.
While Paul regularly invokes the “Old Right” and the legacy of Robert A. Taft and the Taft Republicans, this tradition has been long forgotten by Republican voters – and deliberately buried and disdained by the party’s intellectuals, such as they are, who regularly rail against “isolationism” and hail FDR and Winston Churchill as their chosen icons.
The result is that, after an initial spurt of success – starting out with a respectable showing in Iowa, and placing second in New Hampshire – the Paul campaign has fallen back to its 2008 levels, with Ron rarely breaking 10 percent.
The response of the Paul campaign has been to hunker down and reassure its enthusiastic supporters – and they haven’t lost their enthusiasm, not by a long shot – that they have a strategy. That strategy is to concentrate on getting delegates, rather than winning “beauty contests,” i.e. primaries in which the results don’t determine who gets the delegates. In many states, the process of delegate selection is long and involved, with county, regional, and state-wide conventions being held to determine who gets to go to Tampa. Given the dedication of the Paulians, and their superior organizational skills, the idea is that Ron will get many more delegates than his vote totals in the primaries would indicate, through sheer perseverance.
However, the process hasn’t always worked out that way. The Paulians, having devoted themselves to learning the arcane rules governing delegate selection, and playing by the book, often arrive at these conventions to find that the rule book has been thrown out by the party leadership. Huge fights have broken out at these shindigs, and the going has been pretty rough: when the party leaders arrive to find the hall packed with under-30 Paulians, all waving signs and wearing buttons, suddenly the rules are “revised,” and the Paulian playbook is no longer applicable.
The Paul campaign started out with the odds stacked against it: the GOP leadership and the “mainstream” media both did everything they could to smear, discredit, and discount him and his supporters. This effort failed: Ron emerged from the pack, and went on to create what is arguably the most vital and alive movement this country has seen since the 1960s.
However, the growth and development of the Paulian movement has now reached its limits within the confines of the GOP, like a potted plant whose roots can no longer be contained. Either the plant is put in the ground, or its roots will become so stunted that the plant will wither and die.
In short, the Paulians must make a decision: either break free of the bonds of the GOP, or else face a future of dwindling political fortunes.
Consider the two likeliest scenarios: 1) Romney gains the magic number of 1144 delegates before the Tampa convention, and is declared the winner: i.e. it’s a repeat of the McCain victory in 2008. And we all remember what happened in 2008: Ron was locked out of the convention, and the Paulians held their own well-attended convention down the street. Paul never endorsed McCain (perish the thought!), and the neocon-run McCain campaign managed to run their candidate – and the GOP – into the ground.
Now, however, we are confronted with a quite different prospect: a brokered convention. With no candidate winning the magic number of delegates, the usual nominating convention-as-coronation scenario is thrown out the window, and what the mainstream media and party officials refer to as “chaos” reigns in Tampa. Translation: the convention will revert back to the way these events normally played out in the Good Old Days, before Big Money and Big Media turned them into political Kabuki theater, with the players and the outcome predetermined from the start.
While this prospect is refreshing, and even exciting – as any disruption in our ritualized political process would be – it still doesn’t hold out much hope for the Paul campaign. The reason is because, short of Paul getting the nomination, there is nothing concrete to be gained from a brokered convention.
With Romney in the lead, delegate-wise, a brokered convention will center on efforts by the Not-Romneys to put together a coalition capable of grabbing the nomination away from Mitt. Yet the Paulians are highly unlikely to be a part of this Not-Romney coalition – unless, of course, they ditch their principles and their whole rationale for launching the campaign to begin with. For this would mean voting for an anti-libertarian schmuck, i.e. either Santorum or Gingrich. That, I believe, is never going to happen: if it did, the Paulian movement would immediately implode, given the enormity of the sell-out.
There is, on the other hand, another possibility, and that is allying with the Romneyites against the Santorum and Gingrich camps. Yet, again, we are faced with the question of what concrete rewards the Paulians could expect to gain from such a dark alliance. In my view, a realistic answer to that question is: exactly nothing.
In the view of some Paul campaign officials, however, the answer is not so clear, as this televised interview with campaign manager Jesse Benton demonstrates. Ignore the typically biased and obnoxious demeanor of the interviewer, and focus on Benton’s answers toward the end, when he says a brokered convention could yield all sorts of rewards for the Paul campaign, such as “a cabinet position,” changes in the party platform — and even “the vice-presidency”!
It’s hard to decide whether this kind of speculation is delusional or just a way of reassuring Paul’s supporters that there’s a good reason to keep sending in the campaign contributions and pinning their hopes on making a splash in Tampa. As we all know, however, a stone makes a splash before it sinks to the bottom of the pond….
The idea that Romney is going to offer the vice-presidential nomination to Ron – or his son, Rand, freshly elected to the Senate from Kentucky – is a pipe dream. The party leadership would never allow it, the convention might well rebel (as a way of expressing conservative discontent with the candidate), and – in my opinion – Romney would never offer it in the first place.
As for changes in the party platform [.pdf] – so what? No one pays attention to these documents, not even the candidates, who are not bound by them. A cabinet position would be a paltry prize indeed, and accepting such a deal – handing the nomination to Romney in exchange for, say, making Nick Gillespie the drug czar – or, more likely, making Rand Paul Transportation Secretary – would be a humiliating end to what started out as a noble crusade.
March 15, 2012
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.
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