In 1988, Ron Paul did not become the President of the USA. He did not become President in 2008. And in 2012, he probably will not become President… according to most pundits. But Paul has previously said that he seeks not only to win, but also to “influence ideas and the future of the country”. In that respect, his current bid to be the Republican Party nominee has already been a relative success. Paul has progressed from being a deliberately overlooked player on the fringes, to a candidate whose passionate supporters, considerable fundraising and reliable poll numbers have left him impossible to ignore. To some extent, his time has come. Financial collapse, war fatigue, fear of surveillance and deficit deadlocks all bolster the American voter’s appetite for Paul’s policies. His vision of a low tax, militarily isolationist, constitution-respecting and minimalist government resonates with voters who are tired of feeling disconnected from career politicians who differ in degree but offer nothing new. Ron Paul is undeniably different. That is why his supporters love him, and his opponents despise him. Newt Gingrich even went as far as saying “I think Ron Paul’s views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American”. Gingrich has a reputation for being intelligent, though this was a typically stupid thing for him to say; Paul picks up support from registered Republicans, Democrats and independents, and he has raised far more money than Gingrich has, mostly through small donations. Winners want support like that. They do not alienate it. Gingrich is buffoonish, Romney is boring (when not flip-flopping) and Obama is… well, Obama, a man who loves to talk, especially if talk delays useful action. However, whilst Ron Paul’s time has come, and his opponents are flawed, he faces enormous obstacles. His opponents will gleefully eviscerate his ‘kooky’ and ‘dangerous’ thinking. But here are five other obstacles that even Paul’s opponents will not mention, because they reveal much of what is wrong with politics. Even so, they may well prove the biggest obstacles to Paul’s campaign.
1. None’s fair in love…
Perhaps the best and most memorable Ron Paul logo takes the word ‘revolution’ and writes the 2nd to 5th letters back to front, mirror-spelling the word ‘love’. Love is not a word normally associated with a political campaign, unless the politician is talking about the love of family. Ron Paul’s love is clearly meant to extend much more widely. It re-emphasizes the distinctness of a campaign that could be painted as soft on dealing with foreign threats, and soft on social matters like drug taking. To his supporters, the use of such a word helps to characterize Ron Paul’s liberty-loving outlook. But for those disposed to distrust Paul, it subconsciously underlines their worries about whether Paul could ever be more than a protest vote.
2. …and war
Wars are expensive. Overburdened taxpayers might enjoy an end to America’s self-appointed role as the world’s military police force. But big military contracts lead to big vested interests. You do not have to believe in left-wing conspiracy theories to recognize that businessmen do not like to see their profits diminished, and workers do not like to lose their jobs. In many ways, Ron Paul’s campaign to restructure the US military is more threatened by domestic self-interest than foreign powers.
3. All you need is money
Money wins elections. In 2008, a lot was made of the fact that Obama raised a lot of money from small donations. It was true he raised a lot of money that way. However, Obama raised a lot of money from big donations too. Of the USD747M raised by Obama in 2008, 33% came from donations of USD200 and under. Over 30% came from donations of over USD1000. In contrast, 63% of the Ron Paul’s 2008 funding came from donations of USD200 and under. In this cycle, Obama is once again leading the fundraising race, though so far the proportion he has raised from small donors represents 57% of his total. For his current campaign, Ron Paul has generated 58% of his USD13M from small donors. Of the Republicans, Romney and Perry have raised more, but their money overwhelmingly comes from donations of USD2000 and over. When it comes to donations of USD200 and under, Romney has raised less than half what Paul has raised, and Perry has not managed a tenth of the funds Paul generates from small donations. Big money is on the side of Paul’s Republican rivals. And make no mistake – Obama will call in the big dogs when he needs them, which is not yet. Part of Ron Paul’s appeal is that he has not been corrupted by big money interests. That is noble – but he has many opponents who can, will and do call on wealthy backers… and they will find ways to reward their supporters once they have been elected.
4. Something old…
American politicians tend to talk a lot about the founding fathers and sticking true to their principles, but the reality is that the so-called political ‘mainstream’ is a million miles from anything the founding fathers could possibly have had in mind. After all, they were slavers – which is hardly the current mainstream. But that does not stop modern politicians trying to position themselves in the midst of some sentimentalized and fictionalized account of the politics of the founding fathers. To summarize some of their main positions: they thought liberty was a god-given right whilst government only existed as a minimalist practical compromise; they fought a war of independence with a force of amateurs, and they did so to expel a standing army from overseas; they wanted states to be largely autonomous and countenanced that each state could vary in their social norms without that provoking federal interference; and they believed that free trade and friendly relations would be the cornerstone of peace – which is why they quickly normalized trade with the defeated Brits. Can you think of a politician espousing similar principles? Ron Paul’s problem is that he is closer to the mainstream of the founding fathers than the current mainstream, and a misty-eyed mystification of American political history is an obstacle to sensible debate about why the mainstream has moved so far, and if it has moved too far.
5. … and nothing new
Obama was new and he won. Palin was new and she was briefly popular. Bachmann was new and she did well in the polls. Perry was new and he did well in the polls. Cain was new and he did well in the polls. Have you noticed the trend yet? In reality, some of these politicians are not new – Perry is a career politician at state-level, trying to become the top national politician by criticizing anyone who was a career politician at national level. However, modern politics is dominated by shooting stars who appeal to a broad range. They can do so, without contradiction, because they have so little (known) track record that they can appeal to a range of voters who want contradictory things. The net result is a prejudice towards the unproven. Some are so unproven that their popularity is quickly shown to be based on nothing but novelty. Ron Paul has shown himself willing to attack the Achilles heel of anyone with a track record, which is why his campaign has highlighted Romney’s flip-flops and Gingrich’s serial hypocrisy. The problem for Paul is that he too has a record that – like everyone else’s – will exhibit vulnerabilities. The Ron Paul Survival/Financial/Imbecile Reports provide easy ammunition to opponents. He can probably overcome those bee stings, because his personal presentation is so consistently at odds with the voice that spoke through those reports. But nothing removes the stain of having to fight so hard, and lose so hard before, just to get noticed. When it comes to the final showdowns, his opponents will portray themselves as statesmen, and will make a telling nod towards Paul’s history of frequenting the low down and dirty side of public debate, just to find audiences for his message. That does not make them better than Ron Paul. But it does mean that Paul will struggle to appeal to the kind of voter who prefers a perfect record of doing nothing to the grubbiness of doing whatever it takes. In the end, Paul’s greatest asset of being who is his, might also prove to be his greatest impediment.