[I]n order to become a standard-bearer for a cause it can be wise to advocate for a position before it is politically popular. I'm not a Ron Paul supporter, but his 2008 boomlet required a long bout of virtual invisibility. Paul preached the same sermon for decades and it only struck a nerve in 2008. His base of support wasn't large enough for him to win the nomination, but he proved a more viable candidate than almost anyone projected.Is that true? First, Ron Paul in 2008 was less viable than he was visible. I think the right way to assess the Ron Paul campaign would be to compare him to a Phil Gramm 1996, or a John Connally 1980 -- campaigns that had one very obvious resource but little else. In their case it was money; in his case it was the extremely enthusiastic support of a small group, but either way it was enough to fool observers into thinking there was a lot more to the campaign than turned out to be the case.
Second, is it really true that Paul's 2008 run "required a long bout of virtual invisibility"? Perhaps, but I'm not convinced. I think it did require a weak GOP field, one in which no leading candidate had impeccable conservative movement credentials. It also helped to have an outgoing big-spending GOP president (and a recent big-spending GOP Congress, or at least a president and Congress who could be portrayed as big spenders). Given those circumstances, I could imagine a Paul 2008 campaign having happened at any point over the last thirty years.
Really, what's striking about the Paul campaign is how little apparent success it had in affecting the Republican Party. I'm not aware of any Republican nominees in 2010, at least not at the statewide level, who have adopted Paul's unorthodox stances on foreign policy. It's true that some strains of Tea Partyism seem libertarian, but mostly it's just standard-issue GOP rhetoric, pushing tax cuts and unspecified spending cuts while in practice asking government to keep its hands off their Medicare, their farm subsidies, and certainly their defense contracts. And, of course, Gary Johnson is going nowhere, at least for now.
If what Appel is saying is that rogue presidential campaigns do have the capacity for changing a political party, even if they don't actually win the nomination, then I entirely agree -- and it's a very important and good point. But in this particular instance, I see no evidence that the real-life Republican party (or anyone else beyond a small but visible group of enthusiasts) are going to become libertarians any time soon.