Monday, August 23, 2010

Looking Back at Ron Paul 2008

Patrick Appel, ably holding down the Dish with Andrew Sullivan away, notes my skepticism about a Gary Johnson presidential campaign and responds:
[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. 

3 comments:

  1. The only change Ron Paul brought to the GOP is more of the same doublespeak we've already been getting -- the Tea Party meme.

    He threw a few, so now it's a movement that's got little to do with Paul's politics.

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  2. "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"

    I don't know if this counts, but Rand Paul has similar foreign policy views to his dad. Ken Buck also has some anti-war/isolationist views.

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  3. I voted for Paul because of foreign policy and I agree that most GOP members are still very pro war. It has not always been this way, both Bush and Delay were skeptical of the Kosovo war, so it might change. The rational for Bush's Mideast strategy was that Islam is a "religion of peace" and that most Muslims want a government that is an ally of the US and Israel. I doubt most conservatives believe any of this anymore as the mosque controversy demonstrates.

    I think the financial collapse has given Paul increased respect from conservatives. When I watched the GOP debates he stood out as not being an optimist about the economy and the budget as the other candidates were. He has long been the most opposed to high government spending of any member of congress and voted against TARP. His libertarian economic views are more fashionable but I doubt most voters would be as consistent as he is in applying them in practice.

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