Posted by Adam @ 10:57 am on September 19th 2007

What if Paul wins the nomination?

I was thinking about it this morning, having just followed the links Brad put in this comment and I am aware that some of what I am going to say is going to raise hackles. All I can say is that I can’t vote in this country, nor donate to campaigns, so my point of view is a little different (and perhaps necessarily more long-term) and that there’s no malice in my musings.

As Brad points out in his comments on this Liberty Papers post, the early polling, particularly with Paul now up at 4%, doesn’t rule him out at all — Kerry, as Brad pointed out, was at on stage on 4% in the Democrat race for the 2004 nomination and Paul’s current 4% shows him on the up — so being dismissive based on the current numbers doesn’t make a great deal of sense. There is ample room for arguing that Paul’s positions might make him unelectable in the modern GOP, where the small-government ethic is not as strong as it once may have been, but I am going to leave that aside for the moment — the other candidates all have defects even from the point of view of many of their supporters, so they could all tumble — and consider seriously the prospect of Ron Paul winning the nomination.

So, let’s assume that Ron Paul is a real contender — it doesn’t, after all, seem outlandish, depending on how the other candidates beat each other up and down — and take a wide view of what will follow a Ron Paul nomination. Is it invariably a good thing for the political status of the principles Paul (and those of us who blog here) espouse? My hope is that a strong Paul run — of which I hope we are seeing the beginning — can start to move the Republican party back in the direction of limited government, which is something I (and, I think, Rojas and Brad and James) would dearly like to see. A Ron Paul victory in the nomination race, however, exposes Ron Paul’s small-government ideal to the nation as a whole, a nation that hasn’t even really been exposed to the message since Reagan and to the actual reality since, well, how long do people live?

If Paul wins the nomination and gets battered in the Presidential election, where does that leave the small-government/libertarian message, other than looking like a political albatross? So, the question is not just ‘can Paul win the nomination’ but also ‘can he put up a decent showing in the Presidential election?’. Sure, there’s a lot of merit to the idea of not looking too far forward, but as a non-American, I’m not going to be able to campaign for Paul for the nomination; in addition, I’m more interested in the future of small-government politics than I am in Ron Paul’s campaign in particular (although I like him a lot). One could make the case that Paul’s campaign is a gift to us more if it puts in a solid performance in a losing battle for the nomination than if he wins it; the result could be a strengthened small-government constituency within the Republican party that will affect GOP candidates for years to come. On the other hand, maybe the Paul campaign is just a phenomenon based on Ron Paul himself, so the support goes when he does, in which case our eggs are of necessity in the Ron Paul basket.

My general concern about the future of government is bigger than just what happens to the Paul campaign — the fractiousness, efforts to maintain ideological purity and increasingly disappointing political performances of the Libertarian Party, for example, leave small-government types pretty stuck for somewhere to go. Another problem is the nature of the political system itself, particularly with the way that it comes down to a two-party race with each party fielding one candidate and ‘winner takes all’ in nearly all of the states (there are a variety of different potential solutions to that problem, some of which might be mutually complimentary, including the range voting preferred by our frequent commenter weltschmertz). Ron Paul didn’t make those problems and, indeed, perhaps he can help fix them, but they are additional obstacles in his path to the presidency as it stands and are apparent roadblocks standing in the way of a move to small government however it may be achieved.

It’s undeniably very hard for small-government enthusiasts to fight against the rushing tide of government expansion and interference, and I don’t wish to appear to be against Paul’s campaign because it has been the most successful small-government movement for some considerable while. The fact is, though, that the future will happen and when we look back to the current political era to see the origins of the good and bad parts of our (future) present, the outcome of the Paul campaign will be a significant factor. My point is just that Paul winning the nomination is not the criterion of demarcation between ‘good future outcomes’ and ‘bad future outcomes’ from the point of view of the small-government conservatives/libertarians. This train of events could still go bad, or good, for us regardless of whether or not Paul wins the nomination.

Those who are allowed to donate and campaign and vote for Ron Paul certainly should, particularly as things are going in the right direction. Additionally, what I’m saying can also be turned around to serve as a reminder that losing in the nomination battle isn’t a disaster, nor is it the end of the fight. My belief is that it might turn out better in the long run, that it could be a campaign that helped turned the tide. Finally: if, of course, things are looking like Paul can grab the nomination, that’s the time for really worrying about the implications for the future; Paul doesn’t just have the normal problems of switching from campaigning for the nomination to campaigning for the office of president, he has to fight against the ingrained big-government mindset. In short, he has to change the country before he gets into office. As they say in cricket, that’s a big ask.

If I can end with an entirely uncalled-for mangling of metaphors: we want to make sure that the chase doesn’t queer the pitch.


  1. I’m not as worried about this. The closest analogy would be the 1964 Goldwater campaign, which took the most vicious beating in electoral history, but which created the ideological infrastructure for electoral victory in the 1980s. If Paul can spark a limited government resurgance within the Republican party, I don’t think it will be easily dispensed with; especially not given what the alternatives are.

    Comment by Rojas — 9/19/2007 @ 12:10 pm

  2. There’s merit in that argument, I think, and the similarity between Paul and Goldwater is that the Republican nominee in that year was in real trouble whoever they were — Goldwater running against JFK’s ghost and Paul running for a party that is, at least temporarily, on the skids.

    The talk of some pundits aside, however, I don’t think that Republicans are thinking “we’re losing whoever we put up” so I do think that a Paul nomination could take down the small-government cause, given that the Republicans can still remember when being a big-government partisan hack zoo was pretty sweet. The laughter that the Giulianis can’t restrain when Paul is talking might look prescient if Paul wins the nomination and then gets hammered. I don’t want a surge in small-government enthusiasm to wipe out small-government politics.

    Comment by Adam — 9/19/2007 @ 12:49 pm

  3. Gee, Adam, I wonder if you aren’t underestimating the passion of the Revolutionaries…If the Ron Paul Revolution is what it has the promise to be, I think the Goldwater analog could be spot on. I speak, of course, as a Goldwater-Reagan Republican, so I may be biased, but in many ways, ’64 is almost scary in its similarity to ’08: a reluctant candidate, persuaded by supporters, to make the run to bring the party back to its ideological roots; a campaign that was heavily focused initially on the grassroots effort; a campaign which brought new activists into the party apparatus, etc. If Ron Paul can get the nomination, make some reasonable changes in the platform of the party, and energize the grassroots of the party to look to smaller government, over the next couple of election cycles, new leaders in that movement will emerge–I believe–and will start running for office, and will be in positions of power in the party structure. Win or lose, I think this could be the beginning of something big.

    Comment by Laura — 9/19/2007 @ 2:57 pm

  4. So, if Paul is Goldwater, who takes over from him? Who ends up as Reagan?

    I think that the Paul campaign is the most passionate one out there, incidentally. I am not 100% convinced that converts into numbers of votes at a favourable ratio, but it’s the campaign’s biggest strength after Paul’s small-government message, in my opinion..

    Comment by Adam — 9/19/2007 @ 3:07 pm

  5. It’s a fair question (and your most pro Ron Paul post to date!) I suppose, but one that is fairly far removed, at this point. There are an awful lot of variables involved that are just unknowable. How is the Republican nominee going to do if it isn’t Paul being the immediate one, but there’s more. If Paul does get the nomination, that presumes that he’s managed to convince a plurality of Republican voters of his ideology or his decency or at least his candidacy. With that, of course, comes a measure of mainstream acceptance almost by definition. With it also comes an almost overnight solution to media coverage, money, and, to an extent, polling (in that bam, he starts out at 40% for the general election just by being the Republican nominee).

    The other question is why it seems likely that Democrats are going to win next year regardless of the nominee. I, to an extent, agree with that premise, but not because of some inherent property of the Democratic party, but rather because of the alignment of issues that all favor the Democrats, and all hobble the Republicans (I think it’s fair to say). What’s interesting about the idea of a Paul nomination is that math fundamentally changes. He’ll get some residual beat-down just on Party ID, but (and again, presuming he got the nomination, he has the Republican party’s support on this) he takes away the issue of the war, and in fact probably outflanks the Dems. He takes away the issue Republican excess and corruption. He takes away the issue of Republicans with a social agenda (though that’ll probably still come up, but look again at his closing statement in that Values Voter debate). He essentially, from the moment he accepts the nomination, creates an entirely different operating political dynamic. I can prognosticate with the best of them, but I honestly just have plumb no idea what that will look like in terms of election probabilities. I do know it requires the entire Democratic party, with all its recent political successes, to essentially have to throw out the play book, erase the blackboard, and start from scratch. It took the Democrats a good 5 to 6 years to figure out how to provide an attractive oppositional voice to the LAST incarnation of the GOP. I’d not be ready to assume they’ll overnight be able to provide a great one to Paul.

    Will he face attack? Sure. But, and I couldn’t have said this at the outset, I’ve gained confidence that Paul himself can weather just about anything thrown at him with an air of class and righteousness. One of the things that’s been fun about this campaign is he continually surprises me in that respect. I often find myself reflexively cringing, expecting the worst (that he’ll just start madly ranting and convince everybody in the audience he’s just plain nuts), and it never coming (it did once, when Rudy teed off on him in that second Republican debate, about blowback, I was sure that was it, but surprisingly, I seemed to have underestimated the public there). Paul, personally, can handle himself. Ideologically, he turns the Democratic victories of 2006 into a mulligan. They have to start over, almost reverse course, to keep up. And, in terms of partisan effect, Paul’ll have the money, the best staff in the business, and a base energized and hungry.

    Would he win the general election? Again, I’ve no idea. But I certainly don’t think he’d embarrass himself. And I don’t see any reason to assume that if he did lose it would be chalked up within the GOP as a good reason to abandon small government conservatism entirely. Hell, they get that message WHEN THEY WIN. If anything, I would say them nominating somebody like Rudy Giulliani is the de facto decision that small government ideology is a loser. If they’re making the decision to bypass that and nominate Ron Paul, I think, part and parcel, is a recognition that his is an ideology worth fighting for, regardless of immediate outcome.

    It would sure be fun to watch, in any case.

    Comment by Brad — 9/19/2007 @ 3:49 pm

  6. There’s no doubt that a Giuliani nomination will do the cause of small-government conservatism a lot of damage, particularly if he actually won the presidency. I do wonder, though, if a strong Paul showing in defeat will relaunch small-government conservatives as a GOP constituency of importance whilst at the same time avoiding the stigma of defeat in the national election. I just think that, at this stage, the small-government message isn’t bedded-down enough to go onto the all-national stage.

    I see what you’re saying about Paul and his theoretical strengths against the Democrats, but I also think that in some senses he has the same sorts of vulnerabilites that he does against other Republicans, just worse — first there’s the worry that he’ll take away their favourite government agencies and interferences, and on top of that he’s pro-gun and anti-abortion. On top of that, the chance of him getting his agenda through Congress would appear to be remote; whilst a do-nothing presidency or a deadlock with Congress might not be a bad thing in many respects, I am not sure that people will vote for it.

    Still, as you say, those of you who are allowed to participate in this have a fair amount of road to cover before this even becomes an issue.

    Comment by Adam — 9/19/2007 @ 4:02 pm

  7. I guess that my overriding feeling is that, so far as moving things back in the direction of small-government conservatism is concerned, we’re going to have to thread the eye of the needle.

    Comment by Adam — 9/19/2007 @ 4:04 pm

  8. I personally believe that what needs to happen is we have to bowl around the wicket, advantage the buffett bowling, we have to pitch a mullygrubbing beamer until no ball is called, at which point it’s all Captain’s Knock. In short, we must coil the Chinaman. Because really, it’s daisy cutter Golden pair dead ball rib tickler now. Gazunder!

    Comment by Brad — 9/19/2007 @ 4:46 pm

  9. Adam, regarding who “takes over” or who becomes Reagan, I have no idea right now–although there may be quite a few folks out there with potential. Remember that Reagan didn’t really emerge as a potential Goldwater heir until about a month before the ’64 election, when he gave “the Speech” on Goldwater’s behalf. Until then, he was viewed primarily as a useful celebrity endorser (and recent Democrat) who could bring attention to the cause. After “the Speech,” the California cabal (I say that in a positive way) approached him about running for Governor in ’66. No one would have guessed in 1963 that “that actor Reagan” would end up as Goldwater’s political heir. All sorts of things could happen in the next 14 months.

    Comment by Laura — 9/19/2007 @ 5:01 pm

  10. That, and I don’t know that the heirs of Ron Paul (man, I love just saying that) is necessarily going to be some politico who gets himself famous in the process and goes on to become a huge success.

    Goldwater’s legacy wasn’t restricted to Reagan. By some measures Reagan, personally speaking, was the least of it. The heirs of Goldwater were the people who came up with Goldwater in their eye and, over the long haul, transformed American political thinking. The activists, the intellectuals, the writers, the door-knockers, etc. It was on THEIR backs that Reagan came to power, not the other way around. I don’t know why we’d assume there’d be a direct analogue to the same chain of events that happened around Goldwater. If it happens, it’ll happen a little differently, of course. What’s relevant is the gist of it, the thrust, the pitch?

    Comment by Brad — 9/19/2007 @ 6:07 pm

  11. I think that’s precisely it, Brad. Those 20-somethings (you, I guess!) who are taking it to the streets are the heirs of Ron Paul–who the next public manifestation of the movement is doesn’t really matter–the important thing is that when a promising face for the movement comes along, the movement still has to be in some sort of coherent form so that it can mobilize and capitalize on the opportunity. THAT, I think, is where a party structure comes in to play.

    Comment by Laura — 9/19/2007 @ 6:52 pm

  12. uses Approval Voting, the simplest form of Range Voting.

    The down side is they removed Ron Paul. :/

    Comment by weltschmerz — 9/20/2007 @ 3:54 am

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