Here’s a good quick backgrounder on Ron Paul. Known in the US House of Representatives as “Dr. No,” because he can be counted on to vote “no” on virtually every piece of legislation that comes before Congress, Rep. Paul is a two-time presidential candidate, a consistent libertarian and a bit of a crank in person. “He can be grouchy,” a House colleague said years ago, with considerable understatement.
Generally speaking, there are three categories that produce three different “candidates” in the Republican presidential nomination process. There’s the social conservative candidate, the Republican “establishment” candidate and the “maverick” candidate. Right now, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is the social conservative candidate, Mitt Romney is the Republican “establishment” candidate and Donald Trump is the Republican “maverick” candidate. There really isn’t a fourth (libertarian) category, because there aren’t enough libertarian voters in Republican primaries and caucuses to “justify” it.
The question that the Paul campaign must answer is whether he can expand his appeal beyond his libertarian base (roughly 5-10% of the GOP primary and caucus electorate, depending on the state) and become (once Trump’s campaign collapses) the “maverick” alternative. That’s his task. You can judge his campaign accordingly.
Dr. No brings some significant strengths to this campaign that were lacking in his previous efforts. Most important, he is a proven fund-raiser and should be able to raise enough money to run real campaign operations in the early states. Second, he has a much wider political network than he did in 1988 or 2008. His son Rand is the new US Senator from Kentucky. He helped out a large number of Tea Party candidates in the 2010 GOP Congressional landslide. Third, as Joe Weisenthal pointed out earlier this week, the issues that Rep. Paul has been talking about for years are much more “mainstream” today. When he was hammering away at the Federal Reserve Bank in 2008, everyone thought he was a loon. Today, he seems…eerily prescient.
The key for Rep. Paul will be to use issues to expand his appeal. Principle among these is a call for a rapid wind-down of the three wars (Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) and a much more pragmatic foreign policy. None of the “major” GOP presidential candidates want to talk about this at all (and they don’t). It’s something Republican primary voters are dying to hear someone say. If Paul says it, he will gather more support.
Second, he needs to expand his attacks on the Federal Reserve to include “too big to fail” banks and then wrap it all up in a stinging critique of the modern way of American corporatist governance: privatization of gain and socialisation of losses. Republican primary voters are dying to hear someone say this. So far, none of the candidates have.
Third, he needs to hammer away at the inevitable collapse of the Blue Social Model (Big Government-Big Business-Big labour) and point out that the US must build a new model for governance if it is going to avoid bankruptcy. Such a line of attack will enable Paul to attack public employee unions with reckless abandon; again, something Republican primary voters want to hear said over and over again.
Fourth, he needs to reach out to the social conservative base of the party with some kind of initiative that addresses the porn-ification of American culture. This is admittedly a difficult trick for a libertarian to pull off. It seems counter to the entire idea of libertarianism. But, if Paul is to be successful, he will have to lean into the social conservative base. If he’s stand-offish all the way, he’ll never be the nominee.
We’ll see what he does. Four years ago, he had no chance. He’s a long shot now. So he’s already ahead of the game.