2/04/2008

Ron Paul's Descent

One of the most underreported stories in January has been the underwhelming performance of Ron Paul's presidential campaign. After shattering fundraising records and amassing legions of loyal supporters online, Paul's candidacy seems to have run out of gas.

To his credit, Ron Paul, the proverbial Repbulican punching bag, has performed better than several of his supposedly stronger rivals in the early voting states. For example, Paul finished ahead of Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani on more than one occasion. This shows that he is not as much of a fringe candidate as his rivals have made him out to be. The fact that his campaign has survived longer than theirs further validates this argument.

However, his performance in the primaries thus far has served more to embarrass his rivals, rather than shed light on his own viability. The problem is, where does Ron Paul go from here? New Hampshire was supposed to be his breakout state because of its libertarian bent. But he only drew 8% of the vote there, and has struggled to break 10% in any other contest so far, save for Nevada where he finished second with 15%.

Again, the fact that he has outperformed some of his rivals more than once in the early voting states shows that he had been underrated. However, most of these rivals have since dropped out of the race. The only candidates left are John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee. With the exception of Nevada, a state that was largely uncontested, Paul has yet to beat any of these remaining contenders for the nomination. And the national polling numbers suggest that he is too far behind to stage an unlikely victory in any Super Tuesday state.

It is no longer early in the voting process, so candidates cannot blame a disengaged or inattentive electorate for their poor polling. Voters have had ample opportunities to assess Ron Paul on the campaign trail and in the debates, so it is now safe to conclude that they simply aren't voting for him in large enough numbers to portray him as a viable candidate any longer. Prior to Iowa and New Hampshire, it was difficult to accurately gauge Paul's support because of his strength in straw polls and online polls. However, as Super Tuesday approaches, Paul has gone from a potential movement candidate to a potential spoiler on the cusp of irrelevancy.

Ron Paul generally pulls about 5-10% of the vote at most. Knowing this, the most obvious question becomes that of who is hurt the most by his candidacy. The immediate answer would be John McCain because he also has a libertarian streak. However, one could also make the case that Paul is siphoning votes off from Barack Obama because of the similarity in their positions on Iraq and the fact that younger voters, a core part of Obama's base, also comprise the lion's share of Paul's support. Paul also enjoys support among anti-abortion voters who would otherwise go for Huckabee. But because Paul's support is largely cobbled together from various demographic and constituent groups that do not appear to be natural allies (as I wrote about here), perhaps no other candidate is hurt more than any other by his continued presence?

Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, Tommy Thompson, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani all had their firm supporters even if this support wasn't always reflected in the polls. However, they all dropped out because it was obvious that they had nowhere else to go. At this stage of the game, only the most viable candidates should remain on the stage. I wasn't quite sure how to classify Ron Paul when I first wrote about this last summer, but I can now say with confidence that he should no longer be included in the list of true contenders for the nomination.

7 comment(s):

Itamazesus said...

Anthony - Ron Paul was never a serious contender, mainly because he's dogmatic. I think most would consider someone for less social and military spending; it'd sure help the debt/deficit issues, which people are concerned about. I'm glad he ran, so people can start considering the idea of moving away from the nanny state - but it's years away, I guess.

Besides, I was wondering who was the last House member to win the presidency, someone looked it up and said it was James Garfield in 1880. Generally House reps don't do very well, anyway (See Hunter, Tancredo, Kucinich)

Also,I'm still trying to figure why you say McCain has a libertarian streak. Can you help?

Brett said...

To be honest, I don't know why anyone other than the most devout Ron Paul supporters thought he seriously stood a chance in the first place. His polling was always weak, and come New Hampshire his much vaunted fundraising did not turn into votes, as you pointed out.

He's probably a good example of how a minority group can build a grassroots funding constituency even in the absence of major mainstream support.

Thomas said...

Wasn't there the problem of Ron Paul being linked with some anti-Jewish mailings as well?

Mattsta said...

He was marginalised by the media by the corporate owned media in the use and here in the UK
He was excluded from debates
He was excluded from statistics

There was endemic vote fraud in New Hampshire and other states.

That's probably got something to do with his poor performance too!

The whole election is a charade. The corporations decide who gets to the Whitehouse, not the people.

Anthony Palmer said...

Itama,

The reason why I used "serious contender" and "Ron Paul" in the same sentence was because I had to be fair in how I assessed him. He was polling better than Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Sam Brownback, for example. And he finished ahead of Thompson and Giuliani in some of the primaries. And he had raised more money than any other GOP rival. So he had a few things going for him. But it's clear now that his candidacy is going nowhere.

Yes, Garfield was the last House member to win the presidency. House members just don't do well because they are so unknown by most of the electorate. Duncan Hunter, for example, probably would have been the dream conservative everyone was looking for, but he was a congressman from San Diego. Only the voters in Southern California know who he is. He has no national platform or name recognition. (He was also a mediocre candidate.)

As for McCain and libertarianism, I think his opposition to the same sex marriage ban (he cited it as "un-Republican") is the best example of it. In that case, he said it was a states' rights issue. Arizona voters actually voted down a similar same-sex marriage ban, which was big news. Out West, a lot of people simply want the government to leave them alone. Live and let live. You could say that in the case of this ban on gay marriage, McCain was adopting more of a federalist approach, but it seems like the social conservatives have hijacked the party to the point that going against them suggests you are a rogue political element. Or maybe "independent" would be a more accurate term to use than "libertarian?" I'll do some research and see what I find.

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Brett,

Yes, exactly. Paul's success was not at the ballot box, but rather in terms of grassroots organization and becoming a movement. The way he could raise $1M in one day on the internet was absolutely nuts. But here's a question for you. Which do you think caused more damage to his campaign--Ron Paul himself, his libertarian ideas, or his often rabid supporters?

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Thomas,

I don't know about anti-Jewish mailings, but I do remember hearing about anti-Black rhetoric in some of his old campaign publications from about 10 or 15 years ago. Seems like that story has been buried though.

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Mattsta,

Some of these conspiracy theories may have some merit, but I looked at the Super Tuesday results last night and saw that Ron Paul placed second in Montana. He had 400 votes. 400! And that was good enough for second place?! Romney won with 625. If Ron Paul can't beat Mitt Romney in a libertarian state like Montana and get more than 625 votes, then I'm not so sure Ron Paul ever stood a chance to begin with.

Thank you all for the comments.

Segovia said...

the popular election is fun for guesses. It's funny, now that Paul is past super tuesday he seems to get more MSM attention than ever. Suddenly they remembered he was around. Eitherway, it's up to the delegates and the game is long from over. Paul will continue as long as his supporters donate and keep volunteering. Brokered convention will be the best chance for a comeback. Think he's dropping out before then? Think not.

Anthony Palmer said...

Segovia,

Ron Paul has every right to stay in the race, but to what end? It's not mathematically possible for him to secure enough delegates. I think at this point, Paul risks doing more damage to his campaign by staying in. But then again, he has never been one to wither under criticism, so I shouldn't expect him to drop out either. But at what point should a candidate realize that it's just not working out?

Should Paul run as an independent or a Libertarian, however, he could siphon off votes from the very pro-Iraq war McCain. So even though he won't be the nominee, he may very well continue to have a significant impact on the race.

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