I often peruse a number of local blogs, including David Miller’s Pursuit of Liberty and Frank Staheli’s Simple Utah Mormon Politics. During the recent campaign cycle, Frank made clear his strong support for Ron Paul.
In a comment on a recent post of David’s, Frank accuses me of being among those that “scoffed at the idea that Ron Paul was the only real alternative.” I began to compose an answer to Frank’s charge, but soon realized that if I posted it, I would be inappropriately hogging David’s blog. So I thought I would write my own post on the matter.
If I scoffed at Ron Paul being the only real alternative, it was only due to what I believe to be a dose of reality. In January 2008 I explained that I differed with Paul on foreign policy. But I also differed with every other presidential candidate on at least some substantive issues. Depending on the nature of the policy and the candidate’s stance, support of a candidate isn’t necessarily ruled out by a few policy differences.
In the referenced post, however, I explained that Paul’s foreign policy stance came across as utterly unrealistic to most voters. Various polling later showed this to be correct. Nearly 15 months ago, people were generally unhappy with our nation’s foreign policy. But Ron Paul’s utopian libertarian approach to foreign policy seemed so impractical and idealistic that it rendered him an unserious candidate in the minds of most voters. It was the poison pill that kept people from taking anything else he said seriously.
Still, I never implied that voters shouldn’t support Ron Paul; only that few ultimately would support him. This is not simply due to his foreign policy statements. Paul has done much over the years to limit his appeal to the point that he is not broadly politically viable.
Some ardent Paul supporters delude themselves into believing that he would have had a reasonable chance of becoming president if only this or that might have been tweaked — if the media had treated him fairly or if the establishment hadn’t quashed him, for example.
All of these suppositions require the willing suspension of disbelief. Repeated polling found that Ron Paul enjoyed very deep support in very narrow categories. Pollsters knew that no amount of positive media coverage, money, or getting his message out would have expanded his support much beyond those narrow categories.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, enjoyed much broader support with depth in some categories. But his support was still regional, meaning that it was insufficiently broad to make him nationally competitive, even after spending unprecedented wads of cash. John McCain’s support was quite broad but very shallow. In the end, that was enough to win a party nomination but too weak to carry a general election.
In an interview I listened to during the campaign, Ron Paul essentially admitted that he was a ‘message’ candidate — that he was in the race to send a message and to influence the debate, rather than to win. That might be enough to gain the votes of those of us that found the other candidates unworthy of our support. But people that study political psychology can tell you that a major factor in most votes is the desire to be identified with the winner. Just sending a message isn’t enough for most voters. They want to win.
Again, you can argue all you want that if only some minor thing had been different, Ron Paul would have been viable enough for winner-oriented people to vote for him, but this is simply not a reflection of reality.
Like it or not, political races are as much popularity contests as anything else. For decades Ron Paul has created and marketed himself as a contrarian. This packaging necessarily limits his appeal and makes it impossible for him to win broad based support.
People appreciate criticism of the government. Carping about the government is a favorite American pastime. But Paul’s message is so stark as to seem to many to be a refutation of some things they have come to believe to be essential elements of what America means.
I state these criticisms of Ron Paul as an admirer of many of his positions and without intending derision. I am only putting forth my analysis of the matter. Regardless of how much I like some of what Ron Paul has to say, whether I put up yard signs supporting him, or whether I vote for him; the simple truth is that he is not and never will be a viable candidate for U.S. President.
I do not think that failure to enthusiastically support translates to scoffing. But, if trying to be an objective analyst makes one a scoffer, then I guess Frank is right.