SALT LAKE CITY, November 14, 2011―Ron Paul supporters might be the most loyal and unwavering group of politicos in the country, and they might end up being the most disappointed.
Obama mobilized an impressive coalition of energetic youth, first time voters, and hopeful minorities that propelled him to victory in 2008. Before him, George W. Bush brought together evangelicals and upwardly mobile middle class voters.
Even in this primary cycle, Herman Cain has rallied Tea Party and economic voters in a surprising way. Coalitions are how national electoral victories are forged.
Those who would like to see the genteel, libertarian-leaning doctor from Lake Jackson, Texas ascend to the highest office in the land want nothing to do with coalitions, though.
Their misunderstanding of presidential elections reflects the weaknesses in Paul’s campaign strategy. The man can be forgiven – he has certainly had some successes.
He first won his House seat in a tight 1976 election. He held it for one term, returned to Congress in 1979 for six years, and returned yet again in 1997. Without ever trying to appease the national Republican party, he has easily retained it since, the margins of victories steadily widening each cycle. In 2010 he beat his democratic opponent by 52 percentage points.
But he hasn’t been able to translate his lock on the Texas 14th Congressional District into national viability. His national polling average according to Real Clear Politics is in single digits, and has never broken that barrier. Moreover, he barely gets past ten points in Iowa and New Hampshire. In South Carolina he stands at 6%.
His supporters might be loathe to accept the validity of the polls, but they are the polls that most highly correlate into electoral victories. Nobody disputes Paul’s success in straw polls and online surveys. They measure intensity. But among likely voters, Paul simply doesn’t have the level of support needed to win the nomination.
The reasons are evident. Paul is uncompromising. He is a purist. That explains at once the high level of intensity among his support and the middling support with the rest of Republicans. Ron Paul doesn’t play politics like a politician. But to win a national race, once needs to play politics like a politician.
Paul’s supporters seem to want all or nothing. They say that Romney and Cain are just like Obama; that a Republican who doesn’t abolish the Fed or bring all of our troops home immediately is worse than a despot, and indistinguishable from our current chief executive.
If they don’t get it all, do they really have to settle for nothing? Of course not. If he truly wanted to steer the country toward a more responsible path of fiscal restraint, transparency, and constitutionalism, (as his platform leads one to believe) then he would do well to recognize where his strengths in the party are.
He has a massive and loyal following that obviously crosses traditional party and ideological lines. He is an eloquent spokesman for a libertarian orientation in governance. He is unafraid to champion ideas that are unpopular among the governing elite.
They want purity and steadfastness. The oval office, for better or for worse, has never been a place for purity. From Washington to Reagan, our greatest chiefs of state have been pragmatists, compromisers, and coalition builders.
Paul’s electoral successes in over the past 15 years are instructive here. It is fairly easy to get purity in congressional candidates. Districts are gerrymandered and manipulated for that express purpose. The amalgamation of all 435 congressional districts represents a mish mash of interests and values. To win the presidency, one must recognize that purity is a disqualifier.
Paul’s supporters can take comfort in the electoral realities that will doom his presidential aspirations. While the White House is out of reach, congressional districts are not. As the 111th and 112th Congresses demonstrated, it is important – and realistic – to send constitutionalists to the House and Senate. Purists, rather than frustrate the chances of less conservative candidates in national races, should concentrate their efforts in winning House and senate seats.
So Ron Paul will not be the nominee. Yet his work in the conservative movement is important. With all his strengths, he could hit the trail in support of the eventual Republican candidate to challenge Obama. He could direct those who trust and believe in him to support the party with their time, money, and enthusiasm.
Nobody in the current field is as faithful to the original intent of the constitution as Dr. Paul is. But every single one is a great deal more faithful to it (from a conservative viewpoint) than President Obama is. It would not be difficult for him to explain to his followers that a Republican in the White House would be much more likely to move the country in his direction than another four years of Obama.
This election will test the president’s ability to rebuild his winning coalition from 2008, and the Republican’s attempt to keep together the one that helped them retake the Congress in 2010. Ron Paul can help decide which one will prevail, but the coalition won’t be behind him for president.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. He is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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