HAWAII, June 18, 2012 — Many of my friends and co-workers are the perfect embodiment of what one would disparagingly call “Paulbots.” Since Sen. Rand Paul officially endorsed Mitt Romney for President, I have seen my friends reduced to walking around all day with thousand yard stares, posting on Facebook awkward photographs of Ron Paul with flummoxed facial expressions (usually the one that shows him bewildered and mouth gaping open) with captions reading “Dear Dr. Paul, I will not stop fighting for you” and exhibiting textbook symptoms of the Depression Phase of the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief.
I have two words that will save your life: stop it.
What the “Liberty Movement” needs most right now is to be real with themselves and conduct a lessons learned on what just happened to them and how to avoid it in the future.
1. Ron Paul made a strategic blunder when he made the decision to run for President as a Republican. Ron Paul is a self-confessed Austrolibertarian. The Austrian approach revolves around praxeology, that is, a combination of history, psychology and mathematics to develop a theoretical understanding of human action in markets.
When applied to public policy, those who subscribe to the teachings of Rothbard, Mises, Say, Menger and others usually tend to be libertarians because one comes to realize after studying Austrian writings that there is not a single thing the government does that the free market on its own could not provide without compulsion or violence.
Contrast that with the Republican Party, whose dominant, post-Reagan economic worldview is influenced heavily by both the Chicago School of Economics as well as Keynesian models when it comes to their fixation on supply-side tax cuts.
Republicans therefore tend to be conservative; that is to say, they believe the use of government force, while regrettable, is occasionally merited in certain areas of key national interest, be it the Fed’s interest rates, the DEA fighting drugs, Lincoln using the Army during the Civil War and so forth.
From the very beginning, attempts to establish Ron Paul representing “True Republicanism” or “The Old Right” were at best a stretch and intellectually dishonest. To call Ron Paul a “paleoconservative” is laughable.
While certainly men like Howard Buffett, Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater share a number of similarities to Ron Paul’s ideal points on a spatial political chart, by and large the Republican Party has been at the core of the very policies Paul opposes.
Ask yourself, who was the first Republican President? Abraham Lincoln. How many of Abraham Lincoln’s polices line up with Paul’s ideal points? I challenge anyone who has read libertarian books such as DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln or Rothbard’s History of Money and Banking in the United States to honestly look in the mirror and convincingly tell themselves that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon is the “original” party that Paul ascribes to.
Instead, the theme of Paul as a Republican savior was at best retroactive continuity, attempting to portray the original Republican Party as something it never was to fit Paul’s candidacy. Now, being a political scientist, I’ll be realistic and concede that all candidates necessarily engage in strategic positioning, which is to say they join the party they think will benefit them most and brand themselves based on what they think their partisans will support most. But it’s no wonder that Republican primaries by and large rejected Paul at the polls – the libertarian cultural experience, worldview, economic methodology and political objectives are apples and oranges to conservatism.
Paul supporters didn’t want (and didn’t understand the need for) Ron Paul to appeal to Reagan sentimentalism within the GOP to curry appeal during debates. Why? Because libertarians ultimately refer to Reagan with gritted teeth and tensed nerves. They do not understand the cultural element of the Republican Reagan experience, so naturally they communicate libertarian messages to Republican ears using libertarian culture and libertarian messaging which results in a clash rather than connect.
Any political scientist analyzing the electorate would have advised that the ideal point of a majority of Republican voters was too far off from Paul’s ideal point. The “win set” in a Presidential Republican race for Paul was far outside his electoral envelope.
Think about how much money and manpower the Paul campaign blew on trying to appear Republican when in fact everyone who knows his platform can see he is a dyed in the wool libertarian. Rather than throwing his supporters out to get doors slammed in their face and forced to feel the heat of local party Establishment immune response, Paul could have run as a Libertarian and utilized his organization to lower the cognitive threshold for independents and “soft” partisans to vote third party.
I would argue that Paul would have not only been more effective as a Libertarian, but his influence would have made congressional and state partisan L-flagged candidates extremely competitive.
For all the talk of the evil “two party system” the Ron Paul campaign has effectively sucked Austrolibertarians and anarcho-capitalists into the secure fold of the Republican Party. There’s an evil two party system, ey? Solution: Run Ron Paul as a Republican? Does that make sense?
Perhaps unintentionally the ultimate short term legacy of Ron Paul’s 2012 Republican campaign and his delegate strategy is set to be “keep the Democrats OUT, the Republicans IN and the Libertarians DOWN.”
In short, if you’re a libertarian, then run Libertarian. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. The purpose of parties in the first place is to resolve collective action problems – that is, at the critical moment, everyone votes (or should vote) the party line or shouldn’t be there in the first place.
2. Party officers and national platforms mean very little. I love reading about how “Paul has already won: He controls the state party leadership and may in fact influence the RNC platform.” Anyone who says that obviously has no experience either in state party politics or elections. To begin, no one cares what the party platform actually says except for the poor yet diligent souls on Platform Committee. Politicians are political entrepreneurs, so they will pay lip service to the official platform but ultimately do what they have in mind to do.
Whenever a candidate says “I support the platform” what they really mean is “I support the areas of the platform that connect to what interest me.” Sorry, but if Paul blew tens of millions of dollars just to put research notes in a PDF buried on the RNC website, his campaign could have done that with a PSA campaign rather than an election.
Secondly, being a party officer means nothing. More often than not, party officer positions are social rather than political and the real bellybuttons of any state committee are large donors or “packagers” (fundraising activists capable of bringing together other large donors). In order to run candidates that adhere to your political ideology, in order to be the 300-lb gorilla in the Republican meetings, you have to be capable of power fundraising for the party.
Fundraising is almost always personality (candidate) driven. Once election season is over, the majority of $200-or-less donors, who are important to campaigns only through volume of donors, become “maxed outs” who want nothing to do with fundraising, or with grassroots operations for that matter. Why should they? The election is over and they have bills to pay, mouths to feed and things to do.
Can you honestly see Ron Paul supporters-turned-officers packaging for Lincoln Day Dinner or a Governor’s Ball for someone like Mitch Daniels? Even at Tea Party rallies Paul supporters tend to be out of place, much less conducting Republican party business.
3. Learn how to use statistics and be willing to use them in campaigns.
If there is one thing that every campaign needs, it’s a savvy statistician. Why? Because voter behavior, voter demographics and voter patterns are the key to elections. As Sun Tzu teaches in The Art of War, the general who makes few calculations in the before battle loses to the one who makes many.
Never run for office “just to run for office.” There needs to be a clearly defined, attainable objective which is supportable by the electorate. If you’re going to run in a partisan race, you need to run where you have a chance of winning, not one where you don’t. If you’re going to campaign against your own party, you better know the 60% issues by heart.
What I would recommend right now to Paul supporters truly interested in victory is to study the demographics of their local elections, to finance exploratory committees and to conduct private polls to see where they can find low hanging fruit for the 2014 Congressional midterm elections.
I would also recommend a strategy renaissance for Paul supporters – learn comparative politics, game theory, social psychology, and tactical philosophy. Winning isn’t an accident, it’s a process. If you campaign like someone who thinks the Establishment will beat them, well, guess what – “they” will.
4. Run/campaign to win, but don’t make winning an office your sole reason for existence in life. What America needs most right now is not leadership by force but leadership by example. At the end of the day you control your life, not Ben Bernanke or Barack Obama. You alone make the decisions to react, act or remain unmoved. Never encapsulate all of your hopes, dreams, passions and faith in a single person.
If you desire change, then be the change you desire but don’t expect someone else to implement it for you. Don’t succumb to cult-of-personality ideology and remember that some things in life are completely beyond your control.
I’m reminded of a scene from the 1998 political movie Primary Colors where political operative Richard Jemmons tells a star-struck Henry Burton, “You know what your problem is, Hotchkiss? You got galloping T.B. … True Believerism. You talk and act like a pro, but inside you’re just like Libby, who actually goes crazy when her candidate turns out not to be a rock.”
At the end of the day, let God be true and every man a liar – all politicians are still only human.
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