Though he receives very little media attention and is frequently dismissed as a crackpot by mainstream observers, Ron Paul’s presidential campaign has been extraordinary by any measure. Even as Mike Huckabee surges in the polls and is followed by hordes of reporters, Paul, in near total obscurity, “is poised to out-raise the rest of the Republican field this quarter, fueled by his rock star status on the Internet,” The Trail, a Washington Post campaign blog, reported earlier this week. “As of Monday afternoon, he has clocked in $10.5 million, mostly through the Internet.”
It seems unlikely that Paul will be a serious candidate for the Republican nomination. Nonetheless, and whatever you think of his politics, the grassroots movement behind Paul is vibrant and growing. What’s driving Paul’s support? Where do his fans go from here? What are the long-term implications of his surprising campaign?
My colleague Thessaly La Force recently asked those questions of Tom Edmonds, a prominent conservative political consultant who has worked for candidates and causes, including the National Rifle Association. (He is not working for any of the current presidential campaigns.) Below are excerpts of Edmonds’ remarks, which have been edited for clarity and length.
There are huge blocks of Republicans who are not satisfied with any of their choices. Paul has tapped into that. People see him as fresh, direct, not trying to manipulate, not offering calculated answers, just being very honest, blunt, and sincere. I am a diehard conservative but my wife is a Democrat. She watched Ron Paul and said, “I like that guy, who is that?” I told her, “He doesn’t agree with you on any issues.” But a lot of it has to do with presentation and style. He is the anti-hero hero. He’s a maverick. The first rule of marketing is to be different, and he’s different. They all look alike, except for him.
The voters are disenfranchised from their government. Congress, the presidency, all institutions have low approval ratings. Paul is a way of venting a pox on all the other houses.
No one is giving Paul money because they want to influence government policy. That’s what donors to the other candidates are doing–they’re thinking, “We’d better support him because we’re going to need him in the future.” People are supporting Ron Paul out of conviction. The early debates primed the pump. The old media got him exposed. Now, the new media has provided the base for him. You can’t go to the street corner and find a Ron Paul for President office, but you can go online.
Part of Paul’s appeal is that he doesn’t fit squarely into either political party. His positions are libertarian, but also eclectic. All of the Republican candidates tend to support President Bush and the war, but he doesn’t. On the other hand, a lot of his libertarian positions on the role of government don’t agree with Democrats. Ron Paul is a rejection of the Republicans and the Democrats. He is a rejection of the political process. People are tired of being spoon fed these debates and issues.
He’s not going to win, but all he has to do is exceed expectations. He’s gotten so little attention out of the press, all he has to do is show up on the screen and it’s going to be news. He has nowhere to go but up. He has such magnetism that we could see him as a third party candidate. But you can’t run successfully as a third party candidate in this country. I don’t think he’ll run for president again. If he does he’d become part of the problem.
Where will his supporters go after the campaign? I think it’s kind of like a solid turning into a gas–it will dissipate but it will still be there if someone else comes along whom they can coalesce behind. They could turn out to be some kind of continuing force. Maybe they will help elect a few people who share the same values at the state level or the congressional level. If Ron Paul pointed to other congressional candidates who were worthy of support, that might work. So instead of focusing on the presidency, start the revolution at a lower level.