The Ron Paul Appeal

In what may be shocking to establishment politicos everywhere, Ron Paul raised about $4 million online yesterday. That's $4 million raised in a single day. I can only imagine how John McCain and Mike Huckabee feel about this. Even though their polling is much better, their fundraising can't compete with this.

I really don't know how to classify Ron Paul, nor do I know how to accurately gauge his true support. But it seems to me like Paul's support is coming from the following:

1. Libertarians. The Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in the United States. Libertarians are often torn between voting for their party's nominee and voting Republican in general elections. Republicans' positions on limited government, fiscal conservatism, and gun rights please Libertarians even though their results might not always match their rhetoric. The religious part of the Republican platform, however, discourages Libertarians who believe no religion (including Christianity) should be accommodated or discouraged by the government. Thus, the evangelical wing of the party is a big turnoff to live and let live Libertarians. Ron Paul offers the libertarian side of Republicanism without the religious side of it.

2. Gun owners. Like abortion, the right to bear arms is one of the rare issues in which people vote the issue rather than the party. NRA members generally endorse and vote for Republicans, but they will warmly support a Democrat who shares their views as well. However, some of the leading Republicans are viewed with suspicion because of their views on guns. Mitt Romney's appreciation of the 2nd Amendment and hunting are not seen as credible because of his recent conversion on the issues. And lately, Romney seems to be running as the candidate for the corporate wing of the Republican Party, rather than the sportsman wing of the party. Front-runner Rudy Giuliani is also viewed as suspect because of his crackdown on guns when he was mayor of New York. Giuliani did address the National Rifle Association earlier this campaign season and tried to make the point that "my 80% friend is not my 20% enemy." This is a good strategy, but the problem with it is that, as I stated earlier, gun rights are one of those issues in which people vote the issue instead of the party. Among NRA voters, a Democrat who is a gun rights advocate could beat a Republican who is a gun rights opponent. This is important in Midwestern states like Missouri, Michigan, and Ohio. For these gun rights voters, Ron Paul has a much stronger record on the issue that matters to them most than the two leading Republican candidates.

3. Antiwar voters. Ron Paul is as pure on Iraq as Dennis Kucinich is. So why isn't Kucinich benefiting as much from his antiwar purity as Ron Paul is? One reason is that you don't have to be a Democrat to be against the Iraq War. There are a lot of conservatives and Republicans who are infuriated with Bush over his prosecution of the war in Iraq. Paul correctly argues that the war is draining our resources, draining our treasury, and creating more problems than it solves. When he argues this, however, the other Republicans gang up on him as being out of touch with reality and implying that he is soft on terrorism. It seems that whenever Paul talks about the folly of Iraq, the other Republicans treat him as if he were a Democrat. The Rush Limbaugh crowd may love this, but there is a wing of highly educated Republicans that recoils in anger when they see candidates like Giuliani use Paul's arguments as a cheap applause line. (I use the term "highly educated Republicans" not to suggest that base voters aren't smart, but rather to say that these more educated voters are more likely to think rationally about politics and the consequences of our actions, rather than revert to simplistic knee-jerk thinking.)

4. Antitax voters and deficit hawks. Mike Huckabee is fast becoming the buzz candidate among Republicans. His consistently strong debate performances and his humble demeanor have given him lots of good press. Now he is a serious threat to Mitt Romney in Iowa and could potentially derail Fred Thompson in South Carolina. Huckabee does have one weakness in the eyes of Republicans, however: taxes. The Grover Norquist wing of the Republican Party is strongly against taxes because they believe they impact economic growth. Norquist's Club for Growth has strongly criticized Huckabee's record on taxes while he was the governor of Arkansas. Ron Paul is notorious for voting against excessive spending and tax increases. Pleasing the Club for Growth means one less enemy to worry about as you pursue the Republican nomination.

5. Constitutionalists. It's very hard for the other Republican candidates to refute Ron Paul when he cites the Constitution as the basis on which he formulates his policy. In the debates, the other candidates were clearly annoyed by Paul's assertions that some of Republicans' policies were against the Constitution. Rudy Giuliani in particular talks about the importance of nominating "strict constructionalists" to the federal courts. However, Ron Paul applies "strict constructionism" to his legislation and policies as well. Thus, Paul can more credibly claim to be the Constitution's chief defender.

6. Grassroots appeal. Voters don't like being told that they should abandon their desired candidate because they are wasting their votes. And voters love David and Goliath stories. All the media coverage, polling, and fundraising totals favor Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney. Ron Paul, however, has a particularly strong online presence that is seeping over into real world presence. Paul has won several straw polls and is turning out in droves at his campaign events. I have seen more Ron Paul signs in South Carolina than signs for John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. There seems to be a greater sense of individual ownership in the Paul campaign. Instead of waiting for Paul to get his message out, his supporters are doing it for him in viral ways. How often have you read a political article online that has been flooded with comments supporting Ron Paul's presidential bid?

7. Appeal among cynics. Ron Paul has maintined an impressive level of ideological consistency on the campaign trail. He's not focusing so much on bashing the Democrats or on getting Republicans to like him. His message has consistently been about freedom and the Constitution. This lack of pandering and focus on the pressing issues of our time make him seem apolitical, which is appealing to voters who have had enough of rhetoric and trying to one-up their political opponents. Ron Paul is not alone in this regard, as Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson, and maybe even John McCain are all focusing more on their records and ideas rather than the warts of their opponents.

This leads me to wonder if the prototype of a Ron Paul supporter is a hodgepodge of several different types of voters. With Fred Thompson, it is reasonable to view his supporters as primarily White, Southern, conservative males. And Rudy Giuliani is popular with Midwestern and Northern moderates. Hillary Clinton is drawing the bulk of her support from women and Blacks. And Barack Obama is popular among younger, well educated voters. But what about Ron Paul? It seems like Paul's support has been cobbled together from various constituencies which would not appear to be natural allies at first glance.

So why isn't he registering in the polls? I mentioned several weeks ago how it would be interesting to see how well Paul performed in New Hampshire, the most conservative-libertarian state in the Northeast. Could it be that a lot of his supporters are feigning allegiance to other candidates when they are surveyed even though they really plan on supporting Paul in the primaries? I honestly can't figure Ron Paul out.

6 comment(s):

Silence Dogood said...

Excellent piece. Paul, who was raising eyebrows with his ideas before is now raising eyebrows with his fundraising. While Paul is a little too far to the right on some issue for me and too ideologically libertarian in some respects (his advocating of dropping out of the U.N.) He offers something for people across the political spectrum, many Democrats - but very few Republicans - are civil libertarians or value civil rights in general, for those persons that do, Paul's ideologically sound and constitutionally correct arguments AGAINST the Patriot Act and other government impingements into the personal life of the citizenry based on "emergcy that can't be commented on" and "Gut feelings" about terrorist attacks et cetera are very appealing. John Tester did a good job of playing into that libertarian lean when he won his Senate race. Conrad Burns would try to hit Tester with "this guy wants to make you less safe by repealing parts of the patriot act" and Tester won the debate by noting "Let's be clear, I am not for repealing parts of the Patriot Act, I am for repealing it entirely...so the government can't keep track of my guns and your guns!" While probably never very likel to vote for Ron Paul, I am pleased he is doing well and hope his candidacy will rattle the cages a little bit - I enjoy the fact that he has actually gained momentum despite being continually bashed by the main stream conservative pundits. He is at least principled (you don't find that as often anymore in a politicain). The pundits can't figure him out because they realize just how ticked the American public - and I would have to assume the Republican party in general has become with their leadership in the past 3 years in particular.

Silence Dogood said...

Correction, that last sentence should read "The pundits can't figure him out because they DON'T realize just how ticked the American public" is.

shedd98 said...

You make some good points. However, don't you think that Huckabee's got to be feeling pretty good since he's polling so well right now despite his lackluster fundraising?

Huckabee is Rising, and I like Mike!

Anthony Palmer said...


Yeah, Ron Paul's supporters seem to run the gamut in terms of demographics. You've got your survivalists who live in rural Montana who love him. You've got your college students who are turned off from Republicans and Democrats in general who love him. You've got your Cindy Sheehan Democrats who wish the Democrats had as much of a spine regarding Iraq as Paul does. You've got your gun lovers in rural Kentucky who love him. I mean, this guy is as close to a consensus candidate as you can get. It's amazing to see how disciplined his supporters are, especially after the GOP debates when he "wins" the text messaging polls. I am glad he hasn't folded up his tent because I think he has tapped into something very real.


Thanks for dropping by The 7-10. I referenced Mike Huckabee because even though his polling in Iowa is improving, his fundraising has been weak (until recently). If Huckabee had Paul's fundraising, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson would be in serious, serious trouble because he is a much more credible conservative than they are. Contrary to what most politicos think, I believe Huckabee is the strongest GOP general election candidate, not Giuliani.

Thanks for dropping by.

Deacon Tim said...

Great post, Anthony. Paul is to the Libertarians what Nader was to the Liberals: a pure, principled candidate who gets it in his gut, and is willing to say what so many people think. But $4 million will not buy the presidency. I think it's a flash in the pan, and there's no way he could win the White House. The idea of smaller government died with Reagan (who never really believed it anyway), and America has firmly entrenched itself within the model of a modern welfare state with an activist government. The rest is details.

As far as Huckabee, he's certainly an interesting candidate, but the Right dimisses him because he believes that you have to actually have functioning, funded programs in order to govern effectively. And because they don't think he can win the general election, which is ultimately what this is all about.

And all this talk about the 1st and 2nd Amendments has me wondering: how come nobody ever runs on defending the 3rd Amendment?

Anthony Palmer said...

Deacon Tim,

Thanks for the comment. I will agree with you in that Paul is similar to Nader with one exception. Paul is more credible. He also seems to have a more organized grassroots operation than Nader ever did. I agree with the other reason you cited behind his popularity: the consistency and purity of his arguments. He's not a panderer, and I think that co-opts Obama's message a bit.

I've always wondered about the "small government" ideas as well. If the federal government were to shrink, where would those newly displaced/unemployed workers go? Would it really be wise to put all those skilled workers back in the market where it's hard enough to get a job as is because of outsourcing?

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