I don’t watch presidential candidate “debates” anymore, and last night was no exception. You can usually predict the winner by figuring out which candidate has the lowest IQ and is willing to pander the most. That’s a good fit for the average voter. I don’t have a strong enough stomach to watch that.
I have a lot of friends, though, who are getting excited about Ron Paul‘s chances of winning the Republican nomination. His fundraising is kicking into high gear and his message is starting to catch on with younger people. The momentum is building for a grassroots campaign. Oh, wait. That was 2008, wasn’t it?
I’m having deja vu as I observe my excited libertarian (and some conservative) friends throw their efforts into a new Ron Paul campaign, because it really does feel a lot like 2008. I’m hearing the same things from his supporters. I’m hearing the same vague sense of irrational optimism. I’m having trouble figuring out why such bright people — many of whom I love and respect — are being sucked into a campaign that has no chance of winning. I frequently tell people that it would be easier for me to get my dog, Lucy, elected president than Paul — partly because Lucy never ran for president on a party platform that supported illegal drugs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me remind you of my biases. I’ve written before about the fact that I like and respect Paul tremendously, but I won’t be voting for him. I won’t be voting for another candidate, though. If you’ve read much of what I’ve written here, you’ll understand why. I’ve given up on the coercive state and I’m looking for what comes next. Not only do I believe the state has no moral legitimacy, I also think it’s pragmatically impossible to save the American empire at this point, so I’m not trying. (Please read my previous article on the subject before continuing. I’ll wait here for you.)
I’m trying to make sure you understand up-front that I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from supporting Paul because I want you to support another candidate instead. I’m in the “Nobody for president” camp. In this article, though, we’re strictly going to look at the political realities. I’m basing this on my 20 years of experience working in politics on a state and local level. I haven’t worked for presidential campaigns, but the same reasoning applies.
Paul is going to lose for three simple reasons. First, his policies and priorities — as much sense as they make to me (and probably you) — aren’t shared by most other people. His economic policies resonate with Republican voters. If we were just electing a president based on economics, I’d give him a slight chance. But we’re not. A presidential campaign is about emotions concerning a lot of different things. If Paul ends up being seen as a serious candidate (which I don’t believe will happen anyway), he will be pummeled with his previous stances on military policy, foreign policy and social issues. His views are far out of step with Republican primary voters. That in itself will be enough to kill his chances of winning. Please just face it. You can’t talk people into agreeing with your logic. It’s not going to happen.
Second, the media don’t believe that Paul has a chance, so he’s not going to get especially favorable coverage. Nothing about him plays into any of the sort of story lines that media like to tell. For instance, after last night’s debate, the focus was on Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney. The media need to reduce things to two candidates in order to tell a story. With eight candidates in the debate, there will probably be three tiers in the media coverage: 1) The top two, in their judgement, 2) the ones who have a shot at moving up, in their judgement, and 3) the “also rans” who complete the field. Paul is in the third category.
They’ll be nice about the third group, but with the way televisions works, it’s impossible to give reasonable “mindshare” to all eight candidates. This isn’t a matter of the media trying to choose a candidate — as some of my conspiratorial friends always allege. It’s just a matter of the TV people having to concentrate on the few people they think have a shot, because that’s the way TV works. (I’ve recommended it over and over, but please real Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” if you want to understand why TV dumbs down public discourse. It’s not the media people. It’s the medium itself.)
Third, even if we could get past the fact that Paul’s positions radically diverging from those of Republican primary voters and even if we could convince the media to treat him as one of the top candidates, there’s one issue that will destroy him. Paul will not be willing to enlist in the “War on (Some) Drugs.” This is honest and principled — and he’s 100 percent right — but it’s political suicide. No matter how stupid it is to keep throwing money after fighting a “war” that can’t be won (and that’s destroying our civil liberties), Republican primary voters want someone who will promise to do it anyway. If Paul were a serious candidate at some point, all it would take to destroy him is to show his previous views about drug legalization (and decriminalization) and show quotes from the 1988 Libertarian Party platform, when Paul was its nominee. The sinister-sounding TV spots about “our children” being in danger with a Ron Paul presidency virtually write themselves.
I read a lot of people trying to convince folks that Paul has a chance. I like and respect many of these people, but they’re just plain wrong on this one. I would love to be wrong about this, but I’m not.
Ron Paul has no chance of being elected president. You’re much better off focusing on what you’re going to do under another four years of the Big Government Demopublican who really is going to be elected. Figure out whether it’s worth staying here or you want to go somewhere else or head for a remote mountain or an island. Whatever your plan might be. Working for Paul might make you feel good for a little while, but you won’t achieve your goal, despite the fact that some very sincere people are sure it’s finally going to be different this time. It’s not.