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What Can We Learn From the Ron Paul Campaign?
In a video posted on his website almost two weeks ago, Republican Rep. Ron Paul hinted at the obvious. With John McCain clinching the GOP nomination, his presidential campaign is over. The Ron Paul phenomenon of 2008 is interesting because it revealed a great deal about where the Republican Party has been, and quite possibly where it is going. The fascinating thing about Paul is that he is either loved or loathed. I am probably one of the few people who doesn’t feel pulled to either extreme.
Unlike many of his supporters, Dr. Paul never seemed to lose focus of the long shot nature of his campaign. He knew that he was saying what his own party did not want to hear. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up in front of millions and take positions that will be very unpopular. Ron Paul was on a crusade to return the GOP back to its conservative roots. To Paul, the Republican Party has become the standard bearer for interventionism, fiscal irresponsibility, and increasing the power of the federal government. Paul saw himself as the lone conservative voice, amongst a field of pretenders.
The problem for Paul is that the Republican Party of 2008 is no longer the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. It is now a party divided between liberal Republicans like McCain and Giuliani, and social conservatives such as Mike Huckabee. It seems like there is no room in the party for old school fiscal conservatives. The blunt truth is that Ron Paul’s views were never going to be accepted by today’s Republican voters.
Over the past year, I would get tons of email any time that I wrote something negative about Ron Paul. Some of his more zealous supporters would tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that Ron would be the nominee if only the media would be fair with him. My standard reply was always to point out that, a). It is difficult to win the Republican nomination if Republicans won’t vote for you, and b). Despite the fact that he had only had one second place finish, he has received a ton of media coverage. No other candidate has done so little at the polls yet received so much coverage.
Unlike Barack Obama, the Paul campaign was never able to translate their vast Internet support into votes. The difference between the two campaigns is simple. Obama’s message was crafted to appeal to Democratic voters, while Paul was trying to take his party in a direction that they didn’t want to go in. The Paul campaign did affirm that a candidate can raise tons of money on line. They also showed that enough Internet buzz can translate into media attention. However, political campaigns still live and die based on their message, and Ron Paul’s message never appealed to enough Republican voters. This fact may say more about the state of the Republican Party, than the campaign of Ron Paul.