If you thought the Republican establishment was having kittens over the possibility of Gingrich winning Iowa, they are *really* having kittens over Ron Paul potentially winning Iowa. Despite his closeness in the polls, every commentary I’ve seen recently has been of the “he has zero chance” variety, even to the point where Chris Wallace has said that if Paul wins Iowa, it won’t count. David Frum unleashed a hard-hitting and factually questionable critique. Rush Limbaugh bizarrely said he is the only candidate who would lose to Obama. And the vitriol that flowed against his inveighing against a war on Iran was fierce.
I think it’s very possible that Ron Paul will win Iowa. In fact, I hope he does. If nothing else, watching every commentator — liberal or conservative — shit their pants would be fun. If nothing else, watching them trying to declare a second-place Gingrich or a third-place Romney the “real winner” would be fun.
I’ve liked Paul since he became a national figure in 2008. One thing he has that few have is consistency. Even liberals respect his integrity on the issues. Granted, sometimes he is consistently looney. But his opposition to war, big government and the War on Drugs; his support for basic civil liberties and strict interpretation of the Constitution is sometimes a joy to hear. It is telling that the GOP field has moved heavily in his direction. At last Saturday’s debate, several candidates sited him as having taught them about various issues.
Now should he be the nominee? Andrew Sullivan, of all people, makes the best argument here. Sample quote:
I regard this primary campaign as the beginning of a process to save conservatism from itself. In this difficult endeavor, Paul has kept his cool, his good will, his charm, his honesty and his passion. His scorn is for ideas, not people, but he knows how to play legitimate political hardball. Look at his ads – the best of the season so far. His worldview is too extreme for my tastes, but it is more honestly achieved than most of his competitors, and joined to a temperament that has worn well as time has gone by.
I feel the same way about him on the right in 2012 as I did about Obama in 2008. Both were regarded as having zero chance of being elected. And around now, people decided: Why not? And a movement was born. He is the “Change You Can Believe In” on the right. If you are an Independent and can vote in a GOP primary, vote Paul. If you are a Republican concerned about the degeneracy of the GOP, vote Paul. If you are a citizen who wants more decency and honesty in our politics, vote Paul. If you want someone in the White House who has spent decades in Washington and never been corrupted, vote Paul.
That’s about as good a case as anyone has made. But .. you know … I kind of agree with the critics. While his supporters are passionate, his broad appeal is almost non-existent. Nominating Paul could mean you’ve basically conceded the election (in fact, I would argue that the withdrawal of reasonable options like Daniels, Christie, Pawlenty and Huckabee indicates the GOP already has conceded the election).
Now maybe that’s OK if what we’re looking for is a exorcism. The demons afflicting the GOP — big government conservatism, culture war orthodoxy, overly aggressive foreign policy, selective Constitutional adherence, and a pathological hatred of all things Democrat — need to go before they get power back. Tonight’s debate featured calls from the GOP candidates for war in Iran, gutting of the judiciary, deep tax cuts while the deficit explodes, a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage and other nuttery. And of course, they tossed out every calumny they could think of for the President, deserved or not. In 2008, Paul was on the fringe. Now, compared to these jokers, he looks reasonable.
However … Paul has baggage: his nutty ideas about the gold standard, his support of the Constitution Party in 2008, and especially his association with Lew Rockwell and some racially-charged things Rockwell said in Paul’s newsletter. Here’s what Lee said back in 2008:
I’m beginning to view Ron Paul in much the same way I viewed Jack Kervorkian, a man whose ideas I fundamentally agree with but who I think is the wrong standard-bearer for them.
I still think that’s the case. If Paul is the nominee, all of these issues will come out. And his response last time was disappointing, to say the least.
Moreover, election 2012 is not just about fixing the GOP. While it’s likely that Obama will be re-elected — Americans hate to throw out incumbents — it’s by no means certain. And we have to treat the GOP field as though it contains the next President and act accordingly.
That’s why my favorite at this point is John Huntsman. He many of Paul’s strengths but fewer of his weaknesses. He doesn’t needlessly bash Democrats but opposes their ideas. He accepts that global warming may be real but opposes radical plans for fixing it. He’s conservative in his personal life but more tolerant in his politics. He has foreign policy experience and a tax plan that would eliminate all deductions. True, his campaign has been spectacularly poor — he’s currently polling slightly lower among Republicans than Nancy Pelosi would. But he’s the better option, in my opinion.
If Paul wins Iowa or finishes close, this thing is going to go a long time. I still think Romney will win the end. He’s weathered bubbles from Perry, Bachmann and Cain so far. I can’t believe the Gingrich bubble will last or that the Paul bubble is ultimately sustainable. But if it drags out long enough, we may be looking at a brokered convention.
And in that case, anything can happen.