The Ron Paul Revolution
Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
May 27, 2012
Even though Ron Paul will no longer campaign for the Republican nomination, the Ron Paul Revolution continues because the “revolution” is not about winning the nomination. The revolution’s goal is nothing short of changing the Republican Party and then America.
Once you understand this goal, the Ron Paul campaign makes sense. Ron Paul continued to campaign when it was clear he could not win because he sought to spread his message and win converts. In normal times, Paul’s libertarian message would only appeal to the disaffected. However deficits, bailouts, unpopular wars, and health care reform has dramatically increased the number of disaffected. Paul’s libertarian message particularly appeals to Tea Partiers by providing a narrative that connects past failed Republican spending and foreign policy decisions to corporations controlling the GOP and justifies small government as not just good policy but what the Founders intended. Since the “Republican establishment” lacks a compelling, coherent, realistic alternative narrative, Paul has increased his support from the low single digits in 2008 to 10-15% of voters in primaries in 2012.
The revolutionary goals of the campaign also explain the takeover of state conventions. Most political analysis focuses on the Paul campaign electing supporters as delegates to the convention to influence the party platform. While Paul does want to influence the platform, the primary purpose of attending conventions is to takeover state and local parties. The caucus process for state conventions start at the precinct level and move up to the county and state level. At each level, these conventions choose party leaders. Once Paul supporters are elected party leaders, they control the party meetings, finances, and media operations and can use these to advance Paul’s vision.
Moreover, most elected leaders begin at the local party level. Here they make connections with other Republicans, activists, contributors, and campaign operatives. The Paul supporters can potentially use these connections to run and win party nominations and elective offices to advance the libertarian vision. Like Goldwater supporters and the Christian Coalition in the past, Ron Paul supporters are using the presidential campaign to lay a foundation for future influence by taking over local party organizations.
However, the ultimate success of the Ron Paul revolution is doubtful. First, Ron Paul supporters must be willing to compromise with others and moderate their positions to garner widespread support. This moderation is just not in the DNA of most rabid Ron Paul fans as fights over control of parties and the decline in party fundraising in Ron Paul party takeovers demonstrate.
Second, the libertarian philosophy has a ceiling of support of around 10%. Simply put, most Americans support Social Security, Medicare, environmental regulation, and support for education. Therefore, it is unlikely enough candidates supporting a minimalist state can be elected to major offices to eliminate those programs.
Third, the belief in conspiracy theories about 9/11, world government, and other things and some eccentric personalities allow opponents to attack Ron Paul supporters on these side issues which undermines support for their valid ideas through guilt by association.
In reality, the Ron Paul revolution has been successful at the philosophical level. Republican candidates praise small government and are actually promoting policies that would reduce the size of government. However a minimalist government is unrealistic. Will the “revolution” be happy winning philosophical debates but losing the policy wars?
This cilumn originally appeared in The Jackson Sun on May 25