The big question on the minds of Republicans is how to handle the Ron Paul problem.
To use professional wrestling terms, In the 08 primaries Ron Paul played the Republican heel in the debates. He would spout off unpopular things and rile up the audience, then a faithful Republican baby face would hulk up and give a massive leg drop on issues like the surge and the patriot act. Republicans and Conservatives would cheer that they’d smacked down Paul for bringing up issues like blowback into a Republican debate.
But, unfortunately for McCain, Romney, Huckabee and Thompson they all lost in one way or another. And, while they were body slamming Ron Paul, their campaigns lacked had the intensity of an NPR special on the effects of global warming on the Siberian tundra.
Four years later, Romney is officially “winning”, but his victory has a hallow feel to it. None of the Republican campaigns have any life in them. The only bits of life seemed to bubble up around the Santorum campaign after the 2nd place finish in Iowa but that seemed more like desperation than momentum. All the while Ron Paul has been steadily chugging along.
I hope not to give the impression that I think Ron Paul will ultimately win the Republican primary or even play a major role at the convention. But, I do think Republicans, especially disappointed Tea Parties like Jim DeMint and even Sarah Palin are waking up to the fact that Ron Paul has stolen their mojo.
Sarah Palin openly voiced these concerns after the Iowa Caucus:
“The GOP would be so remiss to marginalize Ron Paul and his supporters as we come out of Iowa tonight and move down the road to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, et cetera. If we marginalize these supporters who have been touched by Ron Paul and what he believed in over these years, well, then, through a third party run of Ron Paul’s or the Democrats capturing those independents and these libertarians who supported what Ron Paul’s been talking about, well, then the GOP is going to lose. And then there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.”
“So, the worst thing that the GOP machine can do is marginalize Ron Paul and his supporters.”
Palin is absolutely correct. But, the question remains, is this even possible?
Well, in the short-term, probably not…Politicans and parties often are short-sighted, but the conservative movement has the opportunity. Lets look at how this could potentally be accomplished.
The modern GOP/conservative movement of reminds us that the coalition is held up by three legs of a stool or three legs of a tripod.
1.) National Security hawks 2.) Fiscal conservatives 3.) The social cons/prolifers.
The first two legs of the tripod have largely proved the Republican parties intellectual ideas for the past 30 years. Whether this was the threat of the Soviet Union or radical Islam to Supply Side Economics. The third leg of the tripod, the social-cons, are provided a majority of the legwork for the party. It’s the people who take part in the march for life and events like that, which supply the GOP with army of foot soldiers, because we know economists and military strategists haven’t been rousing the troops.
The Ron Paul coalition, if you can even call it that, seems to consist of three major factions:
1.) The anti-war doves 2.) The End-The-Fed types 3.) Civil Libertarians.
We could probably do a vin diagram to make this process much more detailed, but I’m going to paint with a broad brush.
First, the problems:
1.) National Security Hawks vs. Anti-War Doves:
How deep do I really have to go into this one? I’m sure you can figure it out. Next…
2.) Fiscal Conservatives/Supply Siders vs. End-The-Fed
While both sides proclaim to take inspiration from Austrian Economists, The main problem is that Republicans have shown themselves to be just as eager to print money as Democrats. The truth of course is that Republicans love to spend money and have generally has loose monetary policy while in power. Meanwhile, Ron Paul and his supporters are on a singular mission to take down the Federal Reserve, because it represents inflation and out of control government. Ron Paul would like us to go back to a gold standard. Even the most ardent Conservatives (i.e Weekly Standard, National Review, American Spectator) would be reluctant to take down the Federal Reserve.
3.) Social Conservatives vs. Civil Libertarians
Well, on the face of it these two subjects seem pretty far apart. Especially for Republicans, Social-Cons exist in a pretty broad group and often represent a broad range of supporters. You may find rock-ribbed-right-wing evangelicals marching with fairly moderate Catholics who in an earlier time would have been Democrats. On the Paul side of things, issues we label “social” have not been a prominent feature of the campaign. Ron Paul has personally spoken out for pro-life issues, but his base of support hardly seems motivated by social issues. At the same time, many of the main social-con groups have largely seemed to avoid questions about civil liberties.
So, there are the problems…But, I see quite a few was to bridge some of these gaps.
1.) Ron Paul will never win over Dick Cheney or Sen. McCain, but Americans have generally grown more skeptical of foreign engagements; for example, in this election cycle Romney has been fairly quite on foreign policy (no doubling Gitmo this time) and Huntsman has called for the return of troops from Afghanistan. Also, regarding Huntsman, he’s also come out strongly in favor of soft-power incentives throughout the campaign, the same kinds of things that would be necessary for some of Paul’s policy ideas.
The question really is, does Ron Paul see American having a foreign policy presence? I see both parties pivoting to a more skeptical role on this matter.
2.) Fiscal issues are the strongest bond between Paul and Republicans. This of course is because of earlier conservative attempts at fusionism. But, Republicans will never support eliminating the Fed.
If we can’t do away with the Fed, is there any way of convincing Paul supporters? I doubt it, but I do think supporting more transparency at the Fed and implementing realistic goals for monetary policy is a fresh start. Scott Sumner at the Money Illusion has been advocating this for a while.
If Republicans are going to look at a way to address issues with the Fed, I see some of Sumner ideas as a fresh start.
3.) Again, the issue of social-cons and civil libertarians is a unique one. This topic deserves a lot more coverage than I can devote to it, but I will say that Republicans and Paul supporters can find common ground here. I could see Social-Cons pivoting towards increased skepticism of torture and executive power issues.
The other problem is, does Ron Paul want to work more closely with the GOP? I think the answer to that will hang partially on how the GOP treats Paul at the convention later this year. He should be given a fairly prominent spot to speak; and, equally, he should come out and support the Republican ticket.
But, could anyone really see Paul campaigning for Romney?
As I said, in the short-term we’re looking at a pretty bleak picture for Republicans getting all the Ron Paul independents and youth. But, in the long-term, I do see some opportunities.
Do both sides have it in them to compromise?