The Paul Vote
by Bruce Ramsey
The campaign may be winding down, but the movement is far from finished.
As I write, Ron Paul has scaled down his campaign for president and gone back to Texas to defend his seat in Congress — which he should. The votes are in — enough of them. He is not going to be president, and we do need to have at least one avowed libertarian in Congress.
Bruce Ramsey is a journalist in Seattle.
Liberty never inhaled the smoke that deluded some into believing that Rep. Paul could win the Republican nomination for president. It began after the debate of May 15, 2007, when Rudy Giuliani tried to indict Paul for the crime of blaming America by criticizing the war in Iraq, and the internet cheered for Paul. Later, Paul won mock primary elections on myspace.com (with 37%) and facebook.com (40%).
The applause for Ron Paul! Ron Paul! came also from crowds of the sort that Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain did not have. Paul did not attract Barack Obama-sized crowds — let us admit that — but among Republicans the fervor of the Paulistas was unrivaled. I was at a rally in Seattle in September. Paul pulled a thousand fans into the Westin Hotel: old rightists, computer geeks, students, and just plain folks. The head of the state party stood by the doorway, feeling out of place in his pin-striped suit, marveling at the turnout.
At InTrade, the internet bookie, a bet on the nomination of Ron Paul was rising from below 1-in-100 in May 2007, steadily upward. By late September, a Paul nomination was trading at 5.2, which was higher than McCain’s. The bet price of Paul kept rising, hitting 9 after his “money bomb” in early November, slumping to 5, and hitting 9 again in December, with the success of his second money bomb. Paul ended the year trading at 8.
Then, on Jan. 3, 2008, came the first caucus, Iowa — in which Paul got a 10% vote. Here was reality. For a candidate as radical as Paul, 10% was a good showing, but the “investors” were expecting something higher than that. His InTrade price collapsed. A week later came Jamie Kirchick’s slime attack in the New Republic (See “Is There a Racist in the House?” Liberty, April 2008). The damage had already been done: the Paul dirigible had been deflated by the election returns.
By late February, Paul’s InTrade quote was back to 1. So much for the superior judgment of markets. A market does reflect what participants know — and also what they hope and believe.
Paul’s fans cursed the media. “This blackout is systematic and it is self conscious,” wrote former Paul aide Gary North on LewRockwell.com. It did seem like a blackout sometimes, particularly on Fox News, and being in the media industry I know that most editors never took Paul seriously. But there was reason for that. The purpose of an election is to choose a winner, and it was obvious that Paul was not going to win. He is a radical in a non-radical nation. That is not the kind of candidate who suddenly appeals to great masses of voters who have no ideology and are only vaguely paying attention. Huckabee was that kind of candidate; he could zoom from no place to the top of the heap; then poof! Barack Obama is quintessentially that kind of candidate — and most likely will be the next president of the United States.
Paul did, in fact, get a fair amount of coverage. He got more than Duncan Hunter or Tom Tancredo, and he started with about the same chances they had. He got more than Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, or Mike Gravel. He earned attention because of the internet polls, the money bombs, and the crowds chanting Ron Paul! Ron Paul!
The Paulistas who kept bellyaching at the press seemed to think that their man had an egalitarian right to the same air time as Mitt Romney. My word to them: Tanstaafl. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You’ve got to earn it. Ron Paul would have received more favorable attention — and a whole lot more unfavorable attention — if more Americans had voted for him.
By late February, Paul’s InTrade quote was back to 1. So much for the superior judgment of markets.
The voters have spoken in many states. As with all candidates of strong belief, Paul did better in the caucus states — where participation requires support at a public meeting — than in those with a convenient secret ballot. At press time, he had done the best in the following caucus states, with the percentages applying either to the participants voting or to the delegates they elected: Montana 25%, Washington 22%, North Dakota 21%, Maine 19%, Alaska 17%, and Minnesota 16%.
These states are all on the Canadian border. Paul, who is from the Gulf Coast of Texas, apparently peaked at the 49th parallel.
In primary elections, Paul did best in New Hampshire 8%, the District of Columbia 8%, Washington state 7%, New York 7%, Michigan 6%, Maryland 6%, and Tennessee 6%. (Washington state has caucuses and a primary, and in its primary, Paul did best — over 11.5% — in five rural eastern counties, including four on that mysterious Canadian border.)
In primary elections, he did his worst in the Deep South, pulling 3 or 4% in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. He also pulled 3% in the most Republican state, Utah — but that is also the Mormon state, favoring Romney. Paul won only 4% of the Republican vote in McCain’s home state, Arizona, and the same in California. His best showing in California, 11%, was in Alpine County in the Sierras.
Paul actually won in some county caucuses. In Nevada, where he took 14% of the caucus vote overall, he won in Nye County, a large, thinly populated territory (two people per square mile) that includes legal bordellos, gold mines, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, and the home of Liberty contributing editors Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, who moved there because it didn’t require building permits. Paul took four scattered counties (Blue Earth, Lincoln, Meeker, and Red Lake) in Minnesota, and several in Montana.
Who were the Paul supporters? Probably many were like the voters labeled generic libertarians in various surveys. Writing in the Cato Policy Analysis of Oct. 18, 2006, David Boaz and David Kirby used data from the Gallup Organization, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and American National Election Studies to estimate the libertarian voter at 13% of the electorate. Qualifications were not rigorous. According to Pew, generic libertarians tend to be male (59%), young, and white. In regard to race, religion, education, and income, Pew’s demographic portrait of generic libertarians is much like its portrait of generic liberals (more white, less religious, possessed of more education and income), except that most liberals are women.
Pew’s survey of New Hampshire voters before the primary showed Paul running at 3% among women and 14% among men.
The Paul attendees at the Iowa caucuses also skewed toward men, and they tended to be young, less religious, and better educated than the average. Yet, although Paul supporters there were of all income levels, they were located disproportionately toward the lower end of the income scale.
I note that in the state of Washington, Paul’s best counties are among the poorest in the state. They are places of rugged living — small ranches, orchards, and hardscrabble farms, logging operations and gold mines. They are places where people go to live off by themselves. So are Nye County, Nevada, and Sierra County, California. So is Montana, and so is Maine. So is Alaska.
Paul actually won some county caucuses. Who were the Paul supporters? Many were like the voters labeled generic libertarians in various surveys: male, young, and white.
That is not to say that most of Paul’s vote is from such places. Alpine, pop. 1,200, is the least populated county in California. Paul won a much smaller percentage of voters in San Francisco, but he got more votes in San Francisco because there are many more people — and more libertarians — there. It is the same with the states: the total Paul turnout in Montana — about 400 — could fit into a middle-school gymnasium.
The Paul phenomenon has divided professional libertarians. The Cato Institute has mostly ignored it — either because the Cato people are embarrassed by Paul’s nationalist rhetoric over the supposed North American Union and by other trappings of conservatism, such as his stand on abortion and immigration, or because they don’t want to tie themselves to someone who’s going to lose, or because their attorneys warn them about losing their 501(c)(3) status.
At LewRockwell.com, where Cato is derided as a corral of “beltway libertarians,” enthusiasm for Paul has been so great that Rockwell had to agree, last summer, to give up 501(c)(3) status.
Rockwell was Paul’s chief of staff decades ago, and has been cheering for Paul at high decibels.
On the Paul phenomenon, Rockwell writes:
In addition to garnering more primary votes than any libertarian candidate in American history, Ron has accomplished precisely what he set out to do. He has re-founded the libertarian movement on a principled basis, liberated the ideas of peace and free enterprise from monopolistic control, exposed the political apparatus for the fraud that it is, and laid the groundwork for a future flowering of liberty.
I made a more modest claim in the August 2007 Liberty:
What Paul can hope for — and it would be a very big thing — is to lead a group willing to identify itself as Republican and opposed to a foreign policy of preemptive war.
He has done something broader than that, maybe more like what Rockwell says. He has run an explicitly libertarian campaign within the Republican Party. If a political party is imagined as a tent, Paul has enlarged the tent to include people who were outside it, or maybe were in it and about ready to leave. Now they have a champion. Paul uses classic Republican language to defend a libertarian point of view and to demand that his small-government, constitutionalist, antiwar, and free-market faction be recognized and accommodated as Republicans.
This faction is far from a majority. The idea that most Republicans believe Paul’s philosophy, and that they would flock to him if he enunciated it, was always a delusion. But before Paul’s campaign, they could ignore it. Now they have to argue with it. When they argue for continuing the occupation of Iraq they can no longer pretend that all their opponents are Democrats. They have opponents in their own tent. It is only a faction, but other factions, such as the foreign policy realists, may be able to ally with it. Having a faction also allows new issues to be put on the table — in Paul’s case not only a withdrawal from Iraq but also the currency issue. It might not be a gold dollar, but even a Republican emphasis on a strong dollar would be a change.
The influence of Paul’s faction depends on how Paul plays his cards. He has said that he will not run an independent candidacy, which is smart. If he did, his influence within the party would be no greater than Ralph Nader’s in the Democratic Party. In 1988 Paul ran as a Libertarian, got 0.47% of the vote, was invisible and had no influence whatever. To do it again this year, merely to satisfy the people who get a thrill (and a salary) from campaigning would be a colossal mistake. He cannot do this, no matter how much his groupies importune him. He will have to endorse McCain — not now, and not with enthusiasm, but he will have to do it after McCain is nominated. Paul can still argue with McCain, of course, and he should — as a Republican.
Being in the party, and in the Congress, gives him a place to stand and be heard. And other Republicans will have to deal with him. (Says Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard, “He [McCain] must attract the relatively small contingent who’ve supported Ron Paul to prevent Paul from running as a third party libertarian candidate for president.”)
Paul’s influence also depends on what happens later on. Gary North wrote in July 2007, “It will be interesting to see what his campaign organization does with all those email addresses” of contributors. In January 2008 North wrote about those addresses again: “I have read that Ron Paul has 100,000 email addresses of supporters.”
North has made his living in newsletters, and the value of the list would be obvious to him. He wasn’t mentioning it as a sales list for gold coins or newsletters, but as a list of Americans who could be inspired by a campaign of political ideas.
There is yet more to the story of Ron Paul.