Will the GOP primary come down to Paul and Romney?
Note: This is not a post on whether or not you agree with Rep. Paul’s policies. It is only about the viability of his candidacy, so let’s keep the comments on-topic, please. Any discussion on policies should be through the lens of the primary voters he needs to court.
The current field of Republican candidates for president largely leaves a lot to be desired. The field is crowded with a lot of candidates with little public recognition or differentiation from their competition. Heck, we even have a few political has-beens that got run out of their previous elected positions trying to make a go for it. I think most of them will get shaken out, but it may create a situation where it comes down to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.
First off, there’s Rick Perry. This guy has seriously miscalculated his odds, and it shows. After the initial novelty of a new candidate jumping into the race, he’s come across as unpolished and unprepared. He’s also carrying around the “Texas swagger” of a certain ex-president that isn’t exactly going to resonate with the newly awakened sense of fiscal conservatism sweeping the party. I don’t think anyone expects him to last much longer than a handful of primaries at best.
Newt Gingrinch is a guy who understands the game of politics and how it gets played, and I think he’s a good ideas guy, but I don’t think he has what it takes to be a president. He washed out of the House after failing to push his policy, and his positions are barely distinguishable from Bachmann, Cain, or Santorum. They all might as well be the same candidate, and they are failing to distinguish themselves from the well-polished and well-rehearsed Romney. He can hope that he outlasts the others and picks up a few primaries, but I think he knows full well that the reality of the situation is that he’s going to withdraw before primaries start. The others will drop out after they lose a few.
I feel kind of bad for Gary Johnson. He’s got a solid record as governor of New Mexico and plays well to the now-dominant fiscal conservative wing, but he’s been failing to get any level of traction. Despite being included in the most recent debate, I get the feeling he’s not going to get invited back. It’s an almost self-fulfilling declaration of unviability.
So what about Huntsman? I have plenty of areas of policy disagreement with him, but I also know he’s a skilled executive and seasoned politico. As angry as I was at him for not promoting vouchers several years ago when it came up for a vote, I think he read the wind of public opinion and chose to sideline it to keep some political capital in the wings. We could certainly do a lot worse. That said, he’s running a campaign of trying to appeal to moderates, and they seem to be too apathetic to even show up to the party. Like many others, I agree that he’s setting the stage for the next election, not the upcoming one.
Now why do I think Paul will succeed where the others have failed? Because I think everyone but Romney is going to drop out. Some of them have other elected positions to fall back on (Bachmann, Perry), most of them don’t have the donors to continue the fight. Paul has already announced his intention to not seek election to any other office save the presidency, so there’s no fall-back position. He’s also very adept at raising large amounts of money from small donors, allowing him to go back to the well many times. Romney primarily depends on fewer large donors that hit political contribution limits much faster. With a lot of money and no distractions, he’s in it for the long haul.
Paul also has a very dedicated set of supporters, far more enthusiastic than any other candidate. (And yes, I fully acknowledge that we can sometimes get a bit obnoxious about it. I’m sorry. That said, are we any worse than the Obamatons of 2008?) This level of enthusiasm translates into lots and lots of campaign volunteers. They’re the most likely to show up at primary elections, caucuses, and conventions. He also attracts a number of people on trans-partisan issues such as truly ending corporate welfare, strengthening civil liberties, and dismantling the warfare state. All of these are issues where he differentiates both from most the Republican field and the current president.
Most importantly, Romney’s polish is only going so far with the potential delegates. Despite significant name recognition, lots of behind-the-scenes campaigning, and significant financing, he hasn’t been able to average better than 25% in the polls. For an “obvious” front-runner, that’s pretty low, and it leaves the field wide open for whoever has the stamina to stick it out. I think Romney’s trust levels are also low because of his multiple reversals on various issues. Voters in general have hit a breaking point on pandering.
More importantly, I don’ t think it’s just going to be a case of Paul offering token opposition; I think in all of this, he has a chance to cinch the nomination. Supporters of most of the flake-out candidates are primarily interested in economic issues, and Paul has been the most consistent in that realm. Romney still carries the very heavy baggage of the insurance mandate he pushed in Massachusetts (you know, because he was for it before he was against it) and doesn’t have the most sterling record of business management once you examine it a lot more closely and see the pattern of corporate raider. That cozy relationship with big business, the ones who regularly seek favoritism from the presidency, isn’t doing him any favors. As they drop out, they’ll likely end up lining behind the candidate who, despite decades of public service, still has the impeccable record of an outsider.
It’s also worth noting that there is no merit whatsoever to the claims that Paul would not be viable in a general election. Multiple polls show him within the margin of error of beating President Obama, and these differ by only a few points from other candidates. The bulk of the support is there as a referendum on the president and his handling of the economy, a situation that is highly unlikely to substantively improve before the election. The Republican Party could almost run Larry Craig and still take the Oval Office.
So is it possible that another candidate could jump in and steal that thunder? Unlikely. The first primaries are about four months away which leaves almost no time for adequate fundraising and campaigning. The only names that keep getting floated around are Chris Christie and Sarah Palin, the former of which has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of running this year, the latter of which likely has just as little interest.
As unlikely as it would have seemed months ago, Ron Paul may end up being the next President of the United States. And I’d be okay with that.