I didn't really think about this much before, but it kind of makes sense that Ron Paul would be doing better this year than last time around. The big thing that'd make Paul unacceptable to the GOP base was insufficiently hawkish foreign policy views, and Republicans get less hawkish when they've been out of the White House for a while. George W. Bush in 2000 was talking about how he'd pursue a more humble foreign policy.
Paul's not a terribly unusual Republican in other respects. You get deviations on issues here and there -- marijuana, for example, and he does take the anti-federal-government thing to a unique extreme. But he's totally against abortion, okay with letting Social Security get defunded, and he doesn't really care about climate change.
While Paul does hold many traditional Republican beliefs, he does not want to legislate them at the federal level, and in some cases, as with marriage, he would rather not legislate it at all. He does want to eliminate a lot of federal programs, which would be frightening if he could actually get elected. But his positions are too extreme for most of the right, and too terrifying for the left, for that to happen. I would like to see Paul get the Republican nomination. I think with Paul, we have a chance to have a real debate. He’ll go after government waste. He’ll go after bloated government. (I personally could do with more health care, but fewer wars.) He typifies the role of the watchdog. I think President Obama is equal to the task of debating Paul. And I believe the country deserves to hear from a Republican whose respect for the Constitution goes beyond the 2nd Amendment. Let’s talk about the Constitution! Equal rights are there too! So are 6th Amendment rights to due process. If President Obama, a former civil rights attorney, does not veto the NDAA, I would like him to explain that decision publicly. Paul is probably the only candidate who would address it. Gratuitous West Wing presidential debate clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyqzPu5pX6U#t=2m0s
I agree with you that Ron Paul's popularity is not surprising, but I think that has less to do with the GOP being out of the White House and more about the changing DNA of the Republican Party. The "Goldwater-Nixon-Reagan-Gingrich-Bush the 2nd" era of the party was characterized by a muscular/beligerant foreign policy posture, political evangelical Christianity, and a market fundamentalist economic philosophy that was sold to people as a kind of civil libertarianism. The foreign policy militarism has been discredited by the Iraq War and is becoming increasingly unworkable as the U.S. begins to share global economic power with other countries and regions. Moreover, younger people, raised in a more globalized world, are less intrigued by war. The religious appeal is fading as traditional bonds between relgion and politics fall apart. That leaves the Republican kind of "civil libertarianism." An anti-regulartory, anti-social welfare, social dawinian, every man for himself idea of personal freedom. This is why Paul does well among young GOPers. This is the only part of their philosphy that is still relevant to the times. It is, to be sure, among the most unappealing political philosphies I can think of. It is also impossible to govern the country effectively as plutocracy. They need some new ideas.
Unlike PA Politico, I don't see either of the first two legs of the GOP triad disappearing. Foreign policy militarism was discredited before, in Vietnam, but that lasted maybe a decade. And the tea party types have turned out to be the same old religious wingnuts, though they may have started off with less God-bothering.
Ron Paul may well win Iowa, but that's as far as his train goes. What his win there would mean is that there will be no particularly strong anti-Romney.
As Gingrich's plummet continues, I really see only two possible Iowa outcomes:
1) Paul wins; or
2) the vote gets split enough ways that Romney wins without improving his support out of the low 20s.
Either way, it's hard to see how Romney loses the GOP nomination.
The one thing I don't understand is just WHY the GOP establishment decided to throw the kitchen sink into derailing Newt's run.
I think Newt is too much of a firecracker, the way Buchanan was too much for them in 96 (even if they thought Dole was a bad candidate, also). A protracted Paul-Romney race could actually be a boon for the GOP as it would tempt younger, more democratic leaning voters to sign up for the GOP primary. Paul has gotten lots of traction among young voters for his stance on terrorism-related civil liberties issues and for his isolationism. Because those are sexier issues than financial regulation, they obscure out his deeply regressive views on social welfare and the economy. My point is, that Paul is very good for the GOP because he gives them an audience they would otherwise never have. As Paul's supporters make up an increasingly large proportion of GOP regulars, they will grow less estranged from the party. This could be a great thing for the democrats, but they have to be able to make a compelling argument against corporate libertarianism. Only Obama has really felt comfortable doing that so far. "Libertarianism" has gone somewhat unchallenged in America. That's a very bad thing. It's an unrealistic philosophy that either ignores or justifies cruel suffering.
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