A Ron Paul Moment

A Ron Paul Moment

By Jeremy Lott - April 20, 2010

When it was announced last Sunday that Rep. Ron Paul had lost the presidential straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, many of his supporters were either livid or kicking themselves. On the Campaign for Liberty blog, Matt Collins wrote that Wilson-Research Strategies, the firm that conducted the poll, should be made to answer certain questions if it is "interested in retaining an aura of integrity, transparency, and credibility" in the future. Other Paulistas noted that several dozen supporters got to New Orleans just a little too late to have their ballots counted.

Such are the agonies when you lose to Mitt Romney by only one vote. Paul supporters showed up in force to CPAC in Washington, D.C., this year and routed Romney's recruits. This was instantly dismissed by most experts as a fluke. Even though the CPAC straw poll is all about gauging conservative activist enthusiasm, and even though Romney's wins in the past stemmed from his campaign's willingness to fly or bus in supporters, Paul's victory was seen as suspect. After all, when the poll results were announced, there was some booing. So Paulistas decided to prove that they could win in a more mainstream Republican gathering. At the SLRC, they very nearly pulled it off, so some recriminations are understandable.

Before they could regroup for the next contest, the polling firm Rasmussen Reports did them a great favor. The firm surveyed 1,000 voters and found Paul losing not by one vote but one percent, but this time to President Barack Obama. One percent is more or less within the margin of error, so USA Today's On Politics blog reported, "Ron Paul even with Obama in hypothetical 2012 race," and opined, "Change is definitely in the air."

Paul supporters got more good news this week. Ron's son Rand Paul had been considered a long shot when he announced that he was running for the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky. Now he looks like the best bet to win the nomination and the general election. Retiring Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning endorsed Rand Paul to succeed him, calling him "the only true conservative" in the race.

There are definitely problems ahead if the elder Paul decided to throw his hat in again for the GOP presidential nomination. In its explanation of the results, Rasmussen warned that "Obama earns 79% support from Democrats, but Paul gets just 66% of GOP votes." In fact, "26% of GOP voters think Paul shares the values of most Republican voters throughout the nation, but 25% disagree." (And 49% can't make up their minds.) It is those voters "not affiliated with either major party give Paul a 47% to 28% edge over the president."

When it comes down to crunch time, Paul may not even decide to run for president, and he's said as much in interviews. He is not a young man and seems more interested in building up his organizations as a way of shaping the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. But right now, he can savor the moment, his moment.

When Paul ran for president in 2008, experts scoffed at his constant criticism of the Federal Reserve. Now, every member of the House Republican Caucus is behind his push to audit the Fed. He warned that rampant budgetary and monetary mismanagement would plunge the country into a very deep recession, and it has. While most Republicans still don't agree with him about Iraq and isolationism, there is a growing sense that Iraq made possible the current Democratic majority, and Obamacare, and all sorts of other things that they don't like. Paul's stubbornness on these matters has earned him either admiration or grudging respect from a lot of people.

What's more, Americans are becoming more, not less, sympathetic to his point of view, at least on domestic issues. Rasmussen Reports also found "24% of voters now consider themselves a part of the tea party movement, an eight-point increase from a month ago" and "48% of voters now say the average tea party member is closer to their views than Obama is." In many respects, it was Ron Paul's last presidential run that got this party started.

Jeremy Lott is an editor for RealClearPolitics and author of The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency.

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