Does Ron Paul’s Strong Showing In Ames Matter? No

Does Ron Paul's second place showing at Ames mean the media should take him seriously as a contender? No, it doesn't.

In the wake of Ron Paul’s strong, but not entirely surprising, second place showing in Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, some Ron Paul supporters are upset that their candidate is being ignored as most of the political coverage shifts to Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and President Obama’s bus tour of the Mid-West:

I saw this on my Facebook news feed from the Ron Paul FB page yesterday:

Notice anything strange about this headline?! How much more blatant could the mainstream media’s bias possibly be? Ron Paul was in 2nd place, just 1% behind Bachmann. Pawlenty was around 14% behind Bachmann.

“Michele Bachmann wins Ames Straw Poll, Tim Pawlenty gets third – Jonathan Martin”

Now that I have had a chance to follow the link today, the Politico article headline now reads “Michele Bachmann wins Ames Straw Poll.

This is actually a familiar refrain from Paul supporters, or any candidate who is unlikely to win and thus doesn’t get a lot of free media coverage. I heard the same arguments from Paul supporters back in 2007 and 2008 when Paul was even less of a contender than he is this time around. The thing to remember, though, is that no candidate is entitled to free media coverage, and no candidate is entitled to be taken seriously by the media. Especially if the odds of them becoming the nominee are roughly equivalent to the odds of Lady Gaga entering the convent.

Over at The Washington Examiner, though, Timothy Carney argues that the media should be paying more attention to Congressman Paul this time around:

Why do the mainstream media and the Republican establishment persist in ignoring and dismissing Paul?

There is no one answer. You cannot chalk it all up to Paul’s perceived long-term viability problems: I know no serious forecaster or GOP operative who gives Bachmann a significant chance of being the Republican nominee, yet she is showered with coverage at every turn.

In part, the media ignore Paul’s success at events like Ames and the Conservative Political Action Committee because they think he’s almost breaking the rules by having such a dedicated following. True enough, a cult following often does not translate into support broad enough to win an election. Is Paul the Right’s Lyndon LaRouche?

Still, Paul climbed from 5th place in the straw poll four years ago to a virtual tie for first yesterday, doubling his number of votes. So he is surging. And don’t forget Democrats nominated a guy last election whose strength was winning caucuses due to a dedicated core of support.

So, again, why doesn’t Paul get the attention he seems to deserve? Mostly because the mainstream media and the Republican establishment wish he would just go away.

Carney has a point, but I’m not sure that success at getting your supporters to straw polls in a good measure of political viability. If you look beyond those straw polls to actual candidate polls, Paul is currently averaging 9% nationwide. In the most recent Des Moines Register Poll of Iowa caucus voters, he received the support of 7% of those polled, far below the 27% he managed to garner in the Ames Straw Poll. Given the lack of correlation between the scientific polls and the straw poll with respect to Paul specifically, it seems fairly clear that winning those straw polls doesn’t really mean that he’s any kind of a frontrunner and that the media is justified in treating him as about as consequential a candidate as Herman Cain or Rick Santorum, neither of which have a realistic shot at either the Iowa Caucuses or the GOP nomination at this point.

Carney argues that Paul’s warnings about the housing crisis,the economy, our endless foreign wars, and, of course, the national debt have largely been proven correct, and that this is one reason why “the bipartisan establishment” chooses to ignore him. When I read comments like that, I start rolling my eyes because it reminds me of people who say that Paul was silenced during the 2008 campaign by the “Bush media machine” or some such thing.  It’s really not an argument so much as it’s a complaint that your guy isn’t getting the free coverage that, say, a candidate, garnering 22% in nationwide polls might be getting. As I said above, though, no candidate is entitled to free media coverage, and giving less coverage to the guy at 7% makes complete sense. It isn’t the job of CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News Channel to get your candidates message out, that’s the campaign’s job. If you don’t think they’re doing it correctly, go volunteer and do it right.

There’s another reason why Ron Paul isn’t going to get the same coverage as Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, and it’s because, in the end, he’s so far out of step with the GOP base that he isn’t going to get the nomination . The most obvious issue that demonstrates this is national security, where Paul’s neo-isolationism stands alone in a Republican Party that is still largely dominated by neoconservatives, Bush-era nation builders, and those who want to turn the War on Terror into a crusade against Islam. Philip Klein does a good job of highlighting those disagreements in a column today, and I don’t see how anyone can argue that Paul. would ever be able to mend these fundamental differences with a majority of the Republican Party, if not a majority of Americans.

The last problem for Paul, of course, is his tendency to associate with people for whom the work kook isn’t an adequate description. Whether it’s the racially tainted newsletters, the donations to the last Presidential campaign from the neo-Nazis at Stormfront, or the numerous appearances on the radio show hosted by 9/11 Truther Alex Jones, Paul has an unforunate tendency to associate with questionable people, and when you do that it’s going to make you look less serious.

Despite these flaws, I like Ron Paul, I appreciate his idealism, heck I cast my first vote for President in 1988 for him when he ran as a Libertarian. But the fact that he garnered 27% of the vote in a staged straw poll doesn’t mean much of anything, and he’s not a serious contender for the GOP nomination.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. Boyd says:

    Man, you’re in trouble now, Doug, especially if you link this to your G+ stream.

  2. Chad S says:

    He’s against spending, unless its headed to his district. He believes in freedom, except for women’s rights(and those connections to white supremacist/neo-confederate groups). He’s a fraud.

  3. James Joyner says:

    It’s an interesting question. Paul is only at 9% in the latest RealClearPolitics poll-of-polls. But that’s only one point behind both Bachmann and Palin, who get almost infinitely more coverage.

    It’s unfathomable that Paul will get the nomination, of course, but I’d have said that about Bachmann a month ago. I still think she’s an extreme dark horse but there’s a path. There’s an even clearer path for Palin, should she run.

    Additionally, though, both Palin and Bachmann fit into several narratives that reporters are itching to write about the Tea Party, class warfare, Christian fundamentalism, and so forth. Paul is a novelty act past its expiration date.

  4. DARRELL says:

    I think an unbeatable team would be Hillary and Ron Paul

  5. Gustopher says:

    Paul’s second place finish does mean one thing — the other candidates have failed to place as well as an entirely implausible candidate.

    He’s a crank candidate, with a modest legion of very devoted followers. Failing to beat him would be lime a Democrat failing to beat Kucinich.

  6. AngelaTC says:

    Doug, the point you’re missing is that Ron Paul has been on the air almost daily for the past 4 years, talking about the economy and foreign policy. Now that he’s accomplished something newsworthy – something that turned Huckabee into a media darling last time out – he’s suddenly gone from the airwaves. The spots he had booked all suddenly cancelled on him.

    I’m not big on conspiracies, but I’m not big on coincidences, either. Something is very, very wrong with this scenario.

  7. redheadwrites says:

    I find it interesting that this article uses the same source for his references to whom Ron Paul associates with. After investigating a bit further, outside his provided links that is, I find this author to be stretching the truth a bit…If you are going to make a claim… back it up with original sources, not just another blog. That merely undermines your argument.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    This is actually a familiar refrain from Paul supporters, or any candidate who is unlikely to win and thus doesn’t get a lot of free media coverage.

    I think that’s unfair, Doug. If the Ames straw poll has any meaning then it’s a fair for the winner (and yes I’d consider Paul to have basically tied for first) to expect to get free press. If it has no validity (probably the safer bet) then why is it written about at all. There’s just no excuse for writing reams about bachmann and nothing about paul.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    It’s a sad state of affairs when a candidate like Paul has zero chance at securing the Republican Party nomination because he’s insufficiently servile to corporate America or to the messianic urge in Washington to remake the world in its own image. A conservative would choose Paul simply by default; the other candidates are radicals or stooges. But we know just how many conservatives there are in the Republican Party these days.

  10. LibCon says:

    It’s a shame the media doesn’t take him seriously because he’s the only Republican who could beat Obama in the general election.

  11. Jeff Winchell says:

    “he’s so far out of step with the GOP base”

    Last year NBC’s Chuck Todd calls Ron Paul “the godfather of the Tea Party”, that he was “the Republican presidential candidate more influence with the Republican Party in 2010 than any of those other guys that we covered in 2008. ”

    “Given the lack of correlation between the scientific polls and the straw poll with respect to Paul specifically”

    New York Times poll analyst Nate Silver strongly disagrees:

    “the media is justified in treating him as about as consequential a candidate as Herman Cain or Rick Santorum, neither of which have a realistic shot at either the Iowa Caucuses or the GOP nomination at this point”

    New York Times vote forecaster Nate Silver now predicts that Ron Paul will finish 2nd in the Iowa Caucus just barely behind Bachman and with nearly twice the votes of Rick Perry.

    “Paul’s neo-isolationism stands alone in a Republican Party”
    It certainly does compared to the presidential candidates. It also does compared to the President. Meaning, that the voters against our current wars (i.e. the overwhelming majority of the USA) have only one candidate they can vote for.

    “his tendency to associate with people for whom the work kook isn’t an adequate description”

    Honest, plain spoken people aren’t afraid to talk to people who they disagree with. Particularly when they value the first amendment FAR more than do the leaders of either major party.

    I voted for Nader the last three times. Since there is no well known and honest presidential candidate in 2012, for the first time since I started voting in 1980, I will vote for a Republican for president.

  12. MBunge says:

    I think the argument is about ignoring Paul in favor of candidates like TPaw or Huntsman. There has never been any evidence that either of those guys had any more of a chance to be the next GOP Presidential nominee than Paul and there’s never been any reason to think Huntsman was more likely to be the nominee than Paul, yet both men have received far more media coverage and been taken far more seriously as candidates.


  13. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: But Pawlenty and Huntsman at least fit the profile of previous nominees: respected governors in their 50s with broadly conservative views. Paul is an elderly House member way out on a ledge ideologically.

  14. Xrlq says:

    Here’s how to tell if Paul has been getting fair coverage or not: watch what happens to his numbers as others drop out of the race. With T-Paw gone, presumably some former supporters will get behind Bachmann, others behind Romney, Perry and others. How many will now back Paul? Answer: damned near none. Paul has an absolute lock on the crank vote, and no traction at all anywhere else. So of course he looks strong right now, but that’s just because the non-crank vote is split so many ways.

  15. NickNot says: