Last Night Was Ron Paul’s High Point

Last night was the high point of Ron Paul's 2012 campaign for the Presidency.

Ron Paul’s bigger than expected second place showing in New Hampshire last night is leading his campaign to adopt some of the cockiness you often see from campaigns that believe they are on a roll. Last night, after Paul’s speech, his Campaign Director Jesse Benton issued the following statement:

LAKE JACKSON, Texas – Ron Paul tonight scored an historic second-place victory in the 2012 New Hampshire Primary. Below please find comments from National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton:

“Ron Paul tonight had an incredibly strong second-place finish in New Hampshire and has stunned the national media and political establishment.

“When added to Paul’s top-tier showing in Iowa, it’s clear he is the sole Republican candidate who can take on and defeat both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

“The race is becoming more clearly a two-man race between establishment candidate Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the candidate of authentic change. That means there is only one true conservative choice.

“Ron Paul has won more votes in Iowa and New Hampshire than any candidate but Mitt Romney.

“Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have been shown in national polls to be the only two candidates who can defeat Barack Obama.

“And Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are the only two candidates who can run a full, national campaign, competing in state after state over the coming weeks and months. Ron Paul’s fundraising numbers — over $13 million this quarter — also prove he will be able to compete with Mitt Romney. No other candidate can do all of these things.

“Ron Paul is clearly the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney as the campaign goes forward.

“We urge Ron Paul’s opponents who have been unsuccessfully trying to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney to unite by getting out of the race and uniting behind Paul’s candidacy.

“Ron Paul has the boldest plan to cut spending, a dedication to protecting life, and a lifelong dedication to the Constitution and limited government. He also has the necessary support to campaign nationwide against Mitt Romney.

“Our campaign is already planning ahead for South Carolina, Florida, and beyond. Soon Ron Paul will head to South Carolina to begin a feverish round of campaigning.

“Ron Paul is in this race for the long haul. And he is ready to fight.

“See you on the campaign trail.”

None of the candidates are going to heed Paul’s call, of course, and even if they did none of them are going to endorse him. Nor are you going to see conservatives rally behind Ron Paul as the “Not Romney” candidate no matter how desperate they are to stop the former Governor of Massachusetts. The reasons are two-fold.

First, as James Joyner noted, there’s the fact that Paul’s ideology simply is not compatible with the majority view in the GOP:

Because hard core libertarianism is simply not particularly popular.

While there are significant libertarian strains in both major American political parties, it’s not the dominant faction-or close to it-in either. The Republican Party primaries are dominated by Evangelical Christians who very much want government to regulate moral behavior, notably in the cases of abortion, marriage, and drugs. Even though Paul strays from the libertarian line on abortion, he’s simply not part of the mainstream in his party.

Aside from ideology, he doesn’t have a presidential background. He has no real executive experience and has never won a statewide election. We haven’t elected a president with no higher office than the House of Representatives on his résumé in modern times.

Additionally, the fact that he’ll be 77 years old by the time the election rolls around is decidedly unhelpful. He’s not only older than John McCain was last cycle, he’s older than Ronald Reagan was when he ran for re-election. Indeed, he’ll be nearly as old as Reagan was when he left office.

Second, as I noted last month, the odds of Paul doing well go down as the number of candidates in a race drop out and the number of closed primaries increase:

Ron Paul may well win Iowa and come in second place in New Hampshire, but that’s going to be his high water mark. The fact that he only appeals to what some conservative bloggers are derisively, and incorrectly I would submit, referring to as “mischief voters” means that when it comes down to races where winning the primary means convincing the Republican base in a race where you have only one or two opponents, Paul has a nearly irresolvable conflict. Either the voters go with the moderate conservative Mitt Romney, or they go with the guy who stands in opposition to cherished conservative positions on national defense, terrorism, and the role of government. Given the choice, I’m fairly certain that even the most conservative Republican will pick Mitt Romney over Ron Paul, just as they picked John McCain over Ron Paul in 2008 (remember, Paul didn’t drop out of the race until just before he had to run in the Texas Primary for his House Seat in 2008).

Ron Paul didn’t win Iowa, of course, but he did well enough to claim a moral victory and his performance last night was a vast, vast improvement of how he had done in the Granite State four years previously. But none of that changes the electoral math. Coming up next, we’ve got South Carolina, where Paul is averaging about 10% of the vote, which puts him in 4th place and 20 points behind Mitt Romney. In Florida, he’s averaging about 7% of the vote and sitting far behind in fifth place. Nationally, he’s stuck in 4th place and averaging about 12%.

Nothing that happened last night is likely to change those numbers, largely because of the ideological factors mentioned above. South Carolina, for example, is perceived as being a very conservative state, and while that is true it hides the fact that South Carolina Republicans have tended in recent years to line up behind the Establishment consensus nominee when primary time comes around. George H.W. Bush won the state in 1988, Bob Dole won there over Pat Buchanan in 1996, George W. Bush won there in 2000, and John McCain won there just four years ago. Given this history, it’s more likely that Mitt Romney will win the state than anyone else at this point. In Florida, we’ve got a primary that is only open to registered Republicans. Using last night’s results as an example, we see that Ron Paul only won 16% of self-identified Republicans whereas he won 32% of self-identified independents and 24% of self-identified Democrats. In New Hampshire, independents made up 47% of the voters, in Florida the won’t be voting at all. Even South Carolina is not likely to be friendly to Paul in this regard, in 2008 independents only constituted 18% of those voting in the South Carolina Republican primary. That number might be a little higher since there’s no Democratic primary on the ballot, but even there independents only accounted for 28% of the Democratic electorate in 2008. Unless he’s able to tap into some previously unknown base of supporters in the state, the odds of South Carolina ending as well for Paul as New Hampshire or Iowa are pretty slim.

That’s why I’m willing to make the following predictions:

  • Ron Paul will not receive more than 23% of the vote in any contested primary or caucus going forward. By “contested” I mean a race where Mitt Romney still faces a serious challenge for the Republican nomination.
  • Ron Paul will not place higher than third in any contested primary or caucus in which there are more than three candidates in the race at the time
  • After the race whittles down to Romney and Paul (who will not get out of this race until the better end), there will not be a single two-person debate.
  • Ron Paul will not run as a third-party candidate in the fall.

In other words, last night was Ron Paul’s high point, but Matt Welch Brian Doherty argues that winning may not be the most important thing to come out of his campaign

I have held my expectations in check for five years about the political possibilities of the whole “Ron Paul for President” thing, and he and his fans have exceeded them every step of the way. I vaguely saw the shape of what 2012 could mean for the ideas of liberty as represented by Paul, as written about in my forthcoming book Ron Paul’s Revolution, but never mustered enough hubris to predict its success with confidence. That confidence is beginning to seem justified about now. (Success, here, does not necessarily mean being the Republican candidate. But it does mean creating the solidified movement of ideas and passion that can grow to dominate American politics. That is, Romney is Rockefeller; Paul is Goldwater.) Paul’s encouraging early results this year are the most significant political results for the cause of liberty I could have imagined, arriving faster than I could have imagined. I expect it to only get more interesting from here.

I thought the same thing would result from the 2008 campaign. What happened instead, is that the Paul campaign, the Campaign for Liberty, and it’s affiliated organizations have turned into something of a cult of personality built around Ron Paul. One of the biggest reasons that Rand Paul was able to do such a good job at fundraising when he entered the Senate race, for example, is because of who his father was. Now, as then, there are a distressing number of Ron Paul supporters who view their candidate not as a politician but as some kind of savior who can do no wrong, and some of them seem to have only a passing interest in the ideas themselves. Last night, for example, one member of a CNN Focus Group in South Carolina said that if Ron Paul wasn’t the nominee, he would vote for Obama. Not only does this reinforce the suspicions that Republicans have about the loyalty of Paul supporters, it also demonstrates a silly “all-or’nothing” approach to politics that guarantees that you’ll never accomplish anything. By all rights, Paul’s supporters should have been looking at Gary Johnson this time around. He’s got more experience, he’s younger, and he doesn’t have Paul’s baggage. Had Paul not run, though, I’m convinced that most of his diehard supporters would have just stayed home. That’s not the way that someone to committed to ideas rather than a personality cult acts.

The personality cult, the newsletters, and Paul’s ties to Paleoconservatives who think Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant and defend the Confederacy. This is not a good recipe for a “pro-liberty movement” at all. Rather than helping advance libertarianism, I’m coming to the conclusion that Ron Paul and his supporters are doing serious damage to it.



FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Brainster says:

    “He’s not older than John McCain was last cycle, he’s older than Ronald Reagan was when he ran for re-election.”

    He’s not just older that McCain was last cycle, he’s older than McCain is today. I like the point about the cult of personality; the Ron Paul Revolution is more about Ron Paul than it is about revolution.

  2. ernieyeball says:

    None of the candidates are going to heed Paul’s call, of course, and even if they did none of them are going to endorse me.

    Don’t be a Slug…Vote for Doug!
    Chug a Lug…Let’s Draft Doug!
    Get to Know Us…Vote For Mataconis!

  3. Jeremy says:

    @ernieyeball: You sir, win the internets.

  4. This would be one of the times when stream-of-consciousness writing doesn’t work

  5. Rick Almeida says:

    For what it’s worth, Paul has been advertising steadily in SC for almost 2 weeks, and his ads (all positive) focus solely on his Christian conservatism.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Of course, last night Huntsman was supposed to get second place. Paul wasn’t supposed to do this well.

    Sorry Doug, but I’m thinking conventional wisdom is wrong. While Paul may not win the nomination I think he’ll go on to remain a strong candidate for some time.

  7. mantis says:

    I predict Paul will mount a third party candidacy after Romney gets the nomination. It will be interesting…

  8. Because hard core libertarianism is simply not particularly popular.

    Yes, but how can you make it more popular, other than by going out to try and convince people it’s a good idea? You’re right that Ron Paul can’t win (and I bet in his heart of hearts, even he knows he can’t win). What you don’t seem to get is that there’s still value in a losing campaign if your real goal is to convince people to adopt a new political philosophy.

  9. @mantis:

    Probably not. If there’s one thing Paul understands, it’s blowback, and I think he realizes that an independent run would result in retaliation against Rand Paul, costing the movement its most likely future standard bearer.

  10. mantis says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Probably not. If there’s one thing Paul understands, it’s blowback, and I think he realizes that an independent run would result in retaliation against Rand Paul, costing the movement its most likely future standard bearer.

    I think his desire to give it one last shot this year may be too overpowering.

  11. @mantis:

    Also, if Gary Johnson gets the LP nomination, Paul can just stay in the party and play good cop (“look at all those people voting for GJ; none of this would have happened if you’d just listened to me”) .

  12. Last night, for example, one member of a CNN Focus Group in South Carolina said that if Ron Paul wasn’t the nominee, he would vote for Obama. Not only does this reinforce the suspicions that Republicans have about the loyalty of Paul supporters, it also demonstrates a silly “all-or’nothing” approach to politics that guarantees that you’ll never accomplish anything.

    So first you argue that the Paul’s campaign is a waste of time because the rest of the Republican party is completely hostile to Paul’s supporters, then you argue they never the less have some moral obligation to vote GOP anyways, because they can’t possibly legitimately decide that Obama better reflects their values than, say, Rick Santorum.

    In other words, if you are a libertarian, don’t even bother trying to change people’s minds, just bend over and take it.

    You’re such a partisan hack, Doug.

  13. @Stormy Dragon:

    My point in passing along that anecdote was to point out the extent to which the Paul campaign is driven more by personality than ideology, despite what Paul said in his speech last night. It mimics what I’ve heard from other Paul supporters who tell me that they’d never vote for someone other than Paul or his son. That’s not a political movement, it’s a cult of personality.

  14. David M says:

    I can’t believe how lucky Romney has been that Paul will stay in the race, yet never be a serious threat. Romney might win without Paul in the race, but Paul is never going to win and can only help Romney by preventing another candidate from getting close.

  15. Moosebreath says:

    Stormy Dragon,

    “how can you make it more popular, other than by going out to try and convince people it’s a good idea?”

    At what point does the converse apply? At what point should libertarians recognize that the majority of people have heard the libertarian message and rejected it, and thus the libertarians should be amenable to changing their political philosophy?

  16. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I saw the CNN focus group Doug mentions.

    Everybody in that room, except one, appeared to indicate that they would support whomever the Republicans nominated and that they mainly want to defeat Obama. That means they would vote for Paul if he is the nominee.

    The one guy said that if Paul is not the Republican nominee, he is voting for Obama. He didn’t say that if Santorum is the nominee I can’t vote Republican. He didn’t say he would for Johnson if Paul isn’t the nominee. He would act diametrically opposed to everyone else in the room.

    Sure, its an anecdote, but its a good one I think. And it goes against your claim at 12:36 that a losing Paul campaign would still change hearts and minds. Paul and his supporters are simply using the Republican primaries to sell books for Paul, they don’t care about creating a movement within the party; they’re bolters.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t know if Paul is changing hearts and minds so much as highlighting for our elites that a good chunk of the public, liberal and conservative alike, are not so much big fans of endless war and the national security creep it includes, the “war” on drugs, bailouts for other members of the elite while the little people struggle… (I included the ones that liberals and conservatives often agree on. Obviously, Paul’s message is more than just my list).

  18. @Moosebreath:

    and thus the libertarians should be amenable to changing their political philosophy

    To what end? How do libertarians benefit from supporting big government Republicans?

  19. Moosebreath says:

    Stormy Dragon,

    “To what end? How do libertarians benefit from supporting big government Republicans?”

    A. There’s another party out there.

    B. That seems to be exactly the converse of what you are looking for in favor of the others in the political spectrum. Your hope to convince people of the merits of libertarianism can be rewritten as “How do social conservatives benefit from supporting pot-and-abortion loving libertarians?” and “How do economic liberals benefit from supporting from supporting screw-the-poor libertariams?”.

  20. fallibilist says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You would, perhaps, like to humbly acknowledge your failed prediction vis-a-vis Roemer over Perry in NH vote total? No?

  21. @fallibilist:

    I believe the post is still there for everyone to see. But, yes, I got that wrong.

  22. KJ says:

    What is your agenda for marginalizing Ron Paul? Clearly the next two states coming up are not his strongest, but neither were the last two. In recent polling, he’s in first place in South Dakota. The states he does best in just aren’t early states.

  23. @KJ:

    I don’t have an “agenda”

    If anything I am sympathetic to many of Paul’s ideas.

    However, looking at this realistically I recognize the fact that he cannot win the nomination and that last night was the best night he will have in this race.

  24. @Moosebreath:

    A. There’s another party out there.

    And based on recent performance, while both parties are terrible on freedom in general, the Democrats seem to be less terrible on my freedom in particular.

  25. Minor correction. Your quote above was Brian Doherty, not Matt Welch.

    It’s hard to argue with your appraisal of the electoral realities, but I hope you are wrong, especially about the two man debate. It would be fun to watch Paul against Romney.

  26. Matt Welch says:

    That wasn’t me writing it, it was Brian Doherty.

  27. Yikes, my mistake

  28. An Interested Party says:

    While Paul may not win the nomination I think he’ll go on to remain a strong candidate for some time.

    And what, if anything, will do to the eventual GOP nominee…

    What is your agenda for marginalizing Ron Paul?

    Reality, perhaps…

  29. Erik says:

    I support Ron Paul for a reason that has nothing to do with his Libertarianism. Looking at it appears that Ron Paul doesn’t take special interest money.

    Think of all the bad legislation that has resulted from lobbying of both Democrats and Republicans by powerful interest groups.

    Most voters would not vote for a candidate who had been convicted of political bribery, no matter how “electable” he/she is or what his/her policy positions are. So why vote for any candidate who accepts legal bribes in the form of special interest money?

    We don’t have to wait for anyone to fix the campaign finance system. We can do more than consider candidates without special interests backing them: we can refuse to vote for any candidate who accepts that kind of backing. That takes the power from the source of the money, bypassing the need for reform (and the lobbyists who would stop that reform because their jobs would be threatened).

    For the purpose of running for President, Ron Paul has exhibited poor long-term judgment by pandering to racists and advocating a few dangerously unrealistic policies. He also might be racist himself, even if he denies it. He does not show direct evidence of being anti-Semitic, but may be anti-Israel (but why does Israel deserve automatic support from politicians?).

    This makes me wish we had a better candidate who doesn’t take influence money. Until I see such a person, I’ll continue to support Paul and throw a protest vote in his favor if I get the chance. I don’t expect him to win, but if he did win, the negative consequences of his racism would be minor compared to the consequences resulting from the corrupting influence of special interests on an alternative President.

    He advocates some policies that sound radical or outlandish when you first hear them. The problem is that too many people don’t bother to think further about the reasoning behind his ideas. These ideas become more plausible as you think longer and harder about them, with some important exceptions.

    I don’t worry much about those ideas of Ron Paul that are genuinely dangerous. He would require the cooperation of Congress to implement most of those ideas. As President, he would not write laws; Congress does that. He would get to choose nominees for his Cabinet and the Supreme Court, but the Senate must approve them. His area of free reign would be mainly with executive orders. He will use his executive orders and threat of veto power to make the government smaller and closer to his preferences, but he won’t have enough power to single-handedly put his policy ideas into effect.

    I will consider casting a protest vote for him, Buddy Roemer, or a minor party candidate.

  30. Mary Lou Grier says:

    Ron Paul is not really interested in liberty. He supports abortion restrictions like the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act ( imposing a vaginal ultrasound, twenty four hour wait and seven year record keeping requirement) even when they place undue regulatory burdens on doctors and force unnecessary medical procedures on women. Doctors automatically lose their licenses when these regulations are not followed. He would never dare think of imposing such restrictions on gun owners.

    Paul also promotes economic policies of “Austrians.” When he came in second in Iowa he announced “We can all be Austrian economists!” or something to that effect. Austrian economists have no respectability except for Paul’s endorsement. HIs endorsement sounds more like a way for him to capitalize on his gold mine investments, ala Glenn Beck. As for predicting the economic collapse, he has been predicting record inflation and record stagflation. It hasn’t happened. If you pay any attention to financial issues, you can see that his fiscal and monetary policies are the moral equivalent of bomb throwing on the global economy. By cutting 80% of the government he would immediately wreck the nation and the world economic and financial system as we know it. No wonder he needs guns.

  31. Ernieyeball says:

    @Mary Lou Grier: “Ron Paul is not really interested in liberty.”

    His campaign also gleefully accepted the endorsement of the Rev. Phillip G. Kayser.

    “We welcome Rev. Kayser’s endorsement and the enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs. We’re thankful for the thoughtfulness with which he makes his endorsement and hope his endorsement and others like it make a strong top-three showing in the caucus more likely,” said Ron Paul 2012 Iowa Chairman Drew Ivers.

    Reached by phone, Kayser confirmed to TPM that he believed in reinstating Biblical punishments for homosexuals — including the death penalty