Ron Paul Phenomenon Not About Ron Paul

Ron Paul Lou Dobbs Pat Buchanan Photos Joe Carter, in an interesting reflection on his 30 days working for the Huckabee campaign, makes this observation:

The Ron Paul Phenomenon is Not About Ron Paul — It will take a more astute political mind than I possess to comprehend this Ron Paul phenomenon. All I know is that it has less to do with the candidate than about people’s desire for something different. When Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan, Vox Day, John Derbyshire, and the 9/11 Truthers all agree on a candidate its safe to say that they aren’t all seeing the same thing.

On last night’s episode of OTB Radio, I likened it to the Ross Perot phenomenon in 1992, which was also more about “Something Different” than about Perot. There, though, there was also a minor cult of personality going on; Paul can’t be accused of that.

The bottom line is that there are a huge number of people simply fed up with the major parties, a trend that has been visible at least since George Wallace’s 1968 campaign when he famously asserted that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the national Democrat and Republican parties. While that feeling is, in my view, exaggerated it’s certainly true that there’s far less choice in American politics than in most Western democracies. Both of our parties would fit comfortably within the British Conservative Party, for example.

Political Polarization During the 2008 US Presidential Campaign Both Micah Sifry and Matt Yglesias point to this political polarization network visualization which shows that books by Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs occupy the center in American political thought, not the extreme fringe that they do in terms of elected officials.

Matt gets it just right:

[I]nsofar as there’s some kind of excluded middle in our current political situation it’s not the brand of Bloomberg-style “centrism” that the bemoaners of partisanship tend to favor. Instead, it’s something akin to Dobbs-style populist nationalism. It’s not a point of view I favor, but unlike Bloombergism it is a point of view that has a lot of support and only a little representation.

A lot of those folks are gravitating to Paul, not because he’s necessarily one of them, but because he’s as close as they’re likely to find in a respectable candidate. Given that the presidential nominating processes of both parties favor the activist Right/Left base, though, there’s virtually no chance that a Paul (or Buchanan) would get the nomination.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I don’t know that book purchases are the best way to measure partisanship. I buy books by authors I disagree with all the time.

  2. Ryan from Philly says:

    Exactly. It’s a revolution.

  3. James Joyner says:

    That’s a fair point. Still, I do think people are more apt to buy books from people with whom they agree and that Buchanan, Dobbs, Perot, and others draw from a working class base across the aisles.

  4. J Hall says:

    While it’s true, that the Ron Paul phenomenon isn’t solely about “Ron Paul,” his message wouldn’t have near the effect if it weren’t being relayed by someone with such an impressive record, impeccable character, and overall likeability.

    Politicians who try to sell the idea of change can’t be corrupt, and of the same mold as the other candidates, for their message to be believable.

    Ron Paul’s message is so strong because he has an entire lifetime of honesty and integrity to back up what he’s saying. The combination of the message and the man are what makes the R3VOLUTION so appealing. If you don’t recognize that, you will never be able to understand what is going on. Politicians can’t just emulate the message without emulating the character – it won’t work.

  5. Kenny says:

    “…there’s virtually no chance that a Paul (or Buchanan) would get the nomination.”

    Are you blind or brainwashed by the MSM? There are Ron Paul supporters literally everywhere.

  6. Benjamin Bolton says:

    J Hall is right; The r3VOLution’s figurehead shows us the hope of honesty, integrity, freedom, and love all wrapped up in an electable official.

    WE THE PEOPLE penned the constitution to protect the people from the government… and WE THE PEOPLE of the Ron Paul r3VOLution recognize that Dr. Paul has a history of defending that fine document.

    Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity. Individual responsibility with smaller government. Talks and trades with all nations, entangling alliances with none. Strict adherence to the constitution, even when it’s unpopular. Honesty. Consistency. Intelligent Compassion. These are the ingredients of the revolution.

  7. Born Republican says:

    Mainstream media is trying to convince people not to vote for Ron Paul out of their fear of losing control. He is viable. Don’t buy into their decisions of who’s electable. Be a part of history. VOTE RON PAUL!

  8. Darren D. says:

    Man, you came so close to writing an article at OTB without saying,

    “there’s virtually no chance that a Paul (or Buchanan) would get the nomination”.

    Oh well, maybe next time, ask Rupert if it is okay.

  9. Tano says:

    OK Ron Paul supporters – lets hear some numbers!

    You guys all seem to believe that there is some great revolutionary wave that is going to change the American poltical landscape.

    Other people tend to think you guys are the paradigm example of kool-aid drinkers who understand nothing about the dynamics of American politics.

    So tell us what you expectations really are. How will RP do tonite? And in NH? Lets put some hard numbers on the table!

  10. Cade Thacker says:

    I think you are missing the point. It is not so much that Ron Paul will win (though I’m working hard to make sure he does). It is that he has awoken a large section of Americans that gave up. I know for me, that from now on, I will never vote for a candidate that expands the powers of the Fed. Gov’t, and will actively work against them. Now multiply me by thousands. It may take us years, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I bet many of those meetup groups will remain active long after the election.

    Cade Thacker
    Roswell, GA

  11. J Hall says:


    By the “dynamics of Amerian politics,” do you mean the corrupt,corporate-controlled nature of Washington D.C., the big-spending practices of BOTH the Republican and Democratic parties, the pandering of candidates to get elected only to ignore every “promise” they made, and the choosing of the “lesser of two evils” when we vote?

    Are those some of the dynamics you speak of? Because that’s where American politics is at. If you’re fine with the “status-quo” you go right ahead and vote for it, but I think most Americans are tired of the same-old crap they’ve been getting for decades.

    You claim we’re “drinking the kool-aid” but you’re still eating, and loving, the sh*t they’ve been feeding you all these years.

    I’m pretty sure we’re not the ones who “don’t understand.”

  12. Tano says:

    “By the “dynamics of Amerian politics,” do you mean…”

    yeah, whatever….

    “You claim we’re “drinking the kool-aid””

    I wasnt making any claim. I was merely noting what many others are saying about you guys, and contrasting it with your views.

    One group is right, the other wrong. And I’m thinking that tonite’s results might give us all a little insight into who has a better sense of the real mood of the nation.

    So whats your prediction?

  13. Jim says:

    I don’t know why it’s so difficult to understand how such diverse luminaries can back the same candidate. To illustrate the libertarian/freedom philosophy, take the following example:

    You could create a communist group within a free/libertarian society as long as you didn’t use force to coerce people to join your group. In your group, you could suspend all personal property rights, and have each provide to his abilities and take for his needs, blah, blah.

    You could not create a free/libertarian group within a communist society.

    Or more simply, as Ron Paul says: “Freedom Unites!”

  14. J Hall says:

    Paul will be no lower than 3rd tonight. Same for NH.

  15. Rustle says:

    You forgot the most important part – We know that we can trust him. 8]

  16. RG says:

    Ron Paul is the antiMSM, the antiBush, the antiClinton,the antilyingpoliticsasusual, the antimilitaryindustrialcomplex candidate. He is real, honest, forthright and the genuine article. He and the support he has generated are Hope for America. HE’s trying to do the right thing and not for himself or his ego. That is scary!

  17. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    Paul does have an odd collection of supporters, but I think that he has tapped in to that roughly 10 to 15 percent of people that David Boaz at Cato has been talking about who are, in the broadest sense of the term, libertarian.

    While his anti-war message gets a lot of the attention, it is consistent with the overall theme of “I don’t want to run your life”.

    Although the anti-Paul crowd pays more attention to the 9/11 Truther nuts, the bulk of his support seems to come from college students and other people quite comfortable on the internet. These two groups represent more than any other the desire for government to just leave them alone.

    The power of the internet has finally allowed these people to come together.

    Given that the GOP has abandoned Reagan’s rhetoric of limited government, Ron Paul has filled a void that nobody else is paying attention to.

  18. Mal Keenan says:

    It quite easy for someone who is part of the revolution to see what is going on.

    The fact is that the left/right argument is a sham. It isn’t real. Two parties debating issues that don’t even come close to the truth.

    If you’re not already awakened then you won’t see this but those that are see right through this scam.

    I watched the ABC forum last night and I am coming to the conclusion that all those there except for Ron Paul actually believe what they are saying although it is quite obvious to me and many others that they are lying through their teeth.

    It’s funny, because these ‘crazies’ actually see Ron Paul as crazy.

    “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one” – Charles Mackay