Political Hay

Ron Paul in the Crosshairs

The Texan's Iowa surge will invite new attacks on his campaign.

By 12.20.11

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"Democracy," H.L. Mencken once observed, "is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." Although mindful of the fact that the United States is a republic rather than a democracy, Ron Paul supporters are about to learn the truth of this maxim.

For months, they have protested as political reporters have ignored their candidate in favor of people with far less measurable popular support: Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, and even Rick Santorum. They have seen the 11-term Texas congressman receive much less ink and pixels than a former pizza company CEO who insisted that the economy was just fine right before the global financial meltdown occurred -- a crisis their man had long predicted.

Cover Ron Paul, many of his supporters demanded. Well, they are about to get what they want good and hard.

Two reputable scientific polls now show Paul with the lead in Iowa. He is third nationally, moving back toward the double digits. When it comes to measuring public opinion, polls are but a snapshot in time. But even the keepers of the conventional wisdom can no longer ignore the Paul campaign.

Expect outlets ranging from the liberal mainstream media to the more hawkish precincts of the conservative press to become one big reprint of the Ron Paul Survival Report between now and January 3. Already those who most disagree with Paul on foreign policy have been discussing the newsletters, which for a period of the 1990s contained some (reputedly ghost-written) racist content the congressman and his campaign have never explained satisfactorily.

There has already been a flurry of predictions in places as diverse as the New York Times and conservative blogs that Paul's surge spells doom for everything from the Iowa caucuses to the Republican Party itself. Robert Stacy McCain has a good round-up. This is what it sounds like when hawks cry.

If Paul holds on to win Iowa, the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney predicts he will receive the Pat Buchanan treatment. After Buchanan won the 1996 New Hampshire primary, a terrified Republican establishment rallied to crush him in South Carolina and beyond. While Paul began his campaign opposed to the war that led to Americans being unceremoniously kicked out of liberated Iraq, Buchanan had most recently opposed the war that kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.

Like Paul, Buchanan almost certainly had too low of a ceiling to prevail once the GOP field narrowed. "But for the enforcers of Republican orthodoxy," Carney concludes, "a Paul victory in Iowa will be an act of impudence that must be punished."

Paul has risen among Republican voters who want a candidate who means what he says about cutting government and following the Constitution. The alternatives include a Massachusetts governor who drafted the blueprint for Obamacare and the prodigal son of the last Republican revolution, a former House speaker who illustrates a memorable M. Stanton Evans quip: "Most conservatives know when they come to Washington that it is a sewer; the trouble is, too many of them wind up treating it like a hot tub."

Yet Paul's successes will undoubtedly raise the political costs of his excesses. It should be possible to oppose a repeat of the Iraq adventure in Iran while maintaining greater rhetorical distance from the odious regime in Tehran. Similarly, one should be able to curb excesses in Republican talking points on Islam without making concerns about radical Muslims sound as outlandish as complaints about Romney's Mormonism.

None of this means the attacks on Paul will necessarily be proportionate to his offenses, to say nothing of fair. Paul's suporters can take heart in one thing: their man has a successor waiting in the wings to lead their movement, one who smooths some of the good doctor's rougher edges. Pat Buchanan didn't have that, but Barry Goldwater did.

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About the Author

W. James Antle III, author of the new book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?, is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a senior editor of The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter @jimantle.