By Brian Doherty
There's a fantastical "this can't be really happening" feeling to the continued extent and power of Ron Paul's popularity among the most dedicated young activists within the Republican Party, not only to those like me who've been largely cheering him from the margins of the margins of American political power for decades, but also for those who have been actively trying to drive him off even those margins.
Herewith, a survey of some recent flailings at Ron Paul's repeat CPAC poll victory, and the ever-larger impact of Pauls--both Ron in the House (and the prospective GOP presidential field) and now Rand in the Senate.
-- Young Americans for Freedom follows in the kicking-out-of-the-Right spirit of their founding father William Buckley and boots Paul from their advisory board; as Dave Weigel notes at Slate, internal division results, including YAF's own "coordination intern" quitting, and a public dustup with rival right-youth group Young Americans for Liberty, more reliably Paulite.
-- Right-wing radio dude Kevin McCullough sputters at Fox News's site about the "bizarre nature and overall oddity" of a right-wing political gathering that gave so much play to Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, accusing the libertarian leaning of disrespectfully "hijacking" CPAC's "mission," moaning about an "unabated" libertarian streak. Look, if the excited politically motivated younger folk who actually show up at conventions about politics and activism dig Paul and Johnson, it just might behoove the GOP powers to mind them rather than distance themselves from something as apparently unconservative as limited government--but something there is about a libertarian that makes even simple political horse sense go out the window; as McCullough declares, "libertarians are the worst form of political affiliation in the nation."
-- Bernie Quigley at The Hill thinks that the more palatable Johnson rather than Ron Paul will be the ultimate successful standardbearer for the libertarian tinge of the GOP on the national stage, but notes that hysterical reactions against them (though he is focusing on prog-liberal angst, the same is true of trad-right angst) are "prelude to a nervous breakdown." And he sums up the surprising rise of Paul Power:
What the Pauls have achieved was unimaginable just five years ago, when Ron Paul’s diatribes before Congress were dutifully transcribed only in small, esoteric libertarian journals. Today, if this week’s CPAC convention in D.C. is any indication, libertarianism is the creative rising karma in the Republican Party.
-- Right-wing thought leader Donald Trump accuses Paul of un-electability; Paul asks, how many elections has Donald Trump won? (That the anti-Ron Paul forces are actually using an argument that depends on admitting there is any scintilla of a possibility of a hope he could win the presidential nomination is kind of staggering.)
-- Ron Paul makes it clear that he's more radical than the right-wing's Tea Party populist troops on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," complaining that:
some Tea Partiers aren’t measuring up when it comes to the tough defense and entitlement program cuts he believes are needed to save the United States from economic cataclysm.
“They don’t want you to touch Social Security. They don’t want you to touch anything but Obamacare,” Paul says. “Some of them are real Republicans and they wouldn’t dare touch Bush’s increase in medical care costs, you know, prescription health programs.”
“They treat the symptoms and they don’t look at it philosophically,” he adds.
-- Jim Antle reported in the Guardian on the tensions between the Paulite CPACers and the others, including Paul fans booing Bush-era GOP heroes Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld:
The event attendees were mostly social conservatives. The audience was more willing to contemplate Pentagon budget scrutiny – but still more hawkish than not and very concerned about radical Islam. The boycotts did not hurt attendance: the conference attracted more than 11,000 conservative activists and its DC venue was packed with people.
But the hostility between Ron Paul's supporters and everyone else was palpable. When Paul won the straw poll, about half the crowd shouted "Ron Paul!" – but the other half booed. When Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is being targeted for a possible Tea Party challenge in 2012, attempted to defend his vote for the Wall Street bailout, Paulites cried out, "Liar!" This prompted a Hatch supporter to sternly remind the audience, "As conservatives, we can disagree without being disagreeable."
Like I noted after his last CPAC poll victory, there's a strong likelihood that if you didn't vote for Paul, you hate him--he was likely few people's second choice (except maybe Johnson voters).
Why can't the powers that be of the Right handle Paul? I explained this last year after his unexpected first CPAC poll victory, and nothing has changed except his continued and expanding popularity, and that of his senator son, make it all the more ominous:
There’s a very good reason anyone with any skin in the game of the status quo—politician, commentator, or citizen—has to find it very difficult to take Paul seriously. That so many citizens and activists in the Tea Party movement are taking him seriously is scaring the establishment for good reason. Paul doesn’t just represent an opposition politician, he represents an absolute denial that “the system” makes any sense, has any justice, or is sustainable. It is this radical oppositionism that makes it so easy for standard issue pundits to just write his fans off as nuts and a bit scary.
Newsweek started to get at this important aspect of the Paul phenomenon, noting that “tea-partiers, Paulites, etc.─seem less interested in finding practical solutions to Washington's endemic problems than in tearing down Washington itself. As the 2010 elections approach, this nihilistic feeling will only grow stronger.”
That’s because the radical solutions that the Paul worldview demands—an end to overseas military adventurism, ending government’s ability to manipulate paper currency, severe cuts in spending on all the myriad income-shifting promises Washington has made the past 80 years—don’t register as “practical solutions” to (for lack of a better word) the establishment. They seem like nihilism, though they are actually a belief in the American Constitution.
Any standard Republican or movement conservative really can’t take Paul seriously without massive cognitive dissonance. You mean, we really really have to obey the Constitution, we really can’t keep borrowing and inflating forever? Signs like the CPAC vote of a significant number of politically active youngsters believing in Ron Paul are indeed a sign of an apocalypse of sorts for the world that most politicians and pundits know. If Ron Paul is right, then everything they know is wrong.