Ron Paul has made quite a splash in the 2012 Republican Presidential campaign. The Texas Congressman came in a strong second in the New Hampshire primary and seems to be building momentum, particularly among younger voters.
While Mitt Romney appears to be the likely GOP candidate, he cannot ignore the passionate following Paul has inspired.
Win or lose, Paul has struck a chord among many of the electorate and may ultimately influence the policy direction of the Republican Party.
International Business Times spoke to an expert about the Ron Paul phenomenon.
Jamie Chandler is a professor of political science at Hunter College in New York City.
IB TIMES: Ron Paul is a registered Republican, but much of his platform seems rather at odds with the mainstream GOP platform. In what ways, if any, does he toe the Republican Party line; and, in which does he differ?
CHANDLER: The American Political Science Association rates Paul as the most conservative Republican congressman with the most consistent conservative voting record. A large share of his views are similar to the mainstream platform, such as not raising taxes, no tax funding for abortion providers, opposing stem cell research on embryonic cell lines, aggressive deficit reduction, no stimulus packages, restriction of bankruptcy laws, free market environmentalism, elimination of the Department of Education, and the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare and Patient Protection Act of 2009.
Where Paul differs, however, is on his economic and foreign policy philosophies, where he is much farther to the right compared to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman. Paul supports a very limited government role in how the economy should be managed including the elimination of the Federal Reserve, and he supports a non-interventionist foreign policy where the defense budget would be significantly reduced, military bases in Europe and Asia would be closed, Israel would be allowed to act as a more independent state, and all foreign aid programs would be terminated.
He also does not support federal or state marriage licenses, legislation against gay citizens, Affirmative Action, hate crimes legislation, and the War on Drugs. Paul believes that the Constitution grants American citizens the right to do “controversial things” as long as they do not hurt or defame other people.
IB TIMES: Does Paul have any support among mainstream Republican organizations, like the Republican National Committee (RNC)?
CHANDLER: Over the course of his Congressional career between 1996 and 2010, Paul has raised upwards of $66 million in campaign donations, which in a large part come from traditional Republican benefactors, such as the branches of the US Military, Fortune 500 corporations, and prominent Republican operatives. The RNC does not directly endorse any one candidate during primary season, but they will actively support the nominee in the general election with funds and campaign support.
However, individually, prominent RNC members have made supportive statements for Paul’s campaign, both on the state and national-level, but Mitt Romney has been getting most of these as he is considered the most electable by the party establishment.
IB TIMES: In the (unlikely) event that Paul wins the Republican Presidential nomination, would you expect to see a massive crossing of party lines by Republican voters? Or would they simply abstain from the election?
CHANDLER: Republicans voters will rally around the nominee regardless of who it eventually is, because a majority of Republicans are passionate about making Barack Obama a one-term President. It’s also unlikely that some voters may abstain from the election.
Paul may get some opposition from prominent mainstream Republican operatives, but judging by his fundraising record, it’s unlikely that the core GOP supporters would oppose his nomination and urge voters to stay home.
We could see a significant share of Democrats crossing party lines, particularly “Blue Dog” Democrats, which could have a deleterious effect on Obama’s re-election chances. These Democrats are strong supporters of libertarianism.
It’s important to note that current match-up polls place Paul and President Obama in a statistical tie, so prominent Republicans that now argue Paul is unelectable would likely change those views by the general election.
IB TIMES: If Ron Paul ran as a third-party candidate in 2012, how successful could he be? That is, might he win enough support in order to force the two main candidates to amend/change their platforms in order to appeal to disaffected Paul voters?
CHANDLER: It would not be logistically impossible for Paul to mount a serious third-party run nor has he indicated in recent statements that he’s interested in doing so. If he did, he would lose a large share of his core supporters and alienate the Republican Party. His organization Campaign for Liberty has been cultivating “Ron Paul Republicans” since 2008, and Paul has raised the mantra of libertarianism in the party. This election season is demonstrating the results of those long-term efforts.
A third-party run would erase these gains and also increase President Obama’s chances of winning re-election because a three-way ticket would split the Republican vote.
Paul is much better off working to push his agenda within the Republican Party. Paul has a lot of clout now because he has support from a large base of 18-to-29 year-old Republicans, which the eventual nominee will need to appeal to to give him an edge in the general election.
IB TIMES: The national media seems to treat Paul like a “joke.” Is this in a way helping him with voters?
CHANDLER: The term “joke” is a misrepresentation. The press has treated Congressman Paul the same as they have the other candidates this season but recent studies do indicate that Paul gets less national coverage compared to the other front-runners. However, there are a number of dynamics at play that determine how much coverage a candidate gets. The biggest is where the candidate ranks in the horse race polls, which explains why every couple of weeks another candidate dominates the airwaves and another is forgotten.
The second is that Paul is a known commodity and has run for president in the past, so there are few, if any, stories to tell that warrant the same kind of coverage and intensity similar to the reportage that we’ve seen on Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.
Similar inferences have been drawn about the coverage of Mitt Romney’s campaign. He, of course, has been in the news because he has been scoring consistently high in the polls, but not to the degree of the others above.
Of course, Romney and Paul have plenty of policy-related stories that could be told, but the more controversial and sensation items get the lion’s share of attention. The larger public, in general, tends to tune in when candidate news focuses on personal and character attributes, versus policy discussion.
Now that the election season has really kicked in, and Paul is doing well, he will get more coverage. At the same time, he will also need to ramp-up his campaign staff so that he can manage the growing press pool attending his campaign events.
In fact, Paul ran into some trouble in New Hampshire this week when his staff underestimated how many reporters would attend his various events, which created a number of logistical problems. However, even with the smaller quantity of news stories leading up to Iowa, Paul has been running a stable and consistent campaign and only seems to be gaining supporters.
IB TIMES: Who do you see as Paul¹s base of support of now?
CHANDLER: The New Hampshire exit polls indicate that Paul has a lock on young Republicans age 18-to-29 who make less money and have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Men also support Paul slightly more than women, and many rural and suburban voters gravitate to him.
IB TIMES: What would Paul have to do to expand his base of support in order to really become a legitimate candidate?
CHANDLER: Ron Paul already is a legitimate candidate, despite some media coverage to the contrary. His third place ranking in the Iowa Caucus and second place finish in New Hampshire primaries is proof of that. He has raised a significant amount of money ranking, second behind Mitt Romney, raising $26 million versus Romney’s $53 million.
Both Romney and Paul have very stable and strong campaign organizations, but for Paul to overtake Romney to win the nomination, he is going to need to make significant gains appealing to older, higher-income voters concerned with economic recovery, and the candidate’s ability to beat President Obama.
As of now, Romney has a lock on these voters, and he’s not likely to let it slip.
IB TIMES: What American political candidate from the past could you find comparable to Paul?
CHANDLER: We might compare Ron Paul to Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 and who is considered the father of the modern conservative movement. Goldwater espoused similar libertarian views that were largely popular amongst Republicans in the 1960s and 1970s, but once Ronald Reagan recognized the power of the evangelical Christian vote, that coalition grew into dominant, stable voting bloc up until the 2006-midterm elections.
Since then, Evangelical voters’ influence has been on a decline. If Paul’s efforts to resurrect libertarianism succeed, over the course of the next several elections we will see an evolved form of this ideology become the mainstream of the party, and new candidates will reflect it in their agendas and proposed governing strategies.