Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has a consistent message, which has endeared him to many disenchanted voters in the current political climate. What has always seemed to sink him, though, are the tactics his campaign has repeatedly chosen to employ. These cloud his original message and abdicate responsibility on critical questions concerning Rep. Paul’s electability altogether.
For all intents and purposes, 2007 was a success story in mass grassroots fundraising. The Paul campaign broke the single-day fundraising record in the U.S. by raising over $6 million on the backs of individual donors in December 2007, for example. He packed 100,000+ members into thousands of meet-up groups in cities across the country, the most of any GOP contender at the time. Rep. Paul managed to garner between 5 and 8 percent of national support during the primary contests for those—especially younger voters with a strong Web presence—who gravitated toward the man for reasons other than conventional campaign outreach efforts from volunteers.
The problem was simple back then: resources were allocated poorly in that nearly all the campaigning was decentralized and devolved to local meet-up groups and savvy Internet surrogates – true to the Ron Paul credo – and a national strategy barely had an exoskeleton upon which to rely. This may have led to what social psychologist Gustave Le Bon would call “group mind,” in which a throng of followers exerts influence over its members, or simply acts independently. In both the short- and long-term, this might have actually helped the Paul campaign reach its various campaign goals, yet the supporters were also able to wield disproportionate influence over the campaign, diverting crucial resources toward a campaign blimp as opposed to television advertisements or the like.
The Paul campaign did well in learning from its amateur mistakes, rebounding almost immediately by the time 2011 rolled around. The remaining campaign funds were used as seed money for Campaign for Liberty, a 501(c)(4) organization with national outreach and local offices in key states that proselytized the libertarian message and organized against pressing legislative agendas, such as the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. They hired seasoned campaign operatives like Trygve Olson that helped his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), pull off an upset in 2010, as well as savvy ad man Jon Downs, who worked on George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Office space has been in place for months, advertisements have saturated the airwaves in Iowa and New Hampshire, and volunteers have been plugging away at the phones and the doors of voters. In Paul’s own words, the American people were finally “swimming to him.”
Then, the newsletters resurfaced, alleging that Rep. Paul is racist, homophobic, and potentially anti-Semitic. As in 2007, the campaign has summarily disavowed Rep. Paul’s involvement with the newsletters without pointing to any particular staff member who may have written them in Rep. Paul’s name. In lockstep, his fervent libertarian supporters have labeled this as the latest example of a “smear campaign” orchestrated by the mainstream media to discredit Rep. Paul’s campaign and bring down his poll numbers. His supporters obviously waste little to no time in responding collectively on behalf of their candidate of choice, on constant vigilance for signs of negative press coverage. However, there is not one singular centralized response to the accusations, which could cause a problems in terms of filtering and maintaining control over the campaign’s core message.
A Super PAC devoted to Rep. Paul’s nomination has stepped up to defend Paul from the media onslaught, as well, and just recently uploaded a video in which a middle-aged African American male from Texas details a supererogatory act of kindness by Dr. Paul toward him and his family several decades ago: Dr. Paul tended to his wife in the hospital when no one else would and did not charge the man a penny for his services.
What about his official campaign? There is nothing on his official site that links or discusses the issue at all. The campaign had to know this was an inevitability, though, because every other candidate who has made a splash in the early polls, as Paul has of late, has had every part of his or her private and public life exhaustively scrutinized. Herman Cain has even been pushed out of the race entirely, as a consequence.
Ron Paul does not have a race problem. He has a campaign problem. As evidenced by the lack of response to the recent racist allegations, there seems to exist the belief within the campaign that the issue will simply dissipate over time and that the current “brush it under the carpet” strategy will work through the primary season. What should the campaign have done, and what can it do to effectively put this potentially fatal thorn behind it?
For starters, it could do what it has done so well over the past several months and release a professional advertisement in which sound bites of Rep. Paul narrate how his philosophy of personal liberty aims to turn the page by empowering Americans of every race, ethnicity, and orientation to promote the central American ideals of tolerance and freedom. Gary Johnson did this well with a low-budget, so I could only imagine what the Paul campaign could create.
Second, Rep. Paul would be wise to heed Michael Tomasky’s intriguing suggestion that he deliver an informal talk or speech focused solely on racism as candidate Barack Obama did in March 2008. In 2008, the speech did wonders for candidate Obama in moving beyond the inflammatory language of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and demonstrating leadership on the issue of race in the United States. Tomasky may believe that there are not enough GOP voters who care about alleged racism for Paul to respond, but would it hurt to speak for himself as any man of presidential caliber would, and put the matter behind him sooner rather than later, especially as some question his electability?
Should Ron Paul win this Jan. 3 in Iowa, his campaign should expect the entire weight of the GOP establishment and mainstream media to compound atop the campaign headquarters with even sharper scrutiny of statements published under his name. It may not be Rep. Paul’s personal style to put on his politician’s hat, but a presidential race is about demonstrating bold leadership. Overreliance on a heterogeneous, but well-intentioned score of supporters worked well in the past, but 2011 should be a time for the Paul campaign to reflect on its non-interventionist ways politically. After all, it just might help Paul’s chances of winning in the long run.
Photo Source: Gage Skidmore