Ron Paul may be a maverick in a sense, but it would be wrong to write him off outright.

If you represent the right-wing establishment, chances are the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference was an event you would rather forget. For the second year in a row, Texas Congressman Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll with 30% of the vote, beating GOP-favorite Mitt Romney by seven percentage points.

Instead of being received positively, though, the Congressman’s victory in this fun unscientific poll has set various Internet media outlets abuzz, deriding Ron Paul, his supporters, and the liberty movement for which he stands.

While billionaire Donald Trump heckled the Ron Paul faithful at CPAC by matter-of-factly stating, “Ron Paul has no chance of getting elected,” others of the blogosphere attacked the viability of the movement and the decorum of supporters, claiming that such supporters represented a fringe, libertarian streak of the party.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul addresses the crowd at CPAC 2011.

If former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had won the CPAC straw poll, would any media outlet question the legitimacy of the poll in gauging conservative opinion? Most likely not. It is a testament to the spontaneous grassroots support mustered by Ron Paul nationwide that he is able to get such support for maverick ideas, such as auditing the Federal Reserve and ending our militarism abroad. His supporters are a vocal bunch adroit at coordinating to attend GOP conferences and spreading the message online. Most important of all, his supporters are overwhelmingly young and their numbers are growing exponentially.

Why on Earth would the Republican Party want to distance itself from this important group? Ron Paul was Tea Party before it was cool to be Tea Party. Did the Republican Party not have difficulty with the youth in 2008? There are several key reasons as to why this “Ron Paul Revolution” is something of which to take note.

Front-runner Mitt Romney will have one key problem with which he must contend: RomneyCare. Yes, Romney’s Massachusetts-style ObamaCare has been absent from all of Romney’s speeches since he became considered a contender for the Republican nomination. Romney may be a charismatic alternative, but he has an Achilles’ heel and will have a difficult time defending his past unless he admits his error – at great cost to his political capital.

Paul countered Trump’s unkind political attack by asking Trump of the number of elections he had won. Paul has represented the 14th Congressional District of Texas for eleven terms, and faced similar attacks from the GOP for his views when he first considered running for Congress in 1976.

The 2008 Presidential election served as a new all-time low for the youth vote in support of the GOP, as the young left in droves in favor of the sexy choice in the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Harvard professor Gregory Mankiw actually suggested the GOP move “to become a party for moderate and mainstream libertarians.” Though there is no precise data on the youth constituency of Ron Paul, it is clear that a majority of the supporters at CPAC were twenty-something year-olds. Every university that Paul speaks at draws massive crowds in vocal support of initiatives such as ending the Federal Reserve (“End the Fed,” as the popular chant goes).

Progressive Democrats and the military are potential big-time followers. The former have become increasingly disillusioned with President Obama’s presidency, as he proves to be as much of a war hawk as President Bush, and if Afghanistan becomes a major issue come 2012, the only candidate as a viable alternative would be Paul. Surprising to many is how Paul’s message resonates so strongly with the military. In the 2008 election primaries, he trumped all other candidates’ support from the military. This is a clear repudiation of our current policy of quasi-imperialism in maintaining close to one thousand military bases in over 130 countries, an anachronistic holdover from the paranoia of the Cold War. The message is clear: bring the troops home.

Ron Paul is also a potential fallback for those disenchanted with the fickleness of the newly elected Republican House of Representatives. While House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defend their $60 billion solution to a $1.5 trillion deficit, the fiscally conservative Tea Party members shake their heads in collective disbelief. Ten years from now, this lack of boldness to rectify our budget shortfalls will result in Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the national debt consuming the entire federal budget. In other words, our government will collapse. The GOP was elected to take bold action, but what happens if they are caught sleeping at the wheel?

No individual, group, or movement is perfect. However, we all deserve a fair shot to express our opinions within the political system. Delegitimizing the work of Ron Paul and his faithful supporters is a cowardly move and a denial of the reality that American perceptions are slowly changing. Perhaps the time is nigh that the GOP at the very least acknowledge this shift, and be more accommodating to the Ron Paul Republicans. It may not cost it an election now, but as circumstances change, who knows what the ramifications may be?

Photo Credits: The Christian Science Monitor

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