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First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
~ Mahatma Gandhi
"The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of cliches the first prize."
~ Saul Bellow
On July 15th, the Federal Election Commission announced the 2nd-quarter fundraising totals for each presidential candidate. In the Republican field, Ron Paul's $2.4 million placed him:
Among all candidates, Dr. Paul is now first in total donations from military personnel and veterans. While this may come as a surprise to some, Tom Engelhardt identified the primary reason when he asked rhetorically, "why should (military personnel) want to be endlessly redeployed to a lost war in a lost land?" (see Why the US Military Loves Ron Paul).
Why, indeed President Paul would bring them home now.
The Ron Paul Buzz
As anyone familiar with the Ron Paul campaign knows, official fundraising figures tell only a small part of the story. This campaign is a genuine grassroots movement, driven primarily by the independent efforts of Dr. Paul's enthusiastic supporters a wide-ranging constituency that includes disenfranchised anti-war Democrats, traditional conservatives, Constitutionalists, anti-corporatists, free traders, libertarians, Christians, Hindus, atheists, druids, hobbits, wizards, and a host of others. Although a seemingly disparate group, these people share a genuine concern about America's ongoing slide toward authoritarianism, empire, and bankruptcy.
This building wave of support takes many forms from the proliferation of Ron Paul Web sites, blogs, and merchandise, to public "banner brigades" and pamphleteering, to private conversations and e-mail threads and some estimates assess the economic value of these independent activities at more than $10 million per quarter.
No candidacy has generated more buzz than Ron Paul's, and the following statistics prove the point:
Notes: All statistics reflect current numbers as of July 23, 2007. Also, for those who don't know, Meetup.com is the most popular Internet site for people with common interests who want to organize events and activities with one another consequently, it's the most commonly used online resource for coordinating political activities.
The skeptics also ignore an obvious question if it's so easy to jerry-rig Internet statistics, why haven't other, better-financed campaigns done the same? (Answer: It's not easy and, in many cases, it's simply impossible.) While I personally don't know of anyone who spends their time spamming online polls or repeatedly Googling their favorite candidate's name, I have no doubt such people exist in the ranks of most political movements. And given the evident enthusiasm of Ron Paul supporters, it's quite likely that a greater percentage of his backers might attempt to do such things.
That said, I believe there are more plausible reasons for Ron Paul's "online success" most importantly, the Internet is the primary source of information about Dr. Paul. As early as last fall two full years before the election the conventional media and major-party establishments had already anointed the top six Republican and Democratic candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Clinton, Obama, & Edwards). Since then, countless opinion makers have informed Americans that these six politicians complete the list of "viable" Presidential options. In other words, no need to look further we've done your thinking for you.
How and why this happened exactly is a topic for another day. (Hint Follow the money.) The important point here is that each of the Anointed Candidates has received regular, daily coverage since that time (and, in some cases, for several years now). Although Dr. Paul has benefited from a smattering of media attention since his "blowback" exchange with Giuliani in May, people who are curious about Paul's track record and platform must turn to the Internet. The conventional media is most unlikely to begin covering Dr. Paul on a regular basis, no matter how much traction he gains.
Consequently, Ron Paul's supporters must assume the task of spreading the word. Fortunately, many of us are happy to do so, and when people first learn of Dr. Paul's track record, they typically want to know more. As regular readers of my blog know, Ron Paul challenges US foreign policy on a refreshingly honest and fundamental level a level of inquiry wholly absent from most political forums. And Dr. Paul's forthrightness doesn't stop with foreign policy, as he applies the same intellectual rigor to issues involving civil liberties, health care, immigration, education, our fiat-money system, and so on.
Reading Tea Leaves
Now, I'm not a political analyst, and things could certainly change in a hurry but given the current landscape, some future developments seem rather predictable:
First, Ron Paul's Jeffersonian liberalism will give him a significant advantage over his pro-war, neoconservative competitors. While the other candidates vie for the support of the modern Republican base, Ron Paul provides the only real alternative for any traditional conservatives who remain in the party. Without Ron Paul, each GOP debate would be a brain-dead echo chamber.
Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Paul will appeal to those Americans who long ago abandoned politics because the big-government statism of the two major parties was hostile to their values. With recent voter turnout in presidential elections hovering around 50%, this may be a surprisingly large block of potential voters. For Ron Paul supporters, the key will be finding these people and telling them about Dr. Paul a simple, mass-marketing numbers game.
Second, due to this ideological edge and campaign realities, we'll witness a steady whittling of the Republican field in coming months a thinning that recently began with Jim Gilmore's exit from the race. With the exception of Ron Paul, the other candidates have spent their funds like drunken Congressmen, and the "second tier" has little to show for their binge. Most of these campaigns suffer from anemic fundraising, a moribund Internet presence, and lackluster crowds (certainly nothing approaching the numerous crowds gathering on Ron Paul's behalf, as documented here, here, here, here, here, and here). By next spring, the existing field of contenders will be reduced to a Final Four Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul.
Third, Ron Paul is in this race for the long haul at least until next September's Republican convention. Thus far, the Paul campaign has run a frugal operation, relying primarily on the efforts of grassroots activists. These efforts are steadily snowballing support, as evidenced by Dr. Paul's three-month ascent from anonymity to 3% in national polls, and that figure will continue to rise at the rate people learn about our candidate. As Jennifer Haman pointed out, Ron Paul leads in the polls of those who have heard him speak. In the meantime, the campaign is shrewdly storing its dry powder mounting millions to be meted out at judicious points throughout the campaign.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Ron Paul's presidential bid but for now, there's great cause for optimism.
Scott G. Sutton, MA, MCP, CMFC [send him mail] is a technical writer in Portland, Oregon, and a long-time admirer of Dr. Paul's candor, integrity, and efforts on behalf of individual liberty. This piece originally appeared on Mr. Sutton's blog, where he touts Ron Paul's track record on the Iraq War and US foreign policy.
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