The Ron Paul Effect
In the forthcoming Ron Paul’s rEVOLution (Broadside Books, $26.99), the journalist Brian Doherty takes an up-close look at the libertarian Texas congressman, from Paul’s initial immersion in the works of the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek right up to the recent Republican primaries, when Doherty hit the campaign trail as a journalist. In a phone and email interview from his office in Los Angeles, Doherty, a senior editor at the libertarian magazine Reason who makes no bones about his admiration for Paul, discussed Paul’s place in the ongoing nomination battle.
Going into the primaries, how did you think Paul would do?
In terms of vote totals, I thought he’d do slightly less well than he’s done; I thought he could do 50 percent better than he did in the 2008 primary, and in fact he’s done about 100 percent better.
The book ends, I assume for deadline reasons, in the midst of the New Hampshire primary, where Paul did relatively well, coming in second. But his numbers declined after that. Except for Minnesota, where he came in second, he’s placed third and fourth everywhere.
It’s interesting to look at Paul’s electoral decline versus his long-term movement building; the phenomenon of Ron Paul is growing as his candidacy is stagnating. In the last month he has been drawing insanely huge crowds. In Iowa (early in the nominating process) I don’t think I ever saw more than 500 to 600 people attending his events. Now he can go to a college campus and pull in thousands of people. A week or two ago, I saw him speak at UCLA, and he drew more than 7,000 people, filling an entire tennis court arena, with an overflow of 1,200 people who couldn’t get in, some of them crawling up trees to see. And they weren’t there to learn—they knew this stuff backward and forward. When he mentioned Ben Bernanke’s name, they booed. When he mentioned the Defense Authorization Act, they booed. It was almost like a dream.
So what’s been the main effect of his candidacy?
Four years ago, Paul’s attacks on the Federal Reserve system and his interest in monetary issues were regarded as crazily fringe. But now the notion that there’s something wrong with the Federal Reserve or that we should abolish it is central to almost every Republican candidate. Newt Gingrich sounds almost more anti-Fed than Paul at times, and you had Rick Perry saying that Ben Bernanke may be committing treason. The best-case scenario, in terms of a historical analogy, is Barry Goldwater. Not 1964, when Goldwater was the Republican nominee, but 1960, when he helped bring in a wave of young, energetic, strongly antigovernment people into the party. Four years later, Goldwater got the nomination, and sixteen years after that Reagan was elected president. I think we’re going to see a Republican party—four, eight, twelve years from now—substantially more friendly to Ron Paul’s ideas: monetary policy, a noninterventionist foreign policy, seriousness about cutting government spending. His fellow Republicans, instead of being contemptuous or scared of him, will regard him as a clear and constituent part of the mainstream Republican party.
Do the Paul folks think Rick Santorum’s recent departure from the race opens up a door for him?
Yeah, absolutely. The dream was that the path to the nomination would be cleared out a long time ago, and it would be a Romney-Paul race by February. It didn’t work out that way, but now it pretty much has, and there’s still New York, Texas, and California to go. He’s got a clear path to rack up a lot of votes. I think there will be more Ron Paul delegates at the Republican convention than people expect.