Ron Paul, the anti-Romney
By: Chris Slavens
Mitt Romney (R-MA), the liberal flip-flopper whose one-word campaign slogan could be “same” — same expanding government, same deficit spending, same eroding constitutional liberties, same foreign policy, same socialized healthcare, different party affiliation and skin color and little else — won the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday with 24.6% of the vote, a mere eight votes ahead of last-minute surger Rick Santorum (R-PA). That’s a margin of less than one-tenth of a percent.
With no recount, it’s fair, if technically inaccurate, to say that the two men tied.
Far more important is Ron Paul’s (R-TX) impressive third-place finish. With 21%, he came incredibly close to winning the first contest of the 2012 presidential race; much closer than anyone would have expected a month ago. Unlike Romney, who has been regarded as a flawed frontrunner throughout most of the race, Paul is — was — a long-shot underdog who was never supposed to break 10% in any caucus or primary election, much less outperform so-called “top tier” rivals Newt Gingrich (R-VA) and Rick Perry (R-TX).
Ironically, the Romney supporters within the Republican establishment had been downplaying the relevance of Iowa for weeks in anticipation of a Paul victory; by their own logic, Romney just won — barely won — a meaningless event that says nothing about the winner’s electability. Of course, political observers know that to be nonsense. If the Iowa caucuses were irrelevant, candidates wouldn’t pour their time and resources into the rural state (before abruptly packing up on January 4 and descending upon New Hampshire like a flock of ravenous vultures).
Romney’s victory — which, really, considering that he did better in 2008, should more properly be termed a near-loss — certainly didn’t hurt him, though it’s unlikely that hordes of conservative voters in early primary states like South Carolina and Florida will suddenly set aside their misgivings about his liberal record and jump on the center-left bandwagon. But Paul’s third-place finish could have a significant impact on the race.
Frontrunner or not, Romney is really, really disliked by conservatives. They’ve had three years to discover what they dislike about Obama, and for all of his private sector experience and smooth campaigning, the former Massachusetts governor offers few meaningful changes. That’s why this primary race was always going to be between two people: Romney, and someone else.
Could Ron Paul be that “someone else,” the alternative to Romney around whom the GOP’s dissatisfied conservative voters rally?
Conventional wisdom says no. Then again, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head so many times in the last two election cycles that it’s a wonder anyone mentions it anymore.
Despite Santorum’s near-win, which can be attributed to momentum generated by an unexpected surge in the polls, he cannot be the anti-Romney. Like an inexperienced runner who sprints the first mile of a long race and runs out of steam before reaching the finish line, the former senator spent nearly all of his time and a great deal of his funds in Iowa. He doesn’t have the time, or funds, to duplicate that feat in other states. He, along with Huntsman and Perry — the “bottom tier,” now that Bachmann has suspended her campaign — will henceforth be running for vice president, or a cabinet position, or maybe just for the fun of it.
Then there’s Gingrich, who only a few weeks ago seemed poised to teach Romney a lesson about counting chickens before they hatch. He finished in fourth with a pitiful 13%, and is plummeting in the New Hampshire polls, but could still salvage his campaign with wins in South Carolina and Florida. Especially if thousands of conservatives develop amnesia all at once, or his record magically erases itself. His connection to taxpayer-funded bailout recipient Freddie Mac, flip-flops on so-called global warming, support for infringements of civil liberties under the Patriot Act and similar laws, and apparent desire to initiate yet another war in an already unstable Middle East should be more than enough to alarm informed voters, not to mention that his two known extramarital affairs are an embarrassment to a party that prides itself on promoting and defending family values.
Who, then, has the credentials, name recognition, national organization, and funds to run a conservative campaign against Romney?
We’re back to Ron Paul, the 76-year-old congressman who wasn’t supposed to compete with the mainstream favorites, but did anyway. The family man who has been married to his wife, Carol, for nearly fifty-five years, and has five children and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The devout Christian who weaves Bible stories and proverbs into his speeches about government, economics, and foreign policy. The Air Force veteran who served his country in Vietnam, and now receives more campaign contributions from active military personnel than all of his Republican opponents combined. The pro-life obstetrician who personally delivered more than 4,000 babies during his career. The advocate of free markets, sound money, low taxes, and a balanced budget. The fiscal conservative who pledges to cut $1 trillion — with a T — from the federal budget immediately.
If Paul is not the conservative alternative to Romney, who is? And if there’s to be no alternative to Romney, why have primaries?
For conservatives who want to elect a conservative Republican in November, now is the time to take a second — or third, or fourth — look at Congressman Ron Paul. There’s still time to avoid a repeat of 2008, and the disastrous term that followed.
Chris Slavens writes for DelawarePolitics.net