“President Paul! President Paul! President Paul!” chanted the 1,000 or so overwhelmingly young Ron Paul campaign volunteers and workers crammed into a ballroom at a Manchester Best Western on Tuesday night. Paul pulled a stronger-than-expected 23 percent in the New Hampshire primary, giving him a solid second place.
With dozens of national cameras pointed at him, Paul gave a great talk full of both raise-the-rafters red meat cheer lines and his professorial approach to monetary and foreign policy, not to mention the fight against crushing debt and the military-industrial complex. When it was over, a Paul volunteer next to me declared, with equal sincerity and irony, “I just had multiple Paulgasms.”
I first heard that “President Paul!” chant in Los Angeles back in September, at the California Republican Party State Convention. Paul handily won a straw poll that day, but got no attention or buzz for it. (A few weeks later Herman Cain did the same thing in Florida, in a straw poll more easily gamed by party insiders, and began his brief media-driven rise to the top. Paul fans thus have some reason to be disgusted by the media.) In L.A., the chant was the idea of Steven Vincent, a Paul grassroots superstar who is also a yoga coach. Vincent had a quasi-mystical take on the chant’s purpose, saying it was positive visualization. If his fans start saying it, if Paul starts hearing it, that will make it easier to manifest in the material world.
The whole world heard “President Paul!” on Tuesday night. But as I predicted, the disappointing media coverage on Wednesday largely missed the importance of Paul’s strong second place and his unique role in the Republican Party. So the world isn’t yet ready to believe that a Paul presidency is possible. But the world should begin to start imagining it.
From Tea Partiers to people seeking consistent pro-life stances to those searching for a principled opposition to state-run medical care and bailouts, and even to those tired of the wars (if you don’t believe they exist, then you don’t understand why Paul has already pulled the numbers he’s pulled), plenty of Republican voters will not be thrilled with having to go Romney. And they may shortly have nowhere to go but Paul.
The Paul movement is growing—he pulled more than twice as many votes and more than three times the percentage as last time around in New Hampshire. Already, Paul has collected more than 25,000 total votes cast over his nearest competitor below him, Rick Santorum. No other not-Romney has any apparent hope of actually mounting a professional national campaign with funding and working bodies for much longer. Paul has always been, appropriately, a candidate of slow steady growth, not media or panic-driven bubbles and busts like Santorum or Newt Gingrich.
Paul’s specific achievements in Iowa and New Hampshire were built on an efficient, thoughtful, and very well manned machine of phone calls and door knocking, which backed up months' worth of personal candidate appearances. You know, Paul’s famous “strong ground game.”
Whether the Paul campaign will have either the money or the manpower to duplicate its months of extensive effort in the two early states remains to be seen. The campaign is going to have to hope for a bit of perception momentum from being such a close third to Romney and Santorum in Iowa and such a leading second to Romney in New Hampshire.
While Paul’s people still have the will and desire to continue volunteering for him in the next wave of states, as I learned from talking to dozens of them this week, they won’t necessarily have as much time outside the college winter break window of the last days before Iowa and New Hampshire. Paul’s political director Jesse Benton says the campaign still has plenty of volunteers on a waiting list and should be well manned for South Carolina and Nevada. Benton made a bold P.R. move after trouncing all non-Romneys in New Hampshire, declaring that the others really ought to drop out—and he got front page headline placement on conservative rank-and-file thought leader the Drudge Report for his efforts.
Unlike what has happened with other candidates with momentum this season, the media isn’t spinning the story of an on-the-rise Ron Paul. He unquestionably has the ability to fundraise whether or not he’s winning primaries. His dedicated mass of volunteer labor—and a professional operation competent enough to get him on all the ballots with a repeatable and strong get out the vote strategy—makes it likely that he’ll be the last non-Romney standing.
But what will he be able to do with this position? If the question of electability against Obama is ever dealt with using actual data rather than the oft-heard assertion “everyone knows there is no way Ron Paul could beat Obama,” the campaign could point out that Paul gets more independents than Obama right now in a one-to-one matchup, and that he’s in a statistical tie with the mighty Romney against Obama as well. And a small percentage of progressives who care about war and civil liberties above income redistribution might come Paul’s way against Obama as well, making him potentially stronger than any other Republican candidate.
Tuesday afternoon, an eager Paul sign-waver at a Manchester polling place first hipped me to a rumor: Romney might consider Rand Paul, junior senator from Kentucky and son of Ron, as a vice presidential pick in order to keep Paul’s coalition on board with the Republican Party. By Wednesday, Neil Cavuto was talking the same rumor on Fox News. A source close to Paul tells me he overheard, in a friendly-jokey colloquy between the Pauls and the Romneys at one of the weekend debates in New Hampshire, Romney saying it was now just all about whether it would be Romney-Paul or Paul-Romney. Romney and Paul have not abused each other much, and pundits have noticed how even a winning Romney will need Paul people in November.
Paul’s campaign has been ambivalent about how much to put into Florida—some Paul insiders have hinted that it just isn’t cost effective to spend the millions it takes to really compete for the state's only-50 delegates. But post-New Hampshire, there is now chatter to the effect that giving Florida some love is back on the agenda. At any rate, the campaign has its grassroots and at least some money for mail in the state.
It will do Paul little good to be able to fight it out to the end of the primaries without being able to pick up some or even most of the not-Romney vote that has been going to Gingrich and Santorum, neither of whom are likely to remain in the campaign much longer. For Paul to realize his possibilities moving forward, he needs to be a player in South Carolina on January 21. He’s currently polling a very distant fourth there. It’s supposed to be a very trad-conservative state for the Republicans (though they have a history of going for the anointed leader).
South Carolina’s popular junior Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, a libertarian-friendly social conservative and ally of Sen. Rand Paul, is openly calling for the Republican Party to respect and embrace Paul’s libertarian ideas. Paul himself has already moved on to South Carolina. He spoke at a rally there this week. And while he has no scheduled events there for the next few days, the campaign still has next week to send the candidate around the state, plus nearly a million dollars squirreled away to spend on TV ads. The campaign has also got a South Carolina-centered moneybomb planned for Saturday.