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The Paul team has already been airing a couple of very right-wing-appealing ads in South Carolina. One features old patients of Paul's obstetrics practice talking about his unwavering pro-life beliefs and his steadfast integrity over the years. Another features Vietnam veterans praising Paul for being a vet and for helping them get commendations they deserved from the government.
Neither ad hit on what Paul talks about in person—generally war, money, spending, and civil liberties. A gap between Paul’s personal messaging and official campaign ads and literature is common. The campaign's basic New Hampshire door-hanger targeting voters it had already identified as Paul supporters had six major divisions, and none of them was foreign policy. That subject is only mentioned under “spending,” with the line “stopping foreign aid, ending foreign wars” amongst a longer list of spending cuts.
Paul is also running ads meant to chip at Santorum, painting him as an out of control spender and fake conservative. The campaign will also roll back out the notorious “Big Dog” ad for South Carolina, which aggressively talks up Paul’s government-cutting mania in monster-truck-rally tone.
As these ads show, it isn’t hard for Paul to sincerely sell himself to traditional southern Republican voters. Paul can even play right-wing cornpone honestly. Some Paul workers say, with some humor and some seriousness, that Carol Paul’s Ron Paul Family Cookbook, a pamphlet of recipes from and pictures of Paul’s children’s families that she distributes, won a lot of grey-haired Republican lady votes in the early states.
Paul has the historic bonafides as the intellectual father of the Tea Party movement—the original gangster of insurrectionist objection to not just taxes but spending and bailouts as well. But is there still a meaningful Tea Party movement? I’ve seen almost no evidence of it in Iowa and New Hampshire, and on TownHall.com this week syndicated right-wing radio host Kevin McCullough declared "from the looks of things the Tea Party died."
But as Paul’s campaign manager John Tate put it, “the issues that the Tea Party brought to the forefront are still important, and economic, spending, taxing issues” are still of key importance to that body of voters, whether or not the Tea Party banner is still widely waved. Even polls of pure pro-lifers, Tate says, show them listing economic issues as their number one priority now.
And Paul, with his trillion dollars in one year spending cut plan, a balanced budget in three years, and an impeccable record of not voting for unbalanced budgets or debt limit raises, will be reasonably well positioned to capture that group, which has clearly yet to coalesce around one candidate and will resist doing so around Romney—unless the wave of apparent inevitability overwhelms their stated ideology.
But what about foreign policy? Paul’s New Hampshire campaign chair Jim Forsythe, an Air Force vet and state senator, had a great summation of Paulite foreign policy that he delivered from stage Tuesday night: It’s “a foreign policy about defense for America.” How Republican! Possibly.
Still, Paul’s problems with many Republicans remain. Chatting with partisans and activists for other candidates around Iowa and New Hampshire, I found they can mostly manage to be polite about Paul. Their biggest concern with him is a sense of lack of party discipline or teamwork: seeing Paul constantly asked if he intends to run third party on TV seems to have achieved its purpose of undermining his campaign. Many other Republicans say they think it’s likely, and this worries them. This never makes them think the GOP should strive to satisfy Paul’s fans; it just makes them angry and mistrustful of him.
Paul fans should understand why Paul gets those questions, even beyond the fact that he’s run as a third party presidential candidate before. Paul and his fans figured out the loophole in the two-party system. If you are brave and smart, and have a message with national traction, you can succeed in a major party without really being of it. Paul makes it clear he can’t give his sanction to a fellow Republican who is not solid on his core issues. His core activists are certainly more dedicated to Ron Paul’s message than they are to the Republican Party.
For Paul to win states or get to the convention with an unignorable number of delegates still qualifies as unlikely with just the data in front of us. But coming strong out of New Hampshire, campaigns can and do go in unexpected directions.
I was talking on Tuesday to Gary Franchi, one of the principals of the Paul-supporting Superpac RevolutionPAC. That PAC spent $100,000 in New Hampshire airing an ad called “The Compassion of Ron Paul” (three times during the Saturday night debates), showing an old patient of Paul’s speaking of his generosity in giving him—a poor black man with a white wife—free medical services. The Superpac also ran an all-day event of pure grassroots action out of a Manchester pool hall on Saturday, coordinating and sending out over 100 mostly out-of-state Paul road warriors to literature-drop and sign wave for Paul throughout New Hampshire. The PAC is also hoping to have enough money to launch a new foreign policy ad for the South Carolina market.
Franchi was frustrated with the first-day media spin he detected after Paul’s solid second. He sees pundits acting like it’s still really a contest between Romney and the likes of Gingrich or Santorum. But remembering some recent history encouraged him.
The day after the New Hampshire primary, the social networking and email lists where Paul activists gather were full of organizing and plans for collecting every Ron Paul road sign they could find in the Granite State, renting a truck, and driving them on to other states, to the next battlefields in the Ron Paul Revolution.