Campaigns/Elections

Ron Paul is Back

The Texas libertarian's House seat is safe as milk. Now what?

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Now that it's over the truth can be told: Ron Paul was never going to lose his House seat to Chris Peden. If a number of factors had broken against him it might have been possible. Say he had shut down his decades-old political operation in East Texas and focused all of his energy on the presidential rEVOLution. Say he'd contracted the violent somnabulism that felled Fred Thompson. (Does anyone know where he is these days?) A series of missteps could have cost Paul his re-election bid, but Friendswood, TX Councilman Chris Peden never stood that strong a chance.

Of course, some of the people who thought Peden would knock out Paul and carve his initials into a House of Representatives desk got that impression from…Ron Paul. On February 8, Paul announced that he was "scaling back" his presidential bid and warned that if he lost his House seat "all our opponents would react with glee, and pretend it was a rejection of our ideas." Four days later, Paul's friend and fellow anti-war Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest lost his Maryland seat. On February 18, Paul e-mailed his supporters with an "urgent message" about the challenge "the DC neocons" were mounting in Texas. The evidence was a blog post by GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini, a sometime admirer of Paul's online organization (and former Giuliani online guru), nudging mainstream Republicans to donate to Peden.

But as that email was going out, the Paul campaign knew what was contained in its first poll of the district. It showed Paul winning 60 percent of the vote and Peden completely uncompetitive. The money that was reeled in by the appeal—about a million dollars of it—wasn't needed to save Paul from defeat, but to smother Peden in his cradle.

"There are a lot of people in this district who would like to succeed Ron Paul," campaign manager Mark Elam said on Tuesday night. "The worst way to do that is to run against him. Chris Peden is finding that out."

Why did Paul win so easily when Wayne Gilchrest lost? It wasn't because of the work Paul did this year, but because of the work he's done since the 1970s—and especially since 1996—to build a political machine. Gilchrest, an idiosyncratic congressman who never liked fundraising or the grinding work of party building, made himself a target for ambitious Maryland Republicans for whom a House seat was their only chance at higher office. His liberal record on economic votes made him a target for the Club for Growth, a group that's generally happy with Paul. Paul's victory makes the survival of the other prominent anti-war Republican, North Carolina's Rep. Walter Jones, look more likely, even though Jones has shown some apostasy on fiscal issues. "I think there probably is room for anti-war Republicans out there," rationalized a Republican consultant who's watched the primary between Jones and challenger Joe McLaughlin. "I'm not convinced they can survive while representing heavily military districts."

So was the "Paul's in trouble" storyline a fiction created by his supporters? Of course not. The rumblings of a Paul challenge began last summer, after the candidate tussled with Rudy Giuliani over 9/11 at the second Republican debate. That week, former Paul staffer and longtime libertarian activist Eric Dondero announced a run against him. "I am the guy that got Ron Paul elected to Congress in 1996," Dondero wrote. "I can and will defeat him in 2008." Dondero made conservative pundits unschooled in East Texas politics wonder about Paul's vulnerability. The possibility of a Paul defeat was just too good to check.

The height of the "Paul in trouble" hype came the day after Paul's Defcon-1 letter, when Roger L. Simon of Pajamas Media ran an interview with Peden pegged to "internal polls" that showed Paul's support cratering. "Congressman Paul has fallen behind by over ten points in the polls (43-32) in the fight for the Republican nomination in the Texas 14th to challenger Chris Peden," Simon wrote, "according to internal polls from both campaigns, which Pajamas Media was told were quite similar."

The part about Peden's poll was true—sort of. According to Peden's political director Onzelo Markum, the campaign ran one automated poll in the district. It was not a blind test. People who picked up their phones were told that incumbent Ron Paul didn't support the war on terror, while councilman Chris Peden did. Only when given that informed choice did voters claim to support Peden. The part about "both campaigns" clutching spreadsheets of bad Paul data was pure rumor, based on the fact that Paul was buying ads and air time in his House district. Word spread that Paul must have seen slippage that matched up with Peden's poll—and that was good enough for the blogs.

After his win became clear on Tuesday, Paul pledged to "serve another term in Congress where I will continue my battle in behalf of taxpayers." Republican leaders would be fine with that, especially because it seems to rule out a third-party Paul bid for the presidency. On Wednesday morning the Paul campaign couldn't say whether Paul would stick in the race to rack up delegates. After the 40-point landslide comes the harder decisions. What, can Paul say, was the impact of his presidential run? What can he do now that he couldn't do as a congressman in 2007, or even 1997? Paul has saved his political career, but the same can't necessarily be said about his cause.

David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.

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  1. why the reports of the demise of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) were wildly exaggerated

    Good story, but I can answer that question in only five words: “Because Dondero backed them up.”

  2. Has anybody heard a peep out of Dunderhead today?

  3. People who picked up their phones were told that incumbent Ron Paul didn’t support the war on terror, while councilman Chris Peden did.

    It is true that Paul doesn’t support the War on Terror?.

    That phone poll is misleading, however. Ron Paul did vote to go after those responsible for 9/11.

  4. But did he win the presidential nomination? No! Mainstream libertarian John McCain did, endorsed by other libertarians like Bill Kristol. A great victory for modern libertarianism! You can read more on my website http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

  5. What, can Paul say, was the impact of his presidential run? What can he do now that he couldn’t do as a congressman in 2007, or even 1997?

    Serve as an example. In 1988 he got, what? about 0.5% of the vote? He actually cracked double-digits in some of the primaries this time, which indicates a growing, if still small, constituency for his views. Given that no politician wants to leave votes on the table in a tight election, there’s some incentive for courting that constituency, and Paul’s endorsement. Obviously, Paul isn’t on track to be the next Speaker of the House, but I think he may have some influence with his fellow legislators he didn’t have before….

  6. Patrick Ruffini and me are really in deep mourning over Peden’s loss at the local bathhouse now.

  7. reason sucks!

  8. Our government did not create the greatest nation on earth. We the people, by strictly limiting the power of our government, were able to determine our own destiny without interference from institutionalized coercion, which throughout history had handicapped every other nation.

    For this reason, and this reason alone, we achieved what no other nation could.

    To begin to retrace our steps and rediscover all the things we lost, we first had to recognize this. Ron Paul showed it to us, and he did it with extraordinary clarity.

    Next, we needed to understand that we are no longer free from institutionalized coercion. It is all around us, it is growing exponentially, and we are enabling and encouraging it by empowering a centralized, authoritarian government. Ron Paul revealed this, too.

    And finally, and this was the the most critical step, we had to change the way we think. And we had to get others to change the way they think. Ron Paul changed the way many of us think, and he gave us a road map we can use to change the way others think.

    Ron Paul has already saved his cause.

  9. I haven’t missed my monthly Reason Magazine. Libertarian my ass.

  10. So Peden’s “lead” turns out to have been a slim one, in a push poll. Not surprising.

    Double digits in a few states? Who predicted results like these when Ron Paul entered the race last March:

    Montana, 25%
    Washington, 22%
    North Dakota, 21%
    Maine, 19%
    Alaska, 17%
    Minnesota, 16%
    Nevada, 14%
    Kansas, 11%
    Iowa, 10%
    West Virginia, 10%

    Ron Paul has a decent chance to add to those results by staying in the race. With Huckabee out, he should get most of the anti-McCain vote in libertarian leaning states like Idaho and New Mexico.

  11. Ann Horkheimer | March 5, 2008, 12:37pm | #
    reason sucks!

    No no no Ann. You can’t shorthand it like that. It’s: reason sucks ever since Welch took over.

  12. those responsible for 9/11

    You and what army?

  13. Ron Paul, please employ some of your funds to support libertarian candidates–Republican, Democrat, and Independent–nationwide. With enough support and victories, an actual libertarian caucus could assemble in Congress–progress, indeed.

  14. Whew! Cosmotarians all along the Orange Line are breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that Ron Paul is safely back in Congress and no longer a threat.

    However, if the millions of RP supporters don’t like that, they can help make a RP third-party run more likely by reducing McCain’s chances: go to his appearances and ask him the questions the MSM – and mainstream bloggers like Weigel – refuse to ask, then upload the responses to Youtube.

  15. Dondero speaks 10-15 languages?

    Doesn’t he know the exact count?

  16. No no no Ann. You can’t shorthand it like that. It’s: reason sucks ever since Welch took over.

    No, it’s “reason sucks since Tim Cavanaugh left.” The blame always falls upon he who dropped the torch, not he who picked it up.

  17. What, can Paul say, was the impact of his presidential run?

    Tens of thousands of people now understand what the Federal Reserve is, who owns it, and exactly how fiat money is used to rob us.

    Ron Paul put things back on the agenda that most of us had given up as lost causes decades ago.

    -jcr

  18. Ron Paul piece in Forbes from yesterday

    I havent seen this linked anywhere. If I missed it, sorry.

  19. Piss Drinker | March 5, 2008, 12:46pm | #
    I haven’t missed my monthly Reason Magazine. Libertarian my ass.

    Is piss a good source of colloidal silver?

  20. He should look to move up ASAP as governor or US senator. Actually I thought he should’ve aimed for that instead of trying for POTUS directly from having been a House member. It gives a lot more media and party credibility, as can be seen by the other presidential candidates. Even having been governor of Arkansas cuts more mustard than mayor of NYC and US att’y.

  21. Dondero speaks 10-15 languages?

    Doesn’t he know the exact count?

    Haha, I was wondering that myself. Maybe he’s including pig latin and binary.

  22. reason sucks ever since Welch took over.

    It used to be:

    reason sucks ever since Gillespie took over.

    and before that:

    reason sucks ever since Postrel took over.

  23. I think it’s just “reason sucks ever since its comment boards have been subjected to regular attacks of Donderrorism.”

  24. “His cause” Like the Constitution is only Ron Paul’s cause. What is wrong with this country? When will Americans wake up and realize this has very little to do with Ron Paul. He has handed us the ball and WE must fight for our liberty. The author must have missed that. Lets see ten years from now if he will be allowed to write what he wants.

  25. When will Americans wake up and realize this has very little to do with Ron Paul.

    This sounds snarky but I’m being entirely serious: most Americans don’t want freedom. They want to be taken care of.

  26. I am amused by the suggestion that Dr. Paul’s 70% victory invalidated his strong pleas for money and his invocation of the danger of defeat. “So he was never in danger! Look, he got 70%!”

    The thing is, however, that politicians who *refuse to take the voters for granted* are the ones who tend to pick up the 70% margins.

    Imagine Dr. Paul taking the attitude that “these are my voters, they’ll support me, I don’t have to waste money on advertising or campaigning.” I doubt he would have been re-elected very often with *that* attitude. At best, he would have been vulnerable to a “surprise upset.” He would be saying, “gosh, I thought I had it in the bag!”

  27. Good for Dr. Paul. Now, if only the rest of Congress…

  28. “His cause” Like the Constitution is only Ron Paul’s cause. What is wrong with this country? When will Americans wake up and realize this has very little to do with Ron Paul. He has handed us the ball and WE must fight for our liberty. The author must have missed that. Lets see ten years from now if he will be allowed to write what he wants

    FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!

  29. “I think there probably is room for anti-war Republicans out there,” rationalized a Republican consultant who’s watched the primary between Jones and challenger Joe McLaughlin. “I’m not convinced they can survive while representing heavily military districts.”

    Uh, why not? Because the military appreciates being used the way it has been? There’s always been a disconnect between, “We’ll do our duty” and, “The damn civilians got us into another useless war.”

    People who picked up their phones were told that incumbent Ron Paul didn’t support the war on terror, while councilman Chris Peden did.

    True only if you believe that “War in Iraq”+”Pariot Act”=”War on Terror”

  30. Weigel, seeing as reason was the main one reporting on Peden’s claims about his internal polling, when, do tell, did reason learn that it was a single push poll?

    That’s the first mention of that fact here on reason, I believe, and if so, I’m having a tough time thinking Peden just opened the lid after the election was over.

    Given that reason was the place where most of Peden and Dondero’s crap was given a forum, a lack of mention of that fact in that article strikes me as journalistically dishonest.

  31. So Paul now has the better part of $1M left from his congressional campaign (seeing as he is basically elected, since there was no Democrat to run against him in November), and millions left from his Presidential campaign.

    What will he do with all that cash between now and November? To what end? This is a big story, and I hope that Reason will not drop the ball in covering it.

  32. Some of my friends are military, and they are of mixed opinions about the war in Iraq. However, I think that Dr. Paul could enjoy strong support from them. In any case, I think many soldiers, sailors, and pilots would like to know that they are risking their lives to protect their homes and families, rather than to save face for the president in the pointless war he started.

  33. I for one am thankful to Ron Paul for running and for speaking out as he has done.

  34. Would someone tell me what is going on with Matt Welch?
    He does not understand money (or gold! AND he calls himself a libertarian and is editor in chief of Reason!?) and he runs hit pieces on Ron Paul full of innuendos that have already been dealt with and he attacks LewRockwell.com!? Has Reason gone the way of Cato and the Koch brothers? Have they both sold out to the neocons? Or is there some double secret, double subtle plan that will explain the Welch dislike for Ron Paul that will in the long run be good for liberty in America? Or is this just something personal with Welch and Paul that no one knows about? In any case to me it seems VERY bad for spreading the libertarian message or is it? Does anyone know the history of this antagonism for Ron Paul coming from Cato and Reason(Welch) and Poole? and the Koch brothers? I have subscribed to Reason for 20+ years and it really irks me when they say or write blatantly stupid things that make them seem na?ve. Libertarians may be starry eyed but they are usually not naive.

  35. “AND he calls himself a libertarian and is editor in chief of Reason!?”

    For a magazine called *Reason,* there’s certainly a lot of apologias for nazi-lovers like Ron Paul. I will take out ten subscriptions just so I can have the pleasure of cancelling all of them. . . .

  36. You know RP is kicking ass when ABC NEWS (Z. Byron Wolf) calls 70.18% (a margin of 21,407 votes over the challenger) “nearly losing day job.”

    http://www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=4389616&page=1

    Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

    RESPEK!
    (Ali G)

  37. libertarian???

  38. Well, here’s one tangible effect of Dr. No’s run for POTUS: I’m a party Democrat who has learned more (and discussed more) about economic policy in the past few months than I had in my entire (short) political life previously!

    Any other Blue Dog dems out there? Anybody?

  39. David, I think you are being unfair on RP a bit. I have personal friends who introduced were intorduced to Libertarianism by the Ron Paul run.

    Can you think of any other person who excited a mass of people in this way for the ideas of liberty?

    It was critical he won the house seat, otherwise it would have like paul say, being spun as a loss for ‘his crazy ideas’ which would include most of the ideas championed by Reason.

  40. Reason has sucked ever since Lanny Friedlander sold it.

  41. What, can Paul say, was the impact of his presidential run?

    Me. And a multitude of others like me. We have tasted pure cane sugar and will never be satisfied with high-fructose corn syrup again.

  42. “For a magazine called *Reason,* there’s certainly a lot of apologias for nazi-lovers like Ron Paul. I will take out ten subscriptions just so I can have the pleasure of cancelling all of them. . . .”

    So, does this call for ten drinks?

  43. His name is Alcohol poisoning, so I wouldn’t be suprised

  44. All the publicity Ron Paul received and his discussions of the issues – the war in Iraq, the Federal Reserve, government spending, etc. helped to get the libertarian message to the general public. For some the message will stick and they will understand that government is the enemy of the people not the salvation. For many others the lessons will be lost as the confusion and inconsistencies of the establishment issues dominate the campaign in the weeks and months leading up to November. But if Ron Paul inspired the next Rothbard, the next Mises, the next Hayek or the next revolution of liberarian thought then the entire effort would have been worth it.

  45. DenisL – I don’t know how to explain Welch. Poole has become entrenched as an advisor on privatization so his business depends on being cozy with government to obtain advisory assignments advocating privatization of government assets or “services”. The Koch brothers is easy – oil. They benefit from high oil prices created by the war in Iraq and the Middle East. A small or medium company on the way up needs less government regulation to make it to the top – once on top they want more government to stop the competitors climbing the hill to the top.

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