Foreign Policy

Ron Paul: Loved By the Military, Not Loving Santorum

|

Ron Paul, as his campaign likes to let you know, gets more donations from active duty military than all his opponents combined. Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones explores why this might be so. Some of the important points:

The lion's share of political contributions by servicemembers and defense industry workers is going to anti-war, "soft on Israel," also-ran candidate Ron Paul. In fact, the battle for their dollars isn't even close: Paul has raised at least $282,868 from individual active-duty servicemembers and Pentagon employees—more than four times what the other three Republican presidential candidates have raised, combined. (President Obama has fared slightly better, drawing $123,644 from that group, but still less than half of Paul's total. For more, jump to the charts below with the numbers by candidate and branch of the armed services.)….

One easy explanation has been that Americans in the service have grown tired of a decade of war and identify with Paul's isolationist anti-interventionist rhetoric. But if the military men and women with whom I spoke this week are any indication, it's hardly that simple. 

While that lead-in primes the reader to expect something contrarian or counterintuitive, in my reading the rest of the voices and analysis Weinstein presents could pretty fairly be summed up as that they are indeed idenitfying with "Paul's anti-interventionist rhetoric," plus that they like that he's a vet himself, but you can decide that for yourself:

Paul's anti-war stance is certainly part of the draw. Last weekend, the group Veterans for Ron Paul 2012 organized an anti-war President's Day march on the White House. That organization's leadership includes notable Iraq Veterans Against the War memberAdam Kokesh, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a libertarian Republican candidate in 2010, and Jake Diliberto, a former Marine who's previously worked on Rethink Afghanistan, an anti-war project funded by the left-leaning Brave New Foundation. "I have always been a conservative, and I recognize that I am the kind of conservative that doesn't exist anymore," Diliberto told me. As for what unites servicemembers behind Paul, he said, "It is fair to say, we all do not like the current trajectory of US foreign policy, and we are cynical about US national security policy." He added that he's personally concerned about Obama's "targeted killing campaign" against alleged terrorists.  

One of the speakers at last weekend's rally was retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon analyst and key figure in revealing how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war based on bogus intelligence."I'm 95% in harmony with Ron Paul's candidacy and his philosophy," Kwiatkowski—who's running for Congress in Virginia as a Republican—told me in an email. "I hold the DoD as a federal bureaucracy in a bit more contempt than he does because I spent way more time in it, and I saw close up the actual conscientious, direct political lying to promote war, invasions and occupations—none of which were sanctioned or even reviewed in accordance with the Constitution."

But Paul's supporters say the candidate's "anti-militarism" shouldn't be confused with being anti-defense. "He's not opposed to the defense of this country. He's not opposed to fighting wars that are declared," a 27-year-old active-duty enlisted soldier in the Army said. (He spoke on condition of anonymity; after a uniformed soldier spoke out at a Paul rally in Iowa, the military warned soldiers about politicking publicly.)

There's a certain irony in supporting a small-government candidate while working for thelargest federal bureaucracy. The politics of it are, well, complicated. "I do wrestle with this conflict of being a Paul supporter while also being a government employee," the active-duty soldier said. "Ultimately, in my support for Paul, I care more for the restoration of the ideals this country was founded upon than my current well-being."….

Soldiers tend to see Paul as understanding the pressures they face better than the other candidates because he's the only one in the group who served in uniform, as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. The libertarian's service gives him "street cred," Kwiatkowski noted. "We often in the military have no idea what the foreign policy or the military policy is. All we know is we get told to do things, and often these things are costly, dangerous, and unproductive, and create more insecurity for us and for the country."

And it's not just the soldiers who dig Paul: strangely, it is military contractors as well:

Meanwhile, Paul's support from defense contractor employees—who donated more than $177,000 to him in 2011—has outpaced that of his competitors, according to Defense News. (Obama leads in that category overall, having pulled in about $348,000.) That may seem downright counterintuitive: Why would workers for companies that profit from war back an anti-pork candidate (self-proclaimed, anyway) who opposes, as Kwiatkowski puts it, "fraud, waste, abuse, warmongering, idiotic leadership, political correctness, and a host of other things"? It's a matter of ideology, military analyst Loren Thompson explained to Defense News. "There's a strong libertarian streak among many in the sector," he said. "Just because people work in the defense industry doesn't mean that they always vote their economic interests."

See Reason's coverage of the Veterans for Paul March on President's Day from Julie Ershadi.

In other Paul news, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post has a pretty savvy take on the now Santorum-spread meme that Paul and Romney are in a secret alliance:

Rick Santorum and his team came out with a conspiracy theory that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Mitt Romney were in cahoots. A source close to the Paul campaign told me last night that the Paul camp sees this as an effort by senior Santorum adviser John Brabender to distract the media from the fact that his candidate was "not ready for primetime."….

Indeed, on one hand, you can say it was foolish for Santorum to cook up an excuse for his dismal outing. Santorum already has a reputation for being thin-skinned and peevish. This tactic certainly made him seem like a poor sport.

To some extent, however, the gambit worked. When you can get major media figures and longtime GOP operatives tweeting away about non-existent deals (A Cabinet position! A VP slot for Rand Paul!) based on nothing but the accusations of a wounded candidate's flack, that is no small feat. But, in fact, the explanations for Ron Paul's very obvious disdain for Santorum, and, to a lesser extent, Newt Gingrich are much simpler than a Roswell-esque theory.

Both campaigns confirm that Paul and Romney are personally friendly, as are their wives. They are both of the same generation, with married kids and grandkids on whom they dote. They've both been happily married for decades. (It is widely known that Ron Paul's wife was friendly with Gingrich's second wife.)

It is human nature to show greater deference and civility to those whom you like. What the press is missing, however, is the degree to which Gingrich, Santorum and their staffs have acted in ways that the Paul camp would justifiably perceive as dismissive and rude. When I asked Brabender for reaction to the accusation that he was practicing the art of distraction, he e-mailed, "It sounds like something the Romney campaign told the Paul campaign to say." It is precisely this sort of denigration — that Paul and his staff are unable to think on their own or advance their own interests — that has fueled Paul's desire to skewer Santorum. The source close to the Paul camp responded, "Once again demonstrates the total lack of respect for Ron Paul, his supporters, and his campaign team held by Santorum and his top advisor. When you build coalitions and treat your fellow Republicans the Santorum-Brabender way you end up losing in the general by double digits in the swing states like Pennsylvania." You get the picture now?

It has been going on for some time now. Santorum publicly called Paul "disgusting." Gingrich has been telling others to get out of the race for months. In the debate, an eye-rolling Santorum couldn't contain his disdain for Paul, who returned the favor with blow after blow to Santorum's self-image of a "courageous" conservative warrior (wasn't that self-definition by Santorum an unintentional moment of Newt-like ego?) .

At a staff level, the Romney team, perhaps due to an awareness of the personal relationship between the candidates, has been cordial and professional toward Paul's people. These things matter.

In summation: Paul has plenty of reasons, both ideological and tactical, to want to crush Santorum and Gingrich, and speculating beyond the evidence that it is the result of some deal or alliance with Romney is not necessary to explain it.

My blogging on the Paul-Romney alliance here and here. My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.