I wouldn’t be the first person to comment that the Republican Presidential race is in something of a fluid state right now. I also wouldn’t be the first to comment on the relative lack of attention Ron Paul is receiving in many if not most articles about the race. The overall assumption about Ron Paul is that he has a small, devoted band of followers who will net him 10% in some of the early primaries, but that he has no chance at winning any of the primaries and certainly not the nomination itself.
My goal with this article is set out why I believe Ron Paul is a very serious and underestimated contender to win the Iowa Caucus. In fact, down the road a couple months from now, I think he will emerge as Mitt Romney’s challenger from the right for the nomination in general as other candidates like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry either collapse or drop out of the race entirely.
I don’t think Ron Paul will win the Republican nomination. I do think the forces against him are too big, and that he is signing his own political death sentence with his positions on Iran and Israel especially. However, I expect him to do much better than people seem be anticipating now, and I think after Iowa and New Hampshire he will be seen as a real contender, to the horror of many who disregard him now.
The current narrative:
Just a couple of weeks ago, it was Herman Cain in front with Romney in second place. Then Cain had his well-documented issues with the old harassment settlements, none of his support went to Romney, Rick Perry became even less of a factor, and Newt Gingrich started rising from the ashes to become the presumptive “anti-Romney”.
Now it seems that many pundits are expecting support for Herman Cain to continue to collapse, spurred on in part by guffaws such as these. Rick Perry has just about destroyed his chances for several reasons. Bachman and Santorum, not to mention Huntsman, are obviously hopeless. With Romney’s support set in stone at 23%, the only logical conclusion is that Gingrich will surge and become the other option in the race, right?
Here are the most recent polls, courtesy of RealClearPolitics. If we take the Des Moines Register poll of October 26th as a baseline, it is clear that Gingrich has been coming on very strong. However, the most recent poll is what has spurred me to write this article. In this poll, conducted by Bloomberg, Herman Cain comes in first with 20%. And then, in second place, we see not Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, but Ron Paul. Many articles glossed over Ron Paul’s showing in the poll, but here he gets 19%.
Top 5 – Iowa Caucus Bloomberg Poll
Herman Cain – 20%
Ron Paul – 19%
Mitt Romney – 18%
Newt Gingrich – 17%
Rick Perry – 7%
The argument for Ron Paul’s chances:
Here are a few reasons why I think Ron Paul will be the main challenger to Mitt Romney when the caucuses go off on January 3rd.
1. The Republican base does not want Mitt Romney as the nominee.
Mitt Romney has been basically running for president since mid-2007. He is the most well-known of the Republicans. He has arguably the best shot of defeating Barack Obama in 2012 (a task whose difficultly most Republicans are greatly underestimating), and he has proven business experience that the U.S. needs right now in these tumultuous economic times.
However, Romney has changed his positions on a lot of things over the years, and it makes him easy to attack from the left, and hard to like from the right. He has unequivocally supported abortion rights and health care mandates. No matter how many Mitt Romney ads and articles go out there, he never gets more than 25% of the Republican base behind him. He’s without question the “establishment” candidate, and while that usually would help him in a Republican contest, it isn’t such a benefit this time around.
1a. Newt Gingrich’s support as the “anti-Romney” will not hold through January
Given that everyone now sees Newt Gingrich as the new challenger, it is worth noting just a few reasons why his support will also collapse before long. The Atlantic spells it out in some detail.
– Gingrich takes almost $2 million from Fannie Mae/Freddie mac for “consulting”. He also spent 6 figures on Tiffany’s jewelry in the very recent past for his third wife.
– Gingrich has been married three times and has his well-documented problems with cheating on ex-wives who were sick. He was carrying on an affair on his wife at the same time he was leading the Monica Lewinsky hearings in the House.
– Gingrich is not doing much of any ground work in Iowa or New Hampshire (a problem shared by Herman Cain)
2. Ron Paul has a very credible conservative record
Now for Ron Paul. He has consistently voted against spending increases and is one of the only candidates who can credibly say that they will attack the ballooning budget deficit.
Ron Paul has released by far the most ambitious plan for attacking the deficit. While most political insiders are talking about cutting $1 trillion in cumulative spending over the course of 10 years, Ron Paul has a specific plan to cut more than that much on an annual basis. I believe he has more credibility on this point than the other candidates because he is outlining specific departments he will cut funding for. Most Republicans only talk about spending cuts in general terms, or they list non-controversial departments like National Public Radio that amount to less than a pittance given our current deficit.
Rick Perry is the only real exception among Ron Paul’s opponents. He’s going to eliminate three departments.
3. Ron Paul has a very strong ground game in Iowa
Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain are spending as much time barnstorming in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Georgia, and god knows where else, as they are actually spending trying to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. If their goal is indeed to win these early contests, their current strategy is very questionable at best. Voter contact will hold more sway than media interviews when it comes down to making the drive to a precinct hall in Iowa on January 3rd.
Ron Paul has a massive ground and phone campaign in Iowa, and this is evidenced by the fact that 67% of likely Republican voters in Bloomberg’s poll said that they had personally been contacted by the Ron Paul operation.
4. Ron Paul has the highest intensity of support
Among voters who have definitely made up their minds, over 30% support Ron Paul. While support for a candidate like Gingrich or Cain is liable to blow up overnight, Ron Paul has a fervent base that will not leave him. Ironically, Mitt Romney is probably most similar in this regard. The moderate base that does support Romney really does have no one else to go to.
5. Ron Paul is more difficult to attack on his personal history
Ron Paul’s personal record is missing the sexual harassment settlements, ethics violations, lobbying deals, multiple marriages, etc. that are plaguing the more “conservative” challengers to Romney. As voters have their memories refreshed on Newt’s history, many of them will turn on Newt.
Ron Paul, on the other hand, has been married for over 50 years, served in the military, and has not been touched by any ethics violations or scandals during his time in office. Voters in Iowa will take these factors into account.
6. Ron Paul is not error-prone in debates and interviews
In spite of his limited time in debates, Ron Paul has certainly not made a gaffe on par with Rick Perry. He is generally well-spoken in interviews, although his weakness is a tendency to adopt a high-pitched tone and speak too fast when he becomes flustered. Overall, his messaging is consistent, and his lack of stage time thus far may even benefit him. By setting every other candidate up for a surge, the media is leaving Ron Paul to surge last. If Newt starts to have a serious bubble bursting in December, Ron Paul will be the last person left to move up. When it becomes clear that Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry are all stagnant, flawed candidates, who else will there be to pit against Mitt Romney for the staunch conservative? Surely they would have to go with one of the true godfathers of the Tea Party movement, whose Tea Party money bomb on December 16, 2007 practically brought the term back single-handedly. Ironically, because of the indifference of the political media, the timing on this surge could have him peak just as Iowa and New Hampshire move to vote.
A final note — Ron Paul is a serious candidate:
The biggest advantage I see for Ron Paul is that he a serious candidate who has done actual work to set up an organization and a victory in Iowa, New Hampshire, and forward. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain are indeed two alternatives, but neither has set up a real campaign in Iowa. This omission cannot stay irrelevant forever. To a voter in Iowa, it will be hard to conclude at some point that these two candidates are serious about the election itself if they are not bothering to set up a campaign in the first state where votes are cast. Ron Paul is doing so in a big way, and I expect that the fruits of this effort will surprise a lot of people when the caucuses go down in Iowa next year.