Ignore Ron Paul at your peril.
In fact, even if you take full notice of the Texas congressman yet commit the heresy of concluding that he will not be elected president of the United States, you are still asking for a little bit of peril.
As a commentator on the slight right, one becomes inured to blowback and hate mail. A number of us earned our stripes during the 2008 presidential campaign when we learned, to our great surprise, that opposing Barack Obama made us horrible, horrible racists.
But something that started with the 2008 Paul campaign has become a notable feature of this cycle — that is, the Texas-sized chip Paul’s supporters carry on their shoulders. Sincere and energetic, perhaps even well-meaning, these people are perpetually poised to get honked off.
If you follow politics and political reporting, you have probably seen some of this. They flood websites, send angry emails, shout at newscasters shooting in public, and demand that the media “Stop ignoring Ron Paul!”
You may also have seen some pre-emptive apologies from broadcasters and commentators, cognizant of the disproportionate response they will get from Paul’s supporters if they do not show him adequate deference, regardless of his chances of victory.
I do not blame Rep. Paul personally for this. Indeed, I have met and talked with him, and found him to be a nice enough man. Even so, I do not believe he will ever be president of the United States. That’s not a personal slight, or a function of corporate interests supposedly pulling my strings. Lots of people won’t be president (Jon Huntsman, a word, please?). It’s not a dig to say so.
The commitment of Paul’s supporters, including and especially younger people whom you might not expect to see at political events, particularly Republican ones, is fascinating. Their demeanor, versus that of the man they purport to represent, as well as the age gap between them and him, make for a compelling picture. How is it that this unassuming man can motivate folks in this way? There’s an anthropology thesis in there somewhere.
Paul is an accomplished person who has garnered a profoundly committed political following. He can claim a number of other achievements that I and many others could never match: For example, he has earned a medical degree and got himself elected to Congress.
But all things being equal, even including his recent second-place showing in New Hampshire primary polls, the chances of America electing a 76-year-old, isolationist congressman to be only the second person in history to go straight from the House of Representatives to the presidency are remote.
The truth is, no one ignores Paul. Everyone reading this column knows precisely who he is, what he has said, and the things he represents. On some issues, he is sage; on others, he is out where the buses don’t run. For all his strengths and imperfections, he has attained clear fame.
But let us suppose that, not for the first time, I am dead wrong and Paul has a chance. I was wrong in 2008 when I thought a radical-snuggling lightweight like Barack Obama could not wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton and go on to win the White House (I underestimated the awesome and destructive power of white liberal guilt). In 2012, I hope I am even more wrong.