Ron Paul or Rand Paul in 2012?

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With both Ron and Rand Paul expressing a desire to run for president in 2012, one could imagine there being some tension in the Paul household. Presidential runs are all about timing — where the window to run often slams shut unexpectedly. In fact, over the past 40 years, the U.S. has only had eight people hold the position. Ron is still flirting with a run, while Rand has said the only decision he has made is that he won’t run against his father. Which got me to thinking — if they came to me for advice on which Paul should run, who would I choose?

Admittedly I’m a dreamer, but this isn’t such a far-fetched thought experiment. I’m no stranger to the 2008 Ron Paul campaign. In months of researching the birth of the Tea Party — a movement I’ve argued Ron Paul created — I got an outsider’s overview of the strengths and weaknesses of his run. I’ve also worked in marketing for over 15 years, creating campaigns for Lexus, Levi-Strauss, and AT&T. Through my marketing agency, Inform Ventures, I’ve handled a big chunk of the national launch of Scion, Toyota’s heralded youth vehicle, helping take it from unknown to 160,000 vehicles a year. Some have referred to the people at my company as experts in marketing.

And it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been asked to support a candidate. In 2008, I was asked to help with the now-famous Obama “Hope” poster — the producer, a former employee, wanted to tap into my national network. I considered it — the artist was a former business partner that I wanted to support. But in the end I turned it down. I was near certain of Obama’s impending victory, but after doing some research, I decided that I didn’t trust him or believe in his vision. In politics, believing trumps all else.

So with curiosity and a marketer’s eye on the question of who could win the presidency, I closed my eyes and imagined both Ron and Rand Paul coming to me as a mediator — each prepared to fight hard to argue their superior attributes.

Virtual Rand grabbed quickly for the low-hanging fruit. “My dad can’t win the nomination without the media on his side, Patrick, and they won’t be,” he said flatly. And there’s some truth to that claim.

As any Dr. Paul enthusiast can attest to, Fox News pundits are not Ron Paul-friendly. With the exception of John Stossel and Judge Andrew Napolitano, and on occasion Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck, most right-leaning media have been and will be uniquely hostile to a Ron Paul candidacy. “He can’t win,” said Bill O’Reilly in a recent broadcast. And O’Reilly is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the major conservative talk radio hosts, cable news pundits, writers, and bloggers have at some point taken definitively negative positions towards Paul-the-elder that cannot be walked back.

When I conceded it was a good point, virtual Ron shot back with, “So what? I wouldn’t be the first to win the nomination with the Republican establishment not on my side.” And he was right, as could easily be seen in the 2008 election. John McCain was challenged almost daily by many of the same conservatives, but still won the nomination.

So virtual Ron Paul was still in the game.

Then virtual Rand got a little bit more personal. “They’re going to paint him as a kook, Patrick. I still have a clean slate.” Virtual Rand was playing to win. I admitted that this was a strong possibility, one that Jesse “The Body” Ventura and old newsletters weren’t going to make any less likely. As virtual Ron tried to refute his claim, I cut him off. “No need to rebut. On the national stage, everyone will have something to attack — like possibly a gaffe on universally heralded civil rights legislation,” I interjected, in my attempt to move both toward the next topic.

Then virtual Ron started touting his fundraising prowess. “The kid is unproven in raising large amounts of fiat money, Patrick. I’ve already outraised all prospective candidates.” And he was right. Ron Paul’s fundraising prowess is legendary. But once again, there wasn’t any definitive track record proving that Rand couldn’t become a moneybomb detonator.

“I’m a senator, he’s a representative. I’ve won a statewide election, my dad hasn’t,” virtual Rand added curtly. Again, another valid point. The first (and only) sitting House member to be elected President is James Garfield…in 1880! But this only reveals one thing — it isn’t unprecedented for a representative to win the presidency.

Which made me think of how this debate could be resolved.

To the general public, the two politicians would be virtually indistinguishable on a number of key issues. Both Pauls are known as deficit hawks, Obamacare adversaries, limited-government advocates, and free-market adherents. Both have, to a large extent, Tea Party cred. And, even if Rand is a bit more hawkish, both have strong positions as anti-war candidates — a quality largely absent among viable candidates from both parties. Arguing over abstractions would only lead to an emotion-riddled, opinion-based decision on who should run. The best way to come to a conclusion is to look for disqualifiers.

“We can go back and forth all day with pros and cons, gentlemen. So let’s talk about disqualifiers. What numerical fact could definitively point to one of you not being able to win?” I said in an attempt to refocus the debate. With a spotlight on the historical record, maybe a piece of data could clearly disqualify one or the other from winning.

Virtual Rand liked this idea. “He’s too old,” he chimed in. “They’ll beat him with his ‘walking stick’ like they did McCain.” Now that’s a valid problem. At the time of inauguration, Ron Paul would be 77 years old. With Ronald Reagan being sworn in at just shy of his 70th birthday, Ron Paul would be the oldest president ever elected. “That’s a strong argument, virtual Rand,” I had to admit. “But let’s assume your pops can win despite his age — there’s a first for everything, you know. What else do you guys have?”

Before virtual Ron could say anything, his son went on the offense. “He can’t win in Iowa,” claimed virtual Rand — which is probably right. Ron Paul only took 10% of the vote in 2008, resulting in a 5th-place finish. Nothing indicates 2012 would bring a different outcome. But that said, not winning Iowa is not a disqualifier. There is no historical rule that you have to win the Iowa caucus to win the Republican nomination.

Venturing farther down this vein, virtual Rand added, “Well, he can’t win New Hampshire or Nevada either.” He’s probably right again. Ron Paul got 7.7% of the New Hampshire primary vote in 2008, coming in 5th place. He faired better in Nevada, coming in 2nd place with 13.7%. But with his likely 2012 opponent Mitt Romney taking 51% of the state, Ron Paul was a very distant second. “I can win New Hampshire, Patrick. I scored 2nd place in a recent straw poll,” boasted virtual Ron. True. But that poll only had 273 ballots and Ron Paul came in a distant second to Romney. “But the kid was nowhere to be seen in the results,” added virtual Ron. True, but Rand wasn’t included on the ballot. Nonetheless, losing either of these states during primary season is not a disqualifier because eventual Republican nominees have both won and lost both states.

Then virtual Rand got serious. “He can’t win in South Carolina. I, at least, have a shot.” Now this is a serious charge. Since the inception of the South Carolina contest in 1980, every Republican presidential nominee has won this primary. In the 2008 South Carolina contest, Ron Paul only received 3.7% of the vote. Even more troubling is recent polling data. He failed to crack 5% in the York County, South Carolina straw poll. It only had 152 ballots, but then again in a Greenville, South Carolina straw poll he only received 5% of the vote — and that poll had 431 ballots cast. Smelling trouble, virtual Ron interjected, “Rand didn’t win those straw polls either!” A true statement, but Rand didn’t run in the 2008 primary — so there has been no definitive test of his viability in that state.

That’s when virtual Rand decided to drop the bomb: “My dad didn’t win a single primary in 2008. Pah-dow, how you like me now, pops?” claimed the virtual freshman senator. At first I didn’t think much of that fact. Then I looked at all of the presidential campaigns going back to 1972, the first year that the majority of delegates were awarded by the presidential primary process. What I found was that every Democrat and Republican presidential nominee who previously ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign — and actually participated in the primary season — had won at least one state over the course of his unsuccessful bids. McCain, Dole, Bush Sr., Reagan, Nixon, and Gore all had unsuccessful bids before their nominations — and all had won at least one primary or caucus.

I couldn’t quite see how this last obstacle could be resolved. To win the Republican nomination in 2012, Ron Paul would have to win states during the primary season. Having participated in all state primaries and caucuses in 2008, he hadn’t won even one state contest — a good indication that winning the nomination in 2012 would be highly improbable. If running were a pathway to the vice presidency or a cabinet position, then that would be a different story. However, winning the top spot looked out of reach.

But that’s when virtual Ron, sensing a serious problem, shot out his defense in rapid fire. “The kid is unproven. No one knows if he can raise fiat money. He doesn’t have enough experience. My ideas are finally mainstream. He doesn’t have a national infrastructure.”

Virtual Rand got a little nervous. “But your network would support me, dad.”

“Maybe, but that’s not guaranteed — and you’d need that to happen in order to be viable,” I said, reminding virtual Rand of the ideological purity of his father’s followers.

Virtual Ron was right on all of his closing points. His son’s prospects were largely unknown in a national race. The decision was a no-brainer at this point. I turned to virtual Ron and said, “You were treated unfairly during your 2008 run — and I do think your ideas are finally being taken seriously in 2012. The bulk of your message is the core of the Tea Party movement, and it really deserves a place in the 2012 race.”

I then turned to his son and said, “Congratulations, Rand, I choose you.”

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Patrick Courrielche gained prominence from a series of articles that highlighted a White House effort to use a federal arts agency to push controversial legislation. He has been published by wsj.com, reason.com, Breitbart’s BIG sites, and appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, NPR, BBC, and various nationally syndicated radio shows. He is a communications specialist, former aerospace engineer, writer, and can be followed at Courrielche.com and twitter.com/courrielche.

Patrick Courrielche