As I suspect dozens of outraged e-mailers have already reminded him, Mark Halperin did not include the libertarian sensation Ron Paul in his new rundown of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates’ odds of winning the nomination. But we’ll be seeing plenty of the Texas Congressman, who officially announced his candidacy this morning in Austin, in the months ahead. So why dismiss him?
Paul was a compelling figure in his 2008 run for President, raising more than $25 million and attracting the most enthusiastic–if often eccentric–acolytes of any candidate. In debates, he broke taboos, challenging his fellow Republican candidates to defend the party’s positions on issues like foreign military intervention, economic policy and torture. And since that campaign, the world has changed in ways that, for many, lend further credence to his worldview. In the wake of the financial crisis, his opinions about the Federal Reserve, the gold standard, and the world economy–though many miles away from mainstream thought–have won new adherents. He obsessed over the Constitution well before such talk was at the core of conservative campaign slogans. He can credibly claim, as I wrote last year, to be the godfather of the Tea Party (and his son, Rand, is one of the movements biggest stars). But he still retains the political fearlessness that seems to energize his fans–the latest example being his assertion that the he would not have ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. (“Think of the worst Nazis that committed the Holocaust,” Paul said today on Good Morning America today. “We arrested them, we tried them and we hung them.”)
Why, then, would an oddsmaker like Halperin ignore Paul? Because for all the money and hype the man generated last time around, he barely made a dent at the ballot box. After peaking with a 10 percent showing in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, he finished in the mid-to-low single digits in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and other key primaries. In all, Paul wound up with 35 delegates at the convention–more than big boys like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, to be sure (both wound up with goose eggs), but a negligible fraction of the party’s nearly 2400 total delegates. His showing in current national polls suggests that his appeal hasn’t broadened beyond his fervent but narrow base. Now 75 years old–and as elfin and prone to rambling as ever–Paul seems unlikely to surpass his 2008 performance. It may not be right to ignore him entirely, but he’ll have to demonstrate a wider base of support before pundits and party leaders take him more seriously.