Sioux Center, Iowa.  I was one of 120,000 who voted in the Iowa caucuses this week.  My vote went to Ron Paul, a man I have admired since becoming aware of him in 1976.  That year, he was the newest member of Congress and he sent a letter in support of Governor Reagan to Iowa Republican state convention delegates during the tight Ford vs. Reagan contest.  A couple months later, Representative Paul was chairman of the 100-strong, all-Reagan delegation of Texas at the national convention.  Reagan still fell slightly short in his anti-establishment presidential campaign.  Unfortunately, by the time he was nominated four years later, Reagan had made his peace with the establishment.

The morning after the Iowa caucuses—wanting to be useful in some tiny way—I thought of some advice I wanted to give to the Ron Paul campaign.  After the obligatory but sincere “Congratulations on RP’s strong showing in Iowa” and “I commend the campaign on how it’s being run,” I suggested:

Push the excellent foreign policy video through the web.  Edit it down or put something shorter-but-similar together for TV in NH and SC.  This is a real weakness for RP which needs to be addressed.  “Soft on defense” is his Achilles heel for millions of otherwise-friendly conservatives.  Keep emphasizing active-duty military personnel contributions.  Have military veterans campaign with him on the stump and appear in ads.  It’s a big problem that has to be addressed more head-on.  Go on the offensive.  Turn a weakness into a strength.  RP’s willingness to call attention to Gingrich’s draft-dodging is a step in the right direction.  Call a spade a spade.  It’s easy to be a hero with someone else’s life.  (Assuming the reported facts surrounding Gingrich’s deferments are correct; you have to make sure you really have the goods before leveling the accusation.)

Make the connection between liberty and God explicit.  RP is obviously enamored with liberty.  But why?  How do you connect with moralists, with traditional conservatives, who equate libertarianism with libertinism?  I now live in Sioux County, Iowa . . . the most Republican county in the state and perhaps the nation (80-85% vote for GOP).  Full of serious-minded conservative-populist-Christian Republicans.  People who don’t like the federal government and embrace home schooling and Christian schools.  They should have a natural affinity for RP, yet last night, at my caucus, RP was overwhelmed by a Santorum tidal wave.  Romney was a poor second (half the amount of Santorum, who scored about 45% of the total vote), and RP was a distant third (his 79 votes was still a huge increase from 2008, when he reportedly received 3 votes in Sioux Center).

When RP spoke in town last week, he included a line near the end of his speech about how our rights come from our Creator.  That’s a big point for moralistic Christians.  It’s not a throw-away line that should be buried in a speech.  It should be front and center.  God created us with free will.  He limits government because He does not want government to usurp His role in our lives.  Even when bad choices are made, if they don’t harm others they need to be legal.  (This does not apply to abortion, which does harm others.)  Someday each of us will answer to God for the choices we make.  RP needs to connect the dots.  What does his “obsession” with liberty have to do with moral-minded and community-minded conservatives ?  In Sioux Center, he missed an opportunity to defend DOMA.  These issues matter to the Religious Right—and deservedly so.  I know RP doesn’t like to pander but sometimes you ought to lead with your strongest suit if you want to take the trick (to use a bridge analogy).

Take on Santorum’s support for No Child Left Behind, deficit spending, Arlen Specter and Christine Todd Whitman, CAFTA, crony capitalism, legalized bribery, etc.  Be specific.  Shine light on Santorum’s record as it was shined on Gingrich’s, in terms of TV advertising, but perhaps with a lighter touch.

Avoid interviews with obviously hostile media personalities—Bob Schieffer, Chris Wallace, etc.  What good can come from talking with such jerks?  Every question is a trap laid for RP.  Focus more on local reporters, who are more apt to be respectful and fair, and on national journalists who are less vested in the status quo.

Stop responding to the newsletter nonsense.  Keep it brief and then move on: “That’s old news.  I didn’t write those offensive words.  I’ve condemned them.  I’ve apologized for having them appear under my name.  There’s nothing else I can say about it.  Next question?”  Similarly, don’t allow RP to be baited into talking about other nonsensical topics—prostitution, heroin, the Civil War, WWII, the Civil Rights Act.  It’s all a massive distraction posed by propagandists who don’t want a serious answer.

Apologize to Huntsman for the snarky tweet.  That was inexcusably juvenile—poor sportsmanship and a poor reflection on RP.  Ron Paul trying to laugh off the tweet when interviewed by Piers Morgan compounded the problem.  Apologize and move on.  Admit it was unkind, unprofessional, and unnecessary.  Why give the media legitimate excuses to make our candidate seem unready-for-primetime and not-in-charge of his own campaign?  It also reminds people of the newsletter problem.

Close the gender gap.  Have some warm-and-fuzzy ads that include Carol or other women.  Have more of a feminine presence on the campaign trail and in ads.  Entrance polling shows that the gender gap hurt RP significantly in Iowa.  Most women aren’t turned off by his peace message; it’s the technocratic emphasis on economic theory and the masculine flavor of the campaign, I think.  Connect with “real voters” beyond our base . . . moving Congressman Paul’s words out of the abstract and into the flesh-and-blood of average people.  My wife has frequently commented on RP’s nerdy persona.  Part of that persona is being ill-at-ease with making an emotional connection with voters.  No one who listens to RP doubts that he’s intelligent and knowledgeable, but the lack of obvious heartfelt connection to other human beings is a handicap.  The most successful politicians—the Ronald Reagans and Bill Clintons—are not emotionally tone-deaf.  When talking one-on-one and when crafting speeches, they use language which shows they care (or at least that they pretend to care).  There’s a reason for the old cliché about politicians kissing babies.  That connects them with voters in a personal way even if it seems superficial to others.

I assume RP is an introvert who has to force himself to press the flesh and make small talk with strangers.  I believe he’s a sensitive, caring man on the inside.  That caring needs to be more easily detected.  One of the questions he received during the Q&A in Sioux Center was a touching question by a nervous sixth-grade boy with autism, asking what President Ron Paul would do to help children with autism.  Instead of beginning his answer with a recognition of the boy and his mother, on a personal level, RP answered with a brief policy-wonk response that made no personal connection and ended up with a banal statement to the effect that “Liberty always works best for everyone in the end.”  It was a tone-deaf answer.  He could have arrived at the same conclusion in a way that wouldn’t have made much of the audience—especially the female half—cringe.  There is more to life than thought and policy, than cost-benefit analysis and dollars-and-cents.  There is even more to life than individual liberty.  RP knows these things but his awareness of the other parts of what it means to be human is not always discernible.

Where’s Barry Goldwater Jr. this year?  If he’s supporting RP, get him on the stump.  Run commercials featuring Barry, making the connection between his father and RP.  Show the pro-liberty, small-government conservative legacy (pre-neocon, pre-Rush, pre-FOX).  Explicitly reject the Rockefeller, Country-Club liberalism of Romney, Gingrich, and the rest.  Where were they when Goldwater was running in 1964?  Reagan in 1968 and 1976?  Old Republicans—and there’s a lot of them—will understand even though the message will be lost on younger voters.  We’re weak with old conservatives.  Remind them of the historic struggles between the pragmatic elitists and the principled populists.  They should be RP’s people in this campaign but most are not.  Make a connection.  BMG Jr. might help.

Maximize the involvement of Rand Paul.  He’s smooth and he appeals to the conservatives RP needs to broaden his base.  My wife didn’t like how Senator Paul scowled throughout the post-caucus speech by Representative Paul, but I’m sure he was disappointed that his father didn’t take first or second so I can’t be too hard on him for that.  The interviews I’ve seen recently with hostile media show Rand Paul to be deft in fielding absurd questions and not taking the bait.  And his maiden speech in the Senate, daring to critique the compromising Henry Clay—who famously declared that he would rather be right than be president . . . when he was actually neither—is a classic.

On to New Hampshire and, eventually, Tampa!

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  1. On a site that loves its letters and its books and intellectual honesty, it boggles the mind that the newsletters are referred to as “nonsense.” They established his identity in Texas and in the process handed him millions of dollars in fundraising, all under his name. Cue the Good John: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name?”

    Ah, don’t worry. He’s “smooth.”

  2. How exactly is it unfair to question Mr. Paul’s past associations? When one spends the majority of his/her adult life in the company of people who continually spout nonsensical and hateful rhetoric, it’s possible that some of us might tend to think that person is lacking good judgement.

    Also, I don’t know that I agree with your advice regarding Rand Paul. While I’ve only seen a couple of the interviews he has given, I have to say I wasn’t impressed. To me he seems overbearing and self-important.

    I should add that I think Dr. Paul (the elder) is doing the country a favor by bringing topics that would otherwise not be discussed into the light of day.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. Some good points in here.

    As a youngster, I have to admit I’m shocked to hear Reagan ever tried to run as “anti-establishment.” Really? Nowadays he’s quite likely the quintissential establishment Republican.

    If we’re ever going to uphold Constitutional principles like Due Process (recently denigrated in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012), we’ll have to break out of this two-party machine. I think the evidence is ample it won’t come from within the establishment.

    It will be a long term project if it is possible at all. Do you think in ten years we could see a Front Porch Party? We can always hope.

  4. Although I am not personally persuaded by the Lockean natural rights argument, I bet you are correct in thinking that it will resonate with a lot of evangelicals.

    For a less individualistic, more decentralist way to frame his message, Dr. Paul could explain that Israel went off the tracks when they chose to abandon their 12 tribe/state form of governance and replace it with a centralized state headed up by a king. They were warned this would lead to hyper taxation and unnecessary wars. He could argue that investing too much power in Washington, too much power in the executive branch, has catapulted us into a comparable predicament.

    Until a movement that seeks to decentralize both political power and capital shows up on the scene, Dr. Paul’s liberty movement seems to be the best game in town. This seems wise advice for his campaign. I hope they put it into practice.

  5. Robert:
    How exactly is it unfair to question Mr. Paul’s past associations?

    Because they don’t matter. Paul has a consistent, decades-long record; we can predict rather well what he would do as president. Why bother talking about things outside that record, as if he’s some unknown, unpredictable one-termer from Illinois? Political statements certainly do have a nonzero amount of predictive value, but that value can’t compare at all to that of the actual record, especially when the statements were made in the context of moving product.

  6. Why is FPR so enthralled with our political process? What does it have to do with place, limits, and liberty?

  7. If nothing else, Ron Paul’s second place showing in New Hampshire after a third place showing in Iowa must be making a few of the oily denizens of K Street a tad nervous and jerky. I hope a few of them snorted their martinis up their noses when the results came in.

    Alter kakers who are accused of exhibiting a scowl are generally just sitting there , taking it all in , encumbered by several decades of well-earned wrinkles and a realization that in politics, a smile is as easily misinterpreted as a frown.

  8. I’m glad Ron Paul is in the race, because he poses questions that need to be asked, that nobody else is asking. I would never want him to be elected president, because some of his quaint notions would wreck the lives of millions of American families. For starters, if he could really put the nation back on the gold standard, he would induce a mammoth Great Depression. That is the line of the robber barons who used to run the Republican Party, and still pull the strings of Karl Rove and Scott Walker. That is not the platform of the People’s Party.

    Making the connection between liberty and God is pandering, pure and simple. Pandering works sometimes, and in politics, anything that gets your man elected is right, but pandering is still beneath contempt if a man is trying to run with some sort of honor. Our nation was built on the recognition that The State is incompetent to adjudicate questions of the transcendent, and the practical recognition that even thirteen colonies dominated by a handful of Protestant sects (with a few Jews and RC’s showing up) couldn’t agree on a single state religion. Given that I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, yes, in some sense our liberty does come from God, or is intended by God, but most people in human history have done without it, or had to fight for it. Perhaps the words “Appeal to Heaven” emblazoned on their banners helped, perhaps not. As Abraham Lincoln observed, the Almighty has his own purposes, and in any given human conflict, cannot answer the prayers of both contending armies or parties, and may not choose to grant the prayers of either.

    Ron Paul can’t win over the adoring fans of the neo-con foreign policy, and he shouldn’t try. That is one of his best points. No, we are not going to bestride the world with a Pax Americana, and an increasing number of conservative taxpayers aren’t willing to pay for that size military machine anymore. If such people didn’t make it out to the caucuses, perhaps Paul should concentrate on identifying such people (likely cynical about any political participation at this point) and motivate them to show up.

    DOMA is badly misplaced — a kind of perverse federal intrusion into powers reserved to the states, and entirely unnecessary. Now he might point out that the definition of marriage is really not assigned to the jurisdiction of the President of the United States, he might affirm that the Fourteenth Amendment does not create a right to a marriage license for a human relationship that simply isn’t a marriage, he might point out that a gay man is a man before he is gay, and has every right to a marriage license if there is a woman who will co-sign it… but he certainly shouldn’t be offering to rig the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court’s job is to apply the plain language of the Constitution, not to pander to the administration that appointed this or that justice. The unanimous decision upholding the primacy of the First Amendment is a good example.

    I’m wandering off topic, but the implications are present in the original post. “Even when bad choices are made, if they don’t harm others they need to be legal.” Yes, that again is Paul’s strong suit. I won’t rehash why I’m more libertarian than conservative on abortion — its already in the comments on the post Jeff linked to. Until the fetus can live on its own outside the mother, it is not a person. If Paul is looking for pragmatic ways to win, he’ll leave that alone, since more people who find some good in him sense that there is some constitutional right to be left alone for such intimate private decisions.

    And the old strains of racism… yes, Paul should speak directly to them and explain how he came to allow them, not just dismiss them as irrelevant old news. It is true that Justice Hugo Black, despite concerns about his youthful Ku Klux Klan affiliation, turned out to be a stalwart champion of civil rights. But its a question worth looking carefully at, and Paul needs to address it.

    Bottom line though, I would never vote for him. I don’t want him to be president, anymore than I ever wanted Ronald Reagan. I’m just glad he’s rattling the smug, self-satisfied politicians, which Reagan never really did. I’d like to see Obama dump Biden and put Paul on the ticket. The creative tension might produce something glorious. But I doubt either one of them is clear-sighted enough to see that.

  9. Incidentally, I suspect Paul will do rather well in rural Wisconsin if he stays the course. I was doing temp package delivery driving during the Christmas season, and I study yard signs whenever I’m driving.

    It is not surprising. Paul has appeal to portions of both the Joe McCarthy and the Eugene McCarthy constituencies. Gingrich might appeal to the Waukesha County crowd, Romney to what’s left of the country-club set, but Paul has a good shot. I think every Republican candidate should win at least one primary.

    Giving Paul a win while recalling Scott Walker would be a delicious combination, and will give the pundits all kinds of headaches, not to mention the DNC and the RNC.

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