If I were driving the Ron Paul campaign bus, I would head to Wisconsin and park it there for the next week.  The Paul campaign keeps telling the media, in response to queries of when the congressman will give up his hopeless quest, that it’s all about delegates, not first-place finishes.  They have a point . . . but only up to a point.

The strategy of pursuing national convention delegates, largely under the radar, through county, district, and state conventions is netting Paul some gains that are not being factored into the national delegate count.  But there are some problems with this approach.  With the exception of Missouri, most of these states are small states with few delegates.  Running a guerilla campaign and flying under the radar is a necessity for a relatively weak campaign that has been unable to win a primary state.  It would be far better to prosper in both venues.  That’s what Ronald Reagan did in 1976.  But Paul, despite some ideological similarities, is not Reagan.  He does not have his broad appeal or his regional base of support in the West and (especially) the South.  So he is forced to make a virtue out of a necessity.  But it’s not enough.

Momentum matters—even when achieved through symbolic beauty contests like the non-delegate-bearing Missouri primary (Santorum carried every county).  It’s how the media gauges success and failure.  The media passes those evaluations on to the masses.  Why vote for someone who isn’t winning?  Why vote at all if Romney has the contest sewed up?  It’s also one reason the money bombs for Ron Paul aren’t netting so much cash.  Many Paul supporters are still red-hot in support but they’ve given up hope of winning the Republican nomination.  They’ve concluded that the GOP is so corrupt and the system is so rigged that Paul needs to bail now and run on a third-party ticket.

The Wisconsin primary on April 3 is not a cure-all but it could help the Paul campaign.  A solid second-place finish in a significant state would bring some much-needed positive attention to the campaign.  It would also bring some delegates their way because many are awarded to the winner at the congressional district level.

There’s something special about Wisconsin.  Something unique about its political culture and history.  It’s a state with a longstanding affinity for anti-establishment, moralistic, nationalistic (anti-war “isolationist”) candidates.  That’s Ron Paul.  Wisconsin is the state of Fighting Bob La Follette, who took on the plutocrats and war profiteers of his day—Republican and Democrat alike.  Of Joe McCarthy (flawed as he was, he was a real thorn in the side of the Washington establishment by the time he was censured).  Of Senator Bill Proxmire and Senator Russ Feingold (genuine Democratic mavericks).  Of historians William Appleman Williams and Merrill Jensen.  Of common-sense German and Scandinavian farmers and radical Madison students.

Consider the candidates who have won or done very well in the Wisconsin presidential primary in the past.  On the Republican side, favorite-son La Follette won in 1912, 1916, and 1924.  Nebraska rebel George Norris beat establishmentarian Herbert Hoover twice, in 1928 and 1932.  Nationalistic patriot Douglas MacArthur beat one-worlders Dewey, Stassen, and Willkie in 1944 (Stassen beat him in a rematch four years later).  Small-government, sensible-foreign-policy advocate Robert Taft beat big-government internationalists Warren and Stassen in 1952.  Libertarian nationalist Barry Goldwater sat out the primary in deference to a favorite son but he received all of the state’s votes at the national convention in 1964.  Goldwater heir Ronald Reagan beat George H.W. Bush in 1980.  America First candidate Pat Buchanan took a third of the vote against obvious-nominee Bob Dole in 1996.

On the Democratic side, Missouri rabble rouser and League of Nations opponent James Reed won in 1928.  Tennessee maverick Estes Kefauver won in 1952 and 1956.  John Kennedy, son of an “isolationist” tycoon, beat welfare state and globaloney poster child Hubert Humphrey in 1960.  Redneck populist George Wallace produced a shock by attracting a third of the vote against an LBJ stand-in (the state’s governor) in 1964.  Anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy beat LBJ in 1968.  The two anti-establishment Georges—McGovern on the Left and Wallace on the Right—dominated in 1972.  McGovern heir Gary Hart beat establishmentarian Walter Mondale in 1984.  Late in the primary season, anti-globalization populist Jerry Brown nearly beat frontrunner Bill Clinton in 1992.

Wisconsin should be fertile ground for a candidate like Ron Paul.  He should go to Wisconsin, spend the next week in the state, and sink a half-million dollars into positive advertising.

He should tell Republicans he’s the most electable Republican in the race.  He can beat Obama.  The others cannot—or at least they will have a more uphill climb in doing so.  Polls show Santorum and Gingrich as weaker opponents than Paul.  Romney the flip-flopper is too compromised to take the fight over issues to Obama and his nomination will deflate the conservative base without pulling in disaffected non-Republicans.

He should tell Republicans he’s the only real conservative in the race.  Romney and Gingrich are Rockefeller Republicans who don’t stand for much of anything beyond a desire for personal power and maintenance of the political/economic status quo.  What good is throwing Obama out if his policies are retained?  Santorum is a warmed-over George W. Bush—a big-government “conservative” with a Christian patina.  Like Bush, when it comes to actual public policy, Santorum’s religion is more talk than walk . . . but just enough talk to keep evangelicals in line and to annoy everyone else.

Wisconsin is an open primary.  Democrats and Independents can vote in the Republican contest.  Paul should remind Wisconsin that he’s the only candidate who has an America First foreign policy.  He wants to stop policing the world, stop meddling in other nations, and stop funding dictators and corrupt regimes.  He’s the only candidate, of either party, who can be a peace maker because he hasn’t sold his soul to the military-industrial complex.  A new NYT/CBS poll shows that nearly 70% of Americans think that we should not be at war in Afghanistan.  A plurality of Republicans now say that we should withdraw U.S. troops ahead of the Obama schedule (2014).  Democrats and Independents are even more anxious to get out.  Public opinion agrees with Paul and this agreement is maximized in upper Midwest dairy country.  Now’s the time to hit this issue hard.

If Ron Paul is looking to clash with the bipartisan establishment and wants to do it on favorable ground, he should concentrate on Wisconsin.  Such a battle may be as good as it gets when it comes to remaining primary states.  At least until South Dakota on June 5—but it may be too late by then to make a splash.  Respond to Wisconsin’s call.

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  1. Wisconsin is an open primary. Democrats and Independents can vote in the Republican contest.

    I’d love to see Ron Paul hit Wisconsin, insist that his defense of state’s rights and the liberty of places makes him a friend of those who oppose the homogenizing, corporation-funded agenda of Governor Scott Walker, and align himself with the rabble-rousers who are motivated by the Wisconsin ideal to recall the man who forced through an undemocratic law in the face of the state’s strong progressive ethos. Of course, that would mean Paul would be defending unions, which is nigh-impossible to imagine, but it would be great to see nonetheless. It would certainly result in him getting a bunch of volunteers, through.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, with both Jeff and Russell. I certainly plan to vote for Ron Paul on April 3. I was doing some temp delivery driving during the Christmas season, and noticed the rural areas have quite a few Ron Paul signs, far more than the incidence of “Stand With Walker” signs in fact. He has his best chance here, for all the reasons Jeff outlines. He’s not going to actively support a recall campaign against an incumbent Republican governor, unfortunately, but that will be happening in June, the same day he hits South Dakota.

    Meantime, I believe each of the Republican candidates should win at least one primary. Paul is the only candidate running primarily for reasons of principle, rather than some variation on Romney’s theme, which boils down to “I really admire the thought of me being president.” I’m getting lots of robocalls for Romney. Mostly they play a scratchy tape of some Santorum gaffe. Once they invited me to a phone-in town hall meeting, but I was not picked to ask one of the questions — only confirmed supporters had that role. I was going to ask:

    “When your father ran for president in 1968 — unfortunately I was too young to vote for him — he profoundly changed his views of our military adventure in Vietnam, and took a lot of flak for it, but by the end of the year, everyone knew he had been right. The mission was simply not worthy of the sacrifices our service men and women were being called upon to make. Do you see any reason we should keep one soldier in Afghanistan?”

    Either that, or I could have asked what the difference is between the individual mandate in Massachusetts and the individual mandate in the national health care reform bill.

    Ron Paul would be a disaster if he actually were elected president. His notion of economic policy is pure fantasy. If he tried to put us on some semblance of the gold standard, he would trigger a massive depression that would make 1932 look like 1965. The EPA is essential to block unbridled dumping of business costs on innocent parties downstream and downwind. But I’m not casting a spoiler vote. I’m voting for the best the Republican primary has to offer. We all know who is going to win the Democratic primary. And that is who I will be voting for in November.

    Still, I can’t help thinking about what a powerful National Unity ticket would result from replacing Joe Biden with Ron Paul for the vice president slot.

  3. I wish he would too Jeff but it’s pretty much too late. For Paul to be successful he needed the state to care about the primary but only GOP diehards do as this point and everyone is focused politically on the recalls. Not only that but the state had changed sadly. The state which voted for these mavericks exists more in the Democrat electorate and even there it’s fleeting. Two-Thirds of the state’s Republicans vote exists in the SE corner of the state and they’re either hardcore neocons or religious Right voters. Much of the party brass is for Romney and that’s who will probably win barring a big upset.

    Still, Paul drew a crowd of over 5,000 persons at the Memorial Union in Madison last night and their several places in the state he get a good share of the vote. He’ll do better than in 2008 and at least he has the future behind him.

  4. Ron Paul can beat Obama…..Really?

    The point of the Paul campaign is to construct an able and formidable opposition party in this somnolent country…a thing that has not existed for decades. There is a real formidable nature to opposition parties and we should accord them greater credibility than being simply “losers”.

    The idea that we go from what we have now to what the honorable Mr. Paul proposes by the simple act of a single vote reveals how feckless the citizen is. He has built a solid foundation which would be scuttled by presidency at this time. The Presidency, of course, is not a quick fix, as designed.

  5. Ron Paul’s economic theory would NOT put us into a depression. We’re already in one. We must have sound money or the depression will be far more serious then anything we’ve ever faced. He has a plan to slowly implement change. Without this change the dollar WILL collapse. It’s on life support as we speak.
    Ron Paul has well across the spectrum in Wisconsin. For the very first time I will be voting republican come April 3rd. RON PAUL 2012 !

  6. Yes, Ron Paul can beat Obama. He’s probably the only one who can beat Obama. Polls pretty much always show him doing well or best against Obama.

    I don’t know what Russell is talking about. Scott Walker did not force through an undemocratic law. The public unions in WI have been screwing over the state and the taxpayers, and someone finally did something about it. Look at things like WEA Trust. Look at things like requiring all teachers to join the union if they want to teach. Look at the state collecting the unions’ dues for the union. Look at the AVERAGE teacher compensation in Milwaukee County being over $100,000. (That’s a lot in WI.)

  7. As Jeff highlighted so accurately, there is a portion of the maverick vote in Wisconsin that will go for La Follette one decade, McCarthy another, and split their ticket between Tommy Thompson and Russ Feingold. Cathy and I are both voting for Paul — but can’t agree on why. We would have to sit down for the number of hours it takes to complete an introductory course in economics (but without relying much on the standard text books) for her to lay out the factual and historical basis for what she believes, and me to lay out the foundation for what I believe to be true.

    Short version: I stand with the original Populists, who vigorously opposed the gold standard, and demanded easy credit via federal sub-treasuries in each states. Jeff has pointed out before that they advocated a bi-metallic currency, not federal reserve notes backed by nothing more than the state of the economy. We don’t need to go back to the Morgan Gould standard in order to reverse Richard Nixon detaching the dollar from any substantive measure of its value. Also, while Ben Bernanke bears considerable responsibility for the bubble that burst in 2007-2008, his scholarship of what was wrong with Hoover’s handling of the Great Depression is sound, and he did steer us away from the cliff of Great Depression 2.0 — but not far enough away, unfortunately.

    I won’t try to argue with Wes. Those who support Walker have fundamentally different premises and core values from those who want him recalled. I am one of the latter. One thing I can still say for Wisconsin: there is no room for the inane comments “I don’t know ANYONE who voted for that man.” We all know people who voted the other way from ourselves, generally near neighbors and co-workers. If a Democrat defeats Walker in the recall, the greatest hazard is that they will make the same mistake Walker did: assuming a “mandate” to do things their own way and ride roughshod over everyone else. With a sixty or seventy percent majority, that can be legitimate. With a 52 percent majority, an honest office holder would look the other 48 percent in the eye and say “OK, I get to have my name on the office door, but let’s work out something 75 percent of us can live with.”

    Wes may have known what Walker planned to do (wink, wink, nod, nod, to those “in the know”) but most voters didn’t. They were voting for a fresh youngish face who talked about taking his lunch to work in a brown paper bag and creating 250,000 new jobs (means to do that not specified). A recall may succeed because, and if, some thousands of voters who supported him in 2010 are horrified by what he delivered. Wes will not be one of those.

    I certainly expect that if Paul were to be elected president, he would perform much the same way he is talking in his campaign — although the president, frankly, doesn’t have such unlimited power to change ever policy in sight. I’m rather taken with Sabin’s notion of building a real opposition party. I vote Democratic, because the Republicans are mostly offering inmates escaped from a lunatic asylum, but I can’t BE a Democrat, because the party leadership are a bunch of spineless wimps who can’t even win consistently matched against the escapees from a lunatic asylum. (Take comfort Walker fans, Tom Barrett could yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory).

  8. We now know that Ron Paul drew about 16% of the vote, and only 62% of voters in the Republican primary wanted someone other than Mitt Romney. I was working at a polling location April 3, and voted, at another ward (the one where I live), during my lunch break. Where I was working, I observed a number of ballots rejected by the vote counting machine, because the individual had tried to vote BOTH for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary AND for one of the Republican candidates in the Republican primary. Although I took the opportunity to vote for Paul, on principal, I favor a wide open primary allowing each voter to choose ONE candidate for president, be that one Democratic, Republican, Green, Libertarian, American Nazi, Communist, Socialist, People’s Party, or anything else.

    Paul’s campaign should have listened to Jeff. I know the feeling. We would have had different attorneys general and Supreme Court justices if certain candidates had asked me to script their responses to pathetic attack ads. But they didn’t.

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