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.