Believe it or not…Ron Paul could win

Ron Paul is notorious for stacking and winning straw polls.  So his latest victory at the Republican Leadership Conference comes as no big surprise.  In fact, national front runner Mitt Romney came in fourth behind Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and John Huntsman, if that tells you anything.

But this time around it just may be too early to write off Ron Paul.  In the past he was rarely taken seriously as anything more than an ultra-libertarian issues candidate.  This time, his issues speak to America’s condition as an overbloated bureaucracy in debt up to our ears, in a new war with no meaning, a weakened currency, and a whole lot of social issues that would be a lot easier to live with if the government didn’t have to take a stand either way.

Third time a charm?

Unlike 2008, we are now wrapping up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and they are no longer playing such a perceived crucial role in America’s defense.  Instead, we are now bombing our allies in Libya and fighting both sides of a civil war at a cost of a million dollars a day.  Unlike 2008, we are living with an administration whose deficits every year have nearly matched the entire 8 years of the Bush administration.  We have a Federal Reserve that seems out of control, especially after printing $500 billion to buy US debt under QE2.  And lastly, we have a weakening dollar which is helping to drive up commodity prices and inflation.

But in addition to the issues being more conducive to a Ron Paul candidacy, many of Paul’s liberal grass roots liberal supporters haven’t figured out yet where stands on the issues.  It never ceases to amaze me how many Obama voters would have made Ron Paul as their number one choice if given the opportunity.  My amazement stems from the fact that no two candidates could be further from each other when it comes to worldviews and ideologies.  Ron Paul’s anti-establishment, bring the troops home (something Obama promised and failed to deliver) and social libertarianism on issues like gay marriage seem to be his liberal aesthetic.  But this could give him the momentum he needs to be taken seriously.  Why?

Because there is no Democrat primary.  New Hampshire is a semi-open primary, meaning that the voters with no party affiliation can vote in either the Democrat or Republican primary.  This is sure to help Ron Paul this year as social liberals who would normally vote in the Democrat primary have the opportunity to use their vote to help decide the Republican nominee.  South Carolina is another early state with an open primary.

Many Republicans find Ron Paul to be abrasive, sometimes outright annoying, and he never seems to answer the question he was actually asked in a debate.  But with no Democrat primary this time around, it might not be Republicans who make the final decision on Ron Paul.

Seven Versus One

The debate is over and there is a clear loser.  Whether by pact or we just got candidates this good, Obama was the only one with a target on his back last night.  Even Pawlenty wouldn’t take the obvious bait to attack front runner Mitt Romney.  The result was a debate of seven on one, and the One wasn’t there to defend himself.

The other loser in last night’s debate was CNN’s John King who amidst annoying grunts failed to turn the candidates on one another.  Even when he tossed Palin’s name out as an easy target for Republicans seeking to moderate, the response came from Tim Pawlenty and it was perfect.  Joe Biden has failed in every aspect as a Vice President, his views on Iraq were completely wrong, and Sarah Palin would be a better president than Biden or Obama.

Can Bachmann break through media created stereotypes?

The candidates handled tough hot button issues amazingly well also.  The shining example here was Michelle Bachmann who deflected an easy gotcha by making it clear that the role of the President and the role of the states in determining the fate of gay marriage is not equal.  She provided a balanced states rights view, while promising to protect the states from the courts if it came to that.  The other good answers on gay marriage were Ron Paul, leave it to the church and get government out, and actually Rick Santorum who explained that a constitutional amendment would require the approval of 75% of the states, something opponents rarely mention.  Cain appeared to struggle the most on the muslim staff question.

While there were no clear winners, I believe this debate showed two classes of candidates.  Michelle Bachmann led her class of fired up TEA Party approved candidates fighting for principled social and fiscal conservatism with unmeasured attacks against Obama and willingness to take heat for their views if deemed controversial.  Cain is included with this group, although he appears now more as a TEA Party candidate who jumped in feet first and now is searching for substance beyond catchphrases and buzz words.  He did not find that moment last night.  Ron Paul’s anti-establishment libertarianism may catch up to him this year when all the Revolution liberals realize that he does not support any federal entitlement programs.  Santorum failed to set himself apart as anything but a sacrificial lamb for 1st term George W. Bush style conservatism.  While they all performed well, Bachmann outshined this group.  Given the TEA Party’s success in 2010 and their conservative appeal, I would not write this group off.

The other group becoming apparent are the “intellectual”, restrained conservatives in Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty.  Their answers would not pass a soundbite test, but they were clear, well thought out, and flawless.  At the same time, these three touted socially conservative views and credentials which should make each one palatable for any Republican voter.  Newt was in a tough place and would need to be the only shining candidate last night to pull his campaign out of the rubble.  His performance was near flawless and enough to start the rebuilding process, but not good enough to bring him in from the dog house.  And while he may be right about ensuring that America is on board with the Paul Ryan plan, he is sure to take more heat for some of his comments last night.

Tim Pawlenty was perhaps the closest thing to a winner last night.  He made a great case for his pro-life record, perhaps settled some social conservatives with his call for his stance on homosexuality, connected with union and blue collar America, and magnanimously skipped a golden opportunity to play John King’s game and trash the front runner.  While the left-wing media rakes Pawlenty over the coals for his choice, conservatives should take a much closer look at a candidate who knows the enemy.

Mitt Romney will remain the front runner after last night.  The campaign has been nearly effortless for him sofar, and he made no mistakes that would cause him to lose his front runner status last night.  But he shouldn’t get too comfortable.  With Huntsman entering the race and with Rick Perry and Rudy Guiliani mulling Presidential runs of their own, the space Romney and Pawlenty occupy could get real crowded real quick.

In the end, the field last night did what they had to do.  They stayed focused on the economy and Obama.  They did not bite on questions obviously designed to turn them against each other and other Republicans.  They agreed with one another publicly and showed that any one of them is better than and can beat Barack Obama in 2012.

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