Ron Paul reaffirmed his status as a serious contender for his party’s nomination on Saturday by winning the Republican Leadership Conference straw poll. He may not be a serious candidate in the sense that he has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. But he is superbly well organised and funded, and he dominates the affections of the libertarian wing of his party. Some dismiss Ron Paul as a “perennial candidate”. Yet the reason why he keeps on running – this is his third shot at the presidency – is because his constituency is just as perennial as he is.
There were boos in the hall when the results were read out. Paul took 612 votes, Jon Huntsman 382, Michele Bachmann 191 and Herman Cain 104. Mitt Romney, the leader in national polls, took a pathetic 72 and Tim Pawlenty – a politician so bland that he makes Walter Mondale look charismatic – took 18. Neither Romney nor Pawlenty spoke at the event, and questions will be raised about how representative the voters really were. But Paul won the Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll back in February too, which suggests he’s on some kind of a roll. Straw polls don’t count towards the nomination, but they do inspire people to get their check books out. In the first quarter of 2011, Paul raised more money than any other declared contender. His last online “money bomb” appeal netted $1.1 million in one night.
We’ve seen all this before. In 2008, Paul drew large amounts of cash in the months before the primaries, but then vanished when voting started. His band of loyal libertarians is stretched too thinly across the country. There aren’t enough economics professors, Hell’s Angels, college slackers, dynamo-businessmen, pacifists and Aqua-Buddhas in any one state to swing it his way. His hardcore ideology is too socially libertine for religious conservatives and too economically callous for crossover Democrats. His politics fall into a niche parodied by The Onion with this barfly motto: “Fiscally I’m a rightwing nutjob, but on social issues I’m f**king insanely liberal”. Paul complicates this by also being a bit pro-life.