Ed Rollins, a longtime conservative operative who worked in the Reagan White House and later became Ross Perot’s campaign manager in 1992, said
“ You can’t dismiss his antiwar vote. You can’t dismiss the power of one man standing up with a powerful message. I’ll tell you, I’ve been in politics for 40 years, and these days everything I’ve learned about politics is totally irrelevant because there’s this uncontrollable thing like the Internet. Washington insiders don’t know what to make of it.”
D.C. Establishment Can’t Get A Grip On Ron Paul
By CHRISTOPHER MANION
WASHINGTON, D. C. — Tongues were wagging on both sides of the aisle in Washington last week, as Dr. Ron Paul, the prolife, pro- Constitution obstetrician who has represented his Texas congressional district for 20 years, pulled off what even the liberal Washington Post called a “ stunning achievement.”
Dr. Paul, who has long been treated by the major media either as an inconsequential minor candidate, a “ flake,” or an outright pariah, broke an Internet record for contributions in a single day when he raised more than $4.2 million in online donations from 40,000 contributors on November 5. The historic news made it impossible for the major media to ignore Dr. Paul’s accomplishment, even though they have studiously ignored him for months. The Washington Post’s story appeared only online. Its politics blogger went for comment to Ed Rollins, a longtime conservative operative who worked in the Reagan White House and later became Ross Perot’s campaign manager in 1992.
“ What he’s done — what his supporters have done — is astonishing,” said Rollins. “ You can’t dismiss his antiwar vote. You can’t dismiss the power of one man standing up with a powerful message. I’ll tell you, I’ve been in politics for 40 years, and these days everything I’ve learned about politics is totally irrelevant because there’s this uncontrollable thing like the Internet. Washington insiders don’t know what to make of it.”
In fact, the Internet has been the dominant ingredient in Paul’s campaign precisely because it is “uncontrollable.” Ever since Dr. Paul came on the scene, he has been largely ignored by the prestige press; he is a “ nonperson” on the left, and intensely resented by his fellow GOP presidential candidates.
The reason is fairly simple: In the past few years, the two major parties have become increasingly undistinguishable. They are virtually mirror images of one another in corruption. Their defiance of fiscal and constitutional discipline has brought about a widespread collapse of public trust in our national government. They are all what Rollins calls “ Washington insiders.” One cannot expect that crowd to acknowledge, much less to applaud, the only pro- Constitution, anti- establishment candidate who stands up and yells “ stop.” Normally, the tree would fall in the forest and nobody would hear because the prestige press would not report it. But Internet content is not controlled by the establishment. There, untold thousands of web sites and blogs hum with news and opinion that is totally unfiltered and uncensored.
With the Internet, there is no such thing as the “ cutting- room floor.” Quite the contrary: Many influential web sites were set up to challenge the prestige press and to provide a more attractive, less “ establishment” alternative. Rollins is right: The Internet is indeed “ uncontrollable.” People write whatever they want to and read whatever web sites they want to. When they find something they like, they send it to their entire e- mail list. If it catches on, it can spread like wildfire, virtually without cost. And that accounts for the stunning success of Dr. Paul’s “ powerful message” there.
Rollins’ admission is telling: “I’ve been in politics for 40 years, and these days everything I’ve learned about politics is totally irrelevant.” He is not kidding, and he is not alone. For the past 40 years, the entire Washington establishment — the politicians, the bureaucracy, the media, the lobbyists, the contractors, the agencies — have all been wallowing in one big special- interest hot tub, simply printing more money when they can’t bill the taxpayer. This is a closely controlled dance that “ Washington insiders” have perfected and perpetuated, taking every precaution that no outsider will rock the boat. Even George Bush, a self- styled reformer in 2000, became a big spender before long. In fact, in the 27 years since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the national debt has risen from below one trillion dollars to ten trillion dollars. For 19 of those 27 years, there was a Republican in the White House — and surprisingly, most of the rise has taken place during President Bush’s two terms in office. One recent study indicates that Bush is “ the biggest spender since LBJ” — the “ guns and butter” author of the “ Great Society” who was president back when Rollins began his political career 40 years ago.
Why haven’t more of the “ conservative” candidates competing for the GOP nomination raised this issue? The fact is, they don’t mention Bush at all. A recent analysis indicates that, while Democratic debaters have mentioned the president 72 times, the Republicans have mentioned him only twice ( and one was Dr. Paul). And therein lies the dirty little secret of the primary campaign: They can’t attack him, not yet.
David Broder, the “pundit dean” who has long been the weathervane for liberal editorial writers across the country, pointed to the elephant in the living room a few weeks back when he recalled Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 campaign. Humphrey waited too long, Broder says, before he would attack LBJ’s record and distance himself from the unpopular president. Had he turned a few months earlier, Broder surmises, he would have done much better in November. Now, Broder teases, when will the Republicans turn on the unpopular Bush? We know they will, he taunts. But when will they?
The answer is simple, of course: Every GOP candidate except Dr. Paul is trying to woo the “ GOP base.” And what is the “ base”? It is the 30% or so of the electorate that still supports Bush. Yes, it is a minority of the country, but it is a majority of the GOP, especially among likely primary voters. Broder’s unspoken message is, once the GOP has a clear winner in the primaries, that candidate will have much more freedom to criticize the president’s record. His target audience will now be the general electorate, not primary voters.
Of course, Broder ( and the rest of the gang at the Post) wouldn’t give Ron Paul the time of day, so he assumes that the GOP will nominate an establishment candidate — who will have to woo Bush voters now, but turn on Bush eventually. The prospect of such a candidate advocating “change” and still keeping the Bush “base” on board will require a world- class balancing act, and this GOP field is definitely not world class.
And then there’s Ron Paul. He has been very consistent and clear ( two rare ingredients in this campaign season). Should he win the nomination, he would not have to change his message at all — in fact, he would only strengthen it as he got more opportunities to explain it to a wider audience.
So far, Paul’s audience has been Internet- based, and his campaign success reflects the coming of age of that medium in the political world. In the early 1960s, liberals referred to the grassroots conservatives that won Goldwater the 1964 GOP nomination as “ little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Well, move over ladies, and meet the new grassroots powers that the establishment both fears and belittles — the Internet. And meet the sleeping giant — the millions of Americans who are fed up with the lock that the major party establishments have placed on our national political life.
It is interesting to observe that the most strenuous opposition to Dr. Paul’s candidacy is not from liberal Democrats, but from the neocons who are currently running the Bush administration’s foreign policy. David Frum, a contributing editor to both The Weekly Standard and National Review Online, is one of those “ conservatives of convenience” whose approach to pro- lifers seldom rises above thinly disguised contempt. Like the GOP establishment candidates, the Frum faction needs the votes of the pro- life “ religious right,” of course, but it does nothing to further the pro- life cause.
In fact, like many neocons, Frum supports pro- abortion, pro- homosexual Rudy Giuliani. He dismisses Dr. Paul as a fringe candidate along the lines of Howard Dean and Ralph Nader — but he realizes that Ralph Nader made it possible for Gov. George Bush to carry Florida in the 2000 election.
Frum assumes, naturally, that Ron Paul will not win the GOP nomination: “ Rudy is in no danger of losing Republican primary voters to Ron Paul,” he insists. “ And if ( as I have speculated) Paul mounts an independent candidacy in the general election, he will draw votes from disaffected Democrats, disappointed in Hillary Clinton’s failure to articulate a more radical antiwar message. As third-party candidates go, Ron Paul is Nader, not Perot.”
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol recently commented that all of the “major” GOP candidates (minus Dr. Paul, of course) suited him fine, because they are all falling over each other to capture the votes of the Americans who still support President Bush and the Iraq War.
In other words, the neocons think that Ron Paul is more a danger to the Democrats than the Republicans in the 2008 elections. It brings back memories of 1952, when Eisenhower’s supporters trumpeted that “ Taft can’t win” — and then they had to steal the votes of the pro- Taft Texas delegation to deliver the nomination to Eisenhower.
“ Ron Paul can’t win.” “ Ron Paul is on a roll.” Take your pick, and stay tuned.
[The Wanderer (November 15, 2007)]