A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
Few of Ron Paul’s enthusiastic supporters actually expect their curmudgeonly, 77-year-old champion to win election as President of the United States, but they nonetheless plan to give him their votes in Republican primaries in order “to send a message” to the GOP and the nation at large.
But what, exactly, is the message that impassioned Paulestinians mean to convey if the controversial congressman’s follows his third place showing in the Iowa caucaus with similarly strong showing in subsequent contests?
Any honest assessment of Ron Paul’s unconventional campaign suggests that whatever successes it manages to achieve can send only two signals, both of them disastrous to Republican prospects and the conservative cause.
First, and most obviously, increased attention to the perplexing Paul phenomenon only serves to strengthen the core argument for Barack Obama’s re-election: that today’s Republicans have become a wild and crazy bunch, harboring oddball, irresponsible notions that place them far outside the American mainstream and make them untrustworthy when it comes to the serious business of governance.
Leave aside the recent publicity for Dr. Demento’s twenty-year-old newsletters, studded with outrageous racist and anti-Semitic comments --which the candidate now claims he never read, but which appeared over his signature, and for which he received generous payment from eager subscribers, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars at the very least.
Much more recently, in the midst of this latest of his three campaigns for the presidency, he has endorsed the outrageous doctrine of “nullification”—suggesting that states have the right to reject federal laws or regulations they dislike, and disregarding well-established Constitutional law that was settled by Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s and Abraham Lincoln (along with 300,000 dead Union soldiers) during the Civil War.
Association with 9/11 conspiracy theorists has destroyed the credibility of numerous figures in public life – even forcing the resignation of Van Jones, perhaps the most loathsome leftwing loony in the Obama administration. But Ron Paul has flirted with such paranoid delusions for years, appearing regularly on the freakazoid radio show of arch-conspiracist Alex Jones (who accuses George Bush and the New World Order of planning the extinction of the human race) and telling one of his senior Congressional aides (Eric Dondero) shortly after September 11th that “the attacks were coordinated with the CIA, and that the Bush administration might have known about the attacks ahead of time.”