Ron Paul Loses His Luster

With results in from New Hampshire, the wild and pervasive fantasies surrounding the Paul campaign should finally be laid to rest. For months Paul supporters have swamped the comments section of this and pretty much every other major blog with the idea that his poll numbers were vastly underreported, either due to a media conspiracy, or the fact that his young, cell-phone-wielding supporters weren’t counted in typical phone polls. I’ve pointed out that Dean supporters made pretty much the same, baseless case in 2004, and it’s now clear that nothing has changed since then: In Iowa, Paul won 10 percent of the vote (phone polls had given him 9 percent) and in New Hampshire he won 7.6 percent (phone polls had given him 6 to 10 percent). In short, the Ron Paul myth should be about as dead as the decomposed remains of Guy Fawkes.

Of course, if New Hampshire voters hadn’t written him off, Paul would have self-destructed anyway. As I pointed out back in mid-November, Paul has too many cozy ties with racists to ever survive the scrutiny heaped on front-runners. Yesterday The New Republic revealed those racist ties to be stronger than anyone realized. The Atlantic (where Andrew Sullivan had endorsed Paul) responded with an apologia arguing that fringe idealists are naturally predisposed to tolerate the repulsive views of those with whom they share shards of common ground. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t excuse anything. At the very minimum, Paul was grossly negligent in allowing a newsletter chocked full of racist diatribes to be published for decades under his name.

What worries me the most about Paul’s meltdown is not that it will discredit Paul, but that it will discredit some of the more noble elements of the movement that surrounds him. As I noted in my recent feature on Paul, the movement, and not the candidate, is the real revolution. Just look at the way Paul supporters have challenged the Republican orthodoxies on Iraq and the Patriot Act from within the Party.

Coy to the possibility of running on a third-party ticket, Paul told the Washington Post last week that he has “no intention” of mounting an independent bid, but also left the door open, adding: “We’ll see if the supporters keep sending the money. But right now, our focus is on Feb. 5th.” An independent Paul bid would certainly be interesting. Maybe it would suck away some anti-war votes from Democrats, or, in the event that Barack Obama ends up as the Democratic nominee, maybe it would suck away some bigot votes from the Republican. Either way, a Paul bid is looking like an increasingly dangerous idea for libertarians. He has carried them into the mainstream like nobody before, but now that they are almost there, is he really the best guy to represent them? At some point, it might be time for the Ron Paul Revolution to say “no” to Dr. No.