I like to think that I have a good sense for things political. Maybe I do, but I can also certainly find myself in plain error.
So after Iowa I figured RP was toast, and that the MSM could comfortably go back to ignoring him. This is obviously not the case. When Washington Post neo-conservative staple Charles Krauthammer feels the need to acknowledge the Paul presidential candidacy in a column carried far and wide, something has definitely changed in a direction I had utterly failed to anticipate.
The immediate cause of this appears to be Paul’s strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, where coming in a clear second place, he emerged as the real alternative to the Republican establishment’s latest hand-picked stooge (let’s be honest) Mitt Romney.
The establishment media has now been shamed into developing a Ron Paul narrative, a task it has assiduously avoided for years. It’s very odd to me, this herd-like inability to acknowledge a fist that is punching you in the face until some safe bellwether like Krauthammer tells you your nose is bleeding, but that’s how the MSM operates. Without an approved narrative, they not only won’t cover a story – it seems they can’t. It’s like they have no language with which to discuss it.
What is the developing narrative like? It’s not even as bad as it could be. Still overtly patronizing but only mildly disdainful:
Paul commands a strong, energetic, highly committed following. And he is unlike any of the other candidates. They’re out to win. He admits he doesn’t see himself in the Oval Office. They’re one-time self-contained enterprises aiming for the White House. Paul is out there to build a movement that will long outlive this campaign…Libertarianism will have gone from the fringes — those hopeless, pathetic third-party runs — to a position of prominence in a major party….I see libertarianism as an important critique of the Leviathan state, not a governing philosophy. As for Paul himself, I find him a principled, somewhat wacky, highly engaging eccentric. But regardless of my feelings or yours, the plain fact is that Paul is nurturing his movement toward visibility and legitimacy.
Note that until now – and even now – the RP phenomenon and libertarianism generally has lacked “legitimacy”. But it’s moving in that direction. This much, apparently, has to be conceded. Beyond that, there is a somewhat respectful acknowledgment that this is a thing of the future, and by paving the way with his quirky candidacy, RP has laid the foundation. And it’s a “remarkable achievement”.
That’s the narrative of the moment, folks. That is the lens through which any electoral success by RP going forward will be viewed. It’s very different from the oblivion to which I thought RP had been already consigned after Iowa. So I screwed up on that call.
One other note, largely anecdotal. Krauthammer brings up a comparison to the the Pat Buchanan candidacies of the 1990’s. I’ll agree there are some similarities, but as Buchanan headed from New Hampshire to South Carolina and what was then called “super-Tuesday” in 1996 he was felled by a well orchestrated smear campaign that somewhat brazenly tapped into an anti-Catholic bigotry that is alive and well in those parts of the country. RP, not being Catholic, is not susceptible to that particular tactic.
This may yet be an interesting presidential election, something that hasn’t happened in a long time.
Update: Apropos that last point, it’s interesting to note that RP has surged in South Carolina and Rick Santorum’s support has collapsed. This likely has a lot to do with the fact that Santorum is Catholic. Anti-catholic bigotry sells really well in SC. Not really sure why that is. It just is.