It Doesn’t Really Matter If Ron Paul Wants To Win

It doesn't matter whether Paul is in it to win – his message is the important thing.

Like Russia, Ron Paul is an enigma wrapped  in a mystery that Sarah Palin can see from her front porch, or something. I’m paraphrasing the old quotation.

Pundits everywhere want to know just what it is the Texas congressman really hopes to gain this election. Does he really want to be president? Is this just a forum for his heterodox views on war and monetary policy? Is he out for converts to Austrian economics and a less interventionist foreign policy? Is he laying the groundwork for a Rand Paul presidency? Is he just messing with us? More tot he point, is he just messing with the Republican Party in a grand bid to expose their hypocrisy and lack of true, conservative principles?

All of the above, maybe?

Does it really matter?

In any case, it is very interesting to see how little Romney and Paul are going after one another. Perhaps Paul is content to let Gingrich and Perry pound Romney, and perhaps Romney doesn’t want to seem desperate. Either way, the election so far is still a two-man race with lots of third-tier shock troops doing the dirty work. I suppose the gloves will come off soon.

I asked yesterday if Paul would endorse Romney. I doubt it – I doubt he’ll do something out of loyalty to the Republican party that would be tantamount to betrayal to many of his most loyal supporters.

But then what happens to Paul’s delegates? What happens at the convention? Matt Lewis and Bill Scher have an interesting dialogue on the question (below, via.) There’s some suggestion that Paul could be a kingmaker but not a king. I think it’s more likely he could be a king-breaker. Ask yourself, if Ron Paul actually believes in what he says, is he more likely to back Romney’s neoconservative candidacy or to run on an independent ticket? Is he going to throw his weight behind bailout-supporting, big-government Republicans or is he going to strike out on his own (or, as in 2008, endorse someone else.)

Is there a third choice?

Whatever his aspirations, whatever his hopes or his long-term strategy – whatever his son’s hopes and aspirations – I hope that Ron Paul’s current influence in the 2012 race elevates his ideas and makes those ideas something to be reckoned with, not just in the GOP but across the aisle as well. We may never have a perfect non-interventionist, anti-drug war president in Barack Obama, but if Paul’s message on drugs could convince Obama that marijuana legalization is no laughing matter that alone might be a small, but important, victory.

Furthermore, I agree with Conor Friedersdorf that there is no progressive alternative to Paul when it comes to civil liberties.

If progressives are frustrated that relatively doctrinaire libertarians are attracting the attention and support of people who care deeply about civil liberties, why don’t they work to offer some alternative? Guys like me will probably still prefer Johnson. But is it really the case that the Democratic Party can’t produce a prominent civil-libertarian politician who Glenn Greenwald would prefer to Ron Paul?

That is itself a devastating truth about the post-2009 left.

Lots of liberals have told me to quit placing hopes on the president, especially since a president Paul would disagree with me on many important issues. I agree that focusing on congress is important, too, but I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive. No other candidate better represents my very liberal views on peace and nonviolence. I would gladly vote for a Democrat who represented those views but hewed closer to my beliefs on universal healthcare, public education, and the welfare state more broadly (not to mention illegal immigration.) No such candidate exists.

I do agree that the hard work of building a political movement happens not with a president but with local politicians, intellectual operations, congressional districts, and so forth. The boots-on-the-ground stuff is unglamorous and not very rewarding. If nothing more, I do think Paul’s focus on an anti-war message has helped lay that groundwork to some degree, not just for conservatives fed up with big government and the big wars it starts, but for liberals like me who care deeply about civil liberties and nonviolence.

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the editor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.