Ron Paul is a Threat to the Democrats

[Note: See my original Daily Kos post here.]

Via Political Wire, it’s looking like Ron Paul’s candidacy is gathering steam:

In an interview to be aired later today on Bloomberg’s Political Capital with Al Hunt, Rep. Ron Paul said he has raised more than $9 million in the past two months and he predicted his presidential campaign will exceed its $12 million fourth-quarter goal.

Paul said he has begun “spending generously” in key early-primary states. He is competing in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, and said he expects to have money to campaign through Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, when at least 22 states may hold primaries and decide the nomination.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Paul and his increasingly freepish cult of online supporters can no longer be dismissed. No longer marginalized as the Kucinich of the Right, Paul has clearly struck a vein with libertarians who make up sizable portion of the Republican rank and file.

But in the end, I don’t believe his candidacy will significantly damage any of his Republican opponents during the primary process. That’s because his party has no other change candidates running in this election (though some, like Romney, will pivot in that direction in the general).

On the other hand, the Democrats do have change candidates in Obama and Edwards. One of them will emerge from Iowa as the clear challenger to Hillary Clinton. And he will need anti-war independent and Republican votes to help overcome Hillary’s lead among Democrats in New Hampshire.

We don’t want those voters to have a protest vote with the Republicans. Paul gives them one. So rather than challenging and forcing change within his own party, Paul’s candidacy will have the opposite effect. He denies Obama or Edwards a crucial bloc of votes, thereby helping to realize the Republican wet dream of Hillary Clinton as the Republican unifier in the general election.

Paul can also wreak havoc in the general election, as another Texan demonstrated 15 years ago. The Politico speculates:

Though Perot has been off the stage for a decade, strategists in both parties recognize that his supporters remain a key bloc and that voters’ dissatisfaction at the end of the administration of the second President Bush has echoes of the mood when his father was booted from office.

What’s more, neither party has geared up to focus on pet issues of the Perot crowd: opposition to immigration, unfettered trade and foreign wars.

It’s a policy mix that one of the main students of the Perot movement, College of William & Mary political scientist Ron Rapoport, refers to as “economic nationalism.”

Paul has recently made noises about a third-party run. With an anti-interventionist, anti-NAFTA platform, what’s to stop his candidacy from ballooning to Perotian (Perotist? Perotese?) proportions? Sure, he helps Hillary again by siphoning the votes of Republicans who hate her as much as they hate the war. But his effect on the election with Obama or Edwards as the nominee is less clear.

What should progressives do to mitigate Ron Paul as a threat? As we see with other candidates, every press boomlet is followed by a wave of skepticism. It’s far too dangerous for Obama or Edwards to attack Paul, even under the radar. But thankfully, they don’t need to, because when the blogosphere makes noise, the traditional media now takes notice.

This is the time to end Paul’s honeymoon and challenge him on specific policy proposals. Make him state and restate at every campaign stop that he wants to abolish the IRS, Social Security and the Department of Education. And make it clear that he’s an unabashed racist who would yank American foreign aid from the third world.

Libertarianism is often far more attractive in the abstract. Then voters realize the libertarians would hand over control of the federal government to Corporate America and isolate the country on the world stage.

Let’s make sure Iowa and New Hampshire voters know they’d simply be substituting Paul’s fiscal lunacy in place of the deranged foreign policy positions of his opponents.

P.S. A 90-minute PBS debate between Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul would be great for our democracy. Just an idea.

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