WASHINGTON TIMES | William J. Kelly | December 19, 2011
With the all-important Iowa caucuses just around the holiday corner on January 3, tensions are riding high in GOP presidential campaign circles. But with Ron Paul surging in some Iowa polls, the result is an overcooked Republican stew threatening to boil over.
Suddenly, in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Paul’s periscope has broken the surface. He’s running in second place in many December polls of Iowa caucus goers. He’s known to have an energized campaign on the ground. Sound the claxons! Code red! Battle stations!
The prospect of a Ron Paul win is causing shocks and seizures within the GOP establishment, and with good reason. A new survey by left-leaning Public Policy Polling this weekend shows Paul leading the pack with 23%, Romney at 20%, and Gingrich at 14%. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Paul in third place – just two percentage points behind Gingrich and five behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (See GOP Will Take Gloves Off if Ron Paul Wins Iowa)
A Paul win in Iowa would be a disaster for Gingrich, whom some Tea Party leaders view as the conservative alternate to Romney. And, with the public’s growing lack of confidence in a weakened President Obama, there is much at stake for the Republican Party to win back the White House; something that insiders believe a Paul victory would undermine.
Today, Paul and his supporters hold an uneasy place within the Republican Party. The one-time third party presidential candidate’s textbook libertarian views and isolationist policies enrage the GOP’s social conservative base. The unbridled anger and name-calling is now in full swing – this “season of peace” notwithstanding.
Politics, it seems, never takes a holiday.
For many in the GOP and Tea Party movements, Ron Paul is a crank; the crazy uncle of the right, the quack eccentric geezer with the ability to put a wrench in the system. And those are just some of the nicer expressions some conservatives have used to describe him. Is he a crank? Ron Paul supporters certainly do not feel that way. To them, he is a courageous and principled leader who tells it like it really is, an outsider with the power of the people behind him, fighting the bad guys and evil-doers.
Paul, too, seems uncomfortable in his Republican skin. On Friday’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno, sounding more like a pundit on MSNBC, he lashed on at his fellow GOP rivals. He accused Michelle Bachman of “hating” Muslims, and Rick Santorum of hating gays and Muslims, a move certain to stoke social conservative anger. He doesn't seem to want to win their hearts and minds.
So are Ron Paul and his supporters really at home in the GOP? Is the Republican Party the final refuge of libertarians tired of third-party runs and desirous of achieving political power? Or is Ron Paul’s popularity part and parcel of the Tea Party movement or a cross-section of it at work? And if not the GOP – where do Paulians belong?
Of course, the Tea Party movement is not a monolith. It is composed of social conservatives, free market conservatives, independents, libertarians, conservative Democrats, and Republicans. But social conservatives have taken the reigns of many Republican and Tea Party organizations and have come to view Paul and his supporters with disdain, suspicion, even hatred. They see him as a grand threat to the GOP's opportunity to prevent President Obama from another four disastrous years.
“I have come to the conclusion that arguing with ‘Paulbots’ is a waste of energy so I have stopped trying,” says Bill Hart, a conservative Tea Party supporter. “They are a real threat to our country’s well being.”
“Ron Paul is just nutty and egotistical enough to ensure that Obama has four more years,” says Bob Holland, a concerned GOP primary voter.
“I just feel disdain for the poor ignorant souls who use the term ‘Paulbots.’ These people are ignorant to our Founding and the Constitution. I have more disdain for them than people like Obama, Rahm, and Hillary,” says Cathy Peschke, a New Hampshire voter and Ron Paul supporter.
“They [Ron Paul supporters] hijacked the Republican Party, we're just taking it back,” argues Texas voter Chad Lang.
Whether conservative Republican primary voters can overcome the Paul surge will be determined on January 3; but the sizeable political rift that exists between traditional Republicans and Ron Paul supporters may be the real threat to GOP victory in 2012 in Iowa and beyond.