Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ron Paul Goes After the GOP's Other Interest Groups


The Republican Party, as with the Democratic Party, is nothing more than a collection of interest groups who have come together under one banner to elect candidates. If you were to broadly specify the interest groups that currently make up the Republican Party, you would have to say libertarians, Burkean conservatives, evangelical conservatives, business people, neoconservative hawks, and increasingly protectionists of varying stripes (especially on the immigration issue). In their own way, the Republican establishment must be something of a Frankenstein's monster of these groups in order to keep each group under their banner.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, libertarians have little in common with evangelical conservatives and increasingly have little in common with neo-conservatives. Similarly, evangelical conservatives are realizing they have very little in common with libertarians and business people now that the Cold War is long over. Nonetheless, these groups (except, maybe for the libertarians) are for the moment still under the Republican tent and still vote in the Republican primaries and caucuses. Thus any candidate hoping to make an impact on the Republican race must find a way of appealing to each of these groups.

This is especially true of Ron Paul, whose base of support, libertarians, has largely abandoned the Republican Party in recent years. While he has brought some back into the fold, and has also brought in some disillusioned Progressives, his appeals based on his libertarian opposition to the war in Iraq has little or no appeal to the rest of the Republican interest groups.

Today, he unveiled a well-produced ad that is clearly geared to the non-libertarian interest groups under the GOP tent (well, not so much the neo-cons). He had previously been appealing only to libertarians, crossover Democrats and the increasingly large protectionist elements of the GOP. This new ad makes a direct appeal to evangelicals, business "Wall Street" Republicans, gun rights conservatives, and yes, even national defense focused neo-cons. Nowhere in the ad does he mention his core issue of opposing international endeavors; the ad even quite shrewdly states right up front "he defends our freedom" and mentions his service in the military, a not-so-subtle appeal to "national defense" conservatives. At the end, he throws in a line about "our God-given freedom" that is clearly intended for evangelical conservatives.

In many ways, this ad may disappoint some of his followers because it is not particularly ideological. To be honest, I can understand why they would feel that way; certainly, it undercuts the notion that Paul is unwilling to pander (though he's still less of a panderer than the rest of the GOP field, save possibly McCain). Unfortunately in our two-party system, you can't do well in a primary without appealing to more than one or two interest groups. It's a sad reality, and it's the reason why party establishment-types (on both sides of the aisle) are generally unprincipled and wind up creating something of an inconsistent "pu-pu platter" of favored policies. But it's reality nonetheless, and politicians hoping to do well will usually have to play to that reality.

I suspect that this ad, which accepts that unfortunate reality, will help Paul. However, its value will be limited to the extent that voters have already formed a negative opinion of him. On the whole, it is probably too little, too late to help him noticeably, but it is a shrewdly done political ad that understands the political reality within the Republican Party. The ad is posted below: