Tea leaves and straw polls

Ron Paul won’t win a Republican primary, but he took the CPAC straw poll this weekend.  Mitt Romney came in second with 22% to Paul’s 31%, and Sarah Palin was a distant third, with only 7%.

Paul is a bit of an odd duck as far as candidates go.  He can raise money and gin up excited activist, he appeals to thinkers and rabblerousers alike, but the CPAC straw poll will likely be the most significant election he ever wins.  Yet Ron Paul is not entirely a kook.  His small government ideas – including a very detailed monetary policy speak volumes about the same electoral sentiment that bristles at stimulus spending and bailouts.

Good candidates and campaigns understand that you must win both activists and voters.  Paul can do the former but not the latter, but his CPAC victory does provide a roadmap for Republicans eyeing the 2012 presidential nomination.  The trick is to understand the ideas Paul and other policy wonks talk about so much that they can take another step: explain what those ideas and policies mean to the American voter.

This is the missing ingredient in many of the conservative movement manifestos that have been making the rounds in recent weeks.  Honestly, no one gets excited about the idea of returning to the founding, or creating less government.  People get excited by a path forward that takes them to a better place.

This isn’t a call to nominate professors who can use charts and powerpoints to prove their correctness.  I like slogans and catch phrases.  But to really distill an issue into a meaningful sound bite, catch phrase, or slogan, one has to understand that issue.  Otherwise, the catchprase doesn’t translate meaningfully.

Ron Paul has bold new ideas about the direction the country ought to follow – and it’s an exciting vision to the Republicans at CPAC.  The ideal 2012 Republican nominee will talk about why those ideas will look like as national governing policy – and, more importantly, why they will help American citizens more.

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