A strong and close second-place finish at the Ames Straw poll for Ron Paul ignited almost no media coverage whatsoever – until some folks realized that Paul wasn’t getting any media coverage, which then became the story. It’s one thing for Paul supporters to air their grievances about being ignored, but in a rare moment of astute political insight, even the Daily Show called out the media’s Paul-sized blind spot.
Charles Krauthammer had a valid answer: Paul will not be President. He will not be as successful when the straw polls give way to caucuses, and he will do worse yet when the decisions come from the ballot box. For a media covering horse race politics, giving serious ink to Ron Paul is like giving ink to Mr. Ed – he’s interesting, but he ain’t beating Secretariat, or any other horse. On the other hand, while Tim Carney admits that Paul is a bad candidate, he points out that the Congressman has been consistently proven correct in his assessment of domestic and foreign policy over several years. Stewart quips that Paul planted the small government seeds that germinated into today’s grassroots tea party movement.
Carney and Stewart are correct. The real issue is a political press that doesn’t understand politics beyond the tally of votes in the second week in November. The small government ethos that inspired the tea party to take out incumbents in 2010 has been brewing since late in the first term of George W. Bush, when the Republican party was entrenched in the legislative and executive but without a clear governing vision. Paul was an early banner carrier for that philosophy, and in many way is the heart and soul of the current Republican party. As he chugs along with single-digit polling numbers, other candidates have been and will be elected with Paul’s ideas.
Many political mini-movements see their standard-bearers run into electoral machine gun fire early on. Remember that in 2004, Howard Dean crystallized the Democratic left but failed to win a single primary or caucus (except for his home state of Vermont, and that came after he had dropped out of the race). By 2006, Democrat activists were dumping off Joe Lieberman in a primary and in 2008 they put a charismatic leader in the White House – bit it was Dean in 2004 who lit the fire. There are winning candidates, and there are important candidates; the two are not always the same.