RON PAUL TOOK IN $4.2 million in honor of Guy Fawkes Day Monday. While this is a wonderful haul for the congressman, it's not quite accurate to say he raised it or even that his campaign raised it. Paul supporters organized the event on their own with minimal coordination with the campaign.
Naturally, the champions of "people power" have rushed forward to praise this event and point out how it can be replicated. Markos Moulitsas, perhaps the leading authority on how to make it look like you've personally created an internet phenomenon even when you had nothing to do with it, has already rushed out an essay summing up the Paul phenomenon. Moulitsas's analysis comes replete with mind-numbing platitudes and easy-to-repeat formulas for other candidates to apply, presumably once they've retained an internet guru like Moulitsas to show them the way.
There's a ton of good lessons there for future campaigns to learn. Paul's internet team--out of necessity, no doubt--have been brilliantly efficient and effective in evangelizing their candidate on social networks throughout the web. The cost is likely negligible--a couple of staffers--while the payoff speaks for itself.
Too bad the other campaigns didn't think of hiring internet teams that would be brilliant in evangelizing their candidate on the social networks. In truth, the other campaigns also hired internet gurus who promised their employers/candidates that they too held the secret to harnessing the internet's vast power. But Paul's fundraising success has nothing to do with web savvy savants running his campaign or even the technical abilities of his followers.
Paul is a fringe candidate who broke through into being a cult figure. To use a metaphor that seems oddly appropriate, Dr. Paul has gone viral. Although marketers everywhere probably wish they could plan such things, they can't. I would bet even Paul himself is slightly bewildered by his popularity, and perhaps wonders why people who think Dick Cheney personally imploded WTC Tower 7 have flocked to his banner.
CRAZY PEOPLE LOVE to have a cause. Usually politics doesn't offer a candidate worthy of their ardor. The 2008 campaign looked like it would be more of the same in that regard. The Democratic candidates all basically stand for the same boring platform. At their debates, the only thing they really contest is who despises George W. Bush more.
At one point, John Edwards looked like he would flirt with the lunatic fringe of American politics. When asked about the "suspicious" collapse of Tower 7, the ever-polite Edwards vowed to look into it. But even the nakedly craven Edwards decided "Trutherism" wasn't a promising avenue to go down. He hasn't mentioned Tower 7 since that obscure YouTube moment.
So why have America's lunatics taken such a shine to the formerly obscure Ron Paul? There's a simple explanation: Although Paul spends most of his time talking about the Constitution and such cherished old time policies as the gold standard, he's as close to an anarchist as we're likely to see in presidential politics.
An anarchist? Ron Paul? I can almost hear you out there--"Surely he's joking."
I'm not, and stop calling me Shirley. Think about it. Ron Paul has taken a good, hard look around America and hates everything he sees. He hates the Iraq war. He hates the rest of our foreign policy. He pretty much thinks we shouldn't have a foreign policy. He hates our bloated and meddlesome federal government. (What's that they say about stuck clocks?) He hates abortion. He hates the Treasury and floating currency. Basically, he wishes it were 1796 and he could wear a powdered wig without being ridiculed in public. While Ron Paul himself has no fondness for anarchy, the same cannot be said of his devotees. It's not an accident that they celebrated their hero on a day named for Guy Fawkes, perhaps the greatest anarchist in the history of the English speaking world.
If you hate something about our modern society, chances are Ron Paul agrees with you. Passionately. Ron Paul doesn't go for half-measures or speaking in measured tones. Everything he sees is a threat of biblical proportions. If you're the kind of person whose neighbors call you a crank, you probably see Ron Paul as a kindred spirit. And chances are he's with you on the subject for which you've achieved your notoriety in crankdom.
In many ways, the Paul phenomenon parallels Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. Like Paul, Dean resided outside the mainstream of both parties. Dean was the only candidate in 2004 who ran as an explicitly antiwar candidate. And thus, the centrist governor of a tiny New England state became the darling of radicals everywhere. Like Paul, Dean had a decidedly non-political personality, which gave his supporters' blather about "a movement" a dollop of extra credibility. Also like Paul, Governor Dean raised a fortune on the internet.
You may recall that Dean's fundraising guru, Joe Trippi, loudly boasted that he had cracked the code for turning the internet into a money tree that a skilled political advisor like Joe Trippi could shake at will for any candidate willing to retain him. When last heard from, Trippi had signed on with the Edwards '08 campaign. When the Edwards campaign was last heard from, it was cueing up for public financing, Trippi's boasts having proven hollow.
In fairness to the Dean campaign, the erstwhile Vermont potentate was much closer to the mainstream than Ron Paul is. That's why Dr. Dean came a lot closer to the nomination than Ron Paul will.
SO WHAT does the Ron Paul campaign mean? At a practical level, it's difficult to tell which party Paul will hurt more if he runs as a third party candidate in the general election. My hunch is that he'll hurt the Democrats more. Ron Paul's supporters tend to be angry over just about everything. Such people are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
On a grander level, the Ron Paul campaign has shown that a candidate who appeals to a motivated fringe can make some noise. After all, people who are willing to be Tased just to interrupt a soporific John Kerry speech and berate the senator for allowing Republicans to steal the 2004 election from him are probably also willing to write a check for a candidate who speaks to their frustrations.
In 2008, that candidate is Ron Paul, the undisputed owner of the "Don't Tase Me Bro" vote.
Dean Barnett is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.