Tea Party and the Right

How Ron Paul Could Win Iowa Caucuses -- and Screw Up Everything

Should Ron Paul win the first-in-the-nation presidential contest, the pundits will have egg on their faces, and Paul will have an interesting path in front of him.

Photo Credit: Rep. Ron Paul

In the week before Christmas, the elfin creatures of the world are said to be very, very busy, hammering out toys for all the good girls and boys. At least one, however, is busy plotting his revenge -- revenge on the media, whose smarty-pants talkers regard him as a curiosity; on the Republican Party, whose establishment has long dismissed him as a crank; on the president of the United States, who, as an African American, has the audacity to lead a nation in which he shouldn't even have the right to sit at a lunch counter.

This industrious fellow, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is planning to win the Iowa caucuses, the January 3 opening round of the GOP presidential primary season, just as the nation settles into its post-holiday doldrums. And from the way it looks now, he'll probably do just that.

Follow the Bursting Bubble

Barely over a week ago, conventional wisdom-peddlers were shifting their bets from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Ga., as polls showed the bombastic bomb-thrower surging. But bubbles have a tendency to burst, as Gingrich himself surely knows, having collected $1.6 million for his historical advice to bubble king Freddie Mac, the federally sponsored mortgage giant whose executives were charged with fraud last week by the Securities and Exchange Commission for their role in creating the spectacular bursting orb that brought down the global economy. Since his peak polling in Iowa last week at 27 percent, according to Public Policy Polling (some polls had him as high as 33 percent), Gingrich lost 13 points, leading PPP analysts to describe his campaign, with its current 14 percent share and high unfavorability ratings, as “imploding.” (Just as we predicted during the Newt bubble's peak.)

Taking Gingrich's first-place slot is Ron Paul, with 23 percent of likely caucus-goers saying they'll cast their vote for a man who once struggled to get debate moderators to give him questions.

The Pied Piper

As the media found themselves dazzled by the Gingrich who threatened to steal Christmas from the presumably anointed Romney last week, they paid little mind to the sounds of hammering emanating from a virtual workshop on the Iowa plains. There, Ron Paul had been gathering thousands of sock-hatted junior elves from college campuses, helpers enraptured by the magic of a proposed foreign policy that promised no more wars (not even a war on drugs), along with an economic policy that pledge the banishment of a government Voldemort called the Fed, and the paving of a yellow-brick road with gold-backed currency, lined with sticky stalks of Acapulco Gold.

On the very weekend of the short-lived Gingrich groundswell, the Des Moines Register reported that Paul's events were drawing the largest crowds among the candidates' confabs -- events that, by my estimation, are likely filled with people who do not even register in polls, as their profiles do not comport with those typical of the polling category, “likely caucus-goers.” While PPP tried to get at those folks, it's a tough demographic to measure with any accuracy.

In Iowa, all it takes to cast a ballot in your local GOP caucus is to be a registered voter. You can show up at the caucus and declare yourself to be a Republican right there and then -- whether you've identified in the past as an independent, or you voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008. Even if, as an enthusiastic first-time voter, you voted for, say, Barack Obama way back then. It's no secret that those who pulled the lever for Barack Obama in their first-ever presidential election are pretty disillusioned right now, especially over the administration's foreign policy.

According to a poll of millennials released last week by Harvard's Institute of Politics (via Real Clear Politics' Carl Cannon):

Obama's job performance rating among America's 18- to 29-year-olds is at its lowest point since the IOP began polling on the Obama administration in 2009.

And Ron Paul has a Pied Piper appeal to a certain kind of young person; he seems to warble at a frequency that only they can hear. (There's even a “dragon slayer” video game you can play on your candidate's behalf; slay a dragon, and the game developer contributes $5 to the Paul campaign.)

People looking for an idealistic hero famously latch onto Paul with a messianic fervor, choosing to look past his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which outlawed racial segregation and employment discrimination), his absolutist stance against abortion in any and all circumstances, his links to the John Birch Society, the reams of racist newsletters put out in his name, and his links to the Christian Reconstructionist ideology that aims to bring civil law in line with the law of the Hebrew Bible, where adulterers and gay men are stoned in the public square.

Having built a strong ground operation throughout the state, Ron Paul's elves have not been mourning the reputation of their candidate as he's been dissed by mainstream media; they've been organizing.

Conventional wisdom-peddlers, notes Slate's David Weigel, have been saying that Ron Paul's unconventional foreign policy -- especially his comments about U.S. culpability for inviting Islamist terrorism, or about Iran not posing an existential threat to America in last Thursday's debate -- spell doom in Iowa for Paul. But as Weigel implies with his sly headline, “Was This the Moment That Ron Paul Lost Iowa?”, those remarks may alienate your standard-issue caucus goers, but Ron Paul's caucus-goers will be anything but standard-issue.

As the PPP folks put it:  

Young voters, independents, and folks who haven't voted in caucuses before is an unusual coalition for a Republican candidate...the big question is whether these folks will really come out and vote...if they do, we could be in for a big upset.

A Busy Workshop

At the Ron Paul Heartland Holiday Workshop, they're cranking out more than the yard signs and bumper stickers I'm told are ubiquitous throughout the Hawkeye State.

Down in the workshop basement, the Ron Paul media team has been assembling devastating attack ads [video] against Gingrich -- highlighting the former House speaker's hypocrisy, his ideological inconsistency, his influence-peddling on behalf of Freddie Mac, his prior support for an individual mandate on health insurance (read “Obamacare”), and the common cause he once made with the demon Nancy Pelosi on the topic of (gasp) climate change.

What of Romney, you ask? Why has Paul hardly laid a glove on Mittens? Because, really, Romney doesn't stand in Paul's way. He's not likely to draw from Paul's unconventional voter base, nor is he likely to do well among the majority of regular caucus-goers, who largely hail from evangelical faiths and are disinclined to put their trust in a Mormon such as Romney. And if Iowa voters needed any reminder that Romney is not one of them, Rick Perry has taken care of things on the Mormon-bashing front, allowing Paul to remain above that ugly little fray.

What's It All Mean?

Once Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses, he'll have a decent shot at winning the New Hampshire primary. Even if he finishes a close second in Iowa, that will be true. It's just the way momentum works. Ultimately, he won't win the GOP nomination, but that is likely not his aim.

I expect that soon after Super Tuesday, after having accumulated enough delegates to be something of a power broker going into the Republican National Convention, Ron Paul will get out of the race. He could play a game such as that played by Pat Buchanan in 1996, where he threatens to dramatically walk his delegates out of the convention until he gets control of the GOP platform, leaving the Republican presidential nominee to run on an agenda that calls for the end of the Fed and Social Security, and to implement the gold standard for currency. Or, he might just begin a third-party run even before the convention begins.

In 2008, after dropping out of the GOP presidential contest (following a fifth-place finish in Iowa), Paul did not go on to endorse John McCain. Instead, he backed Chuck Baldwin, nominee of the Constitution Party, which despite its secular name, is the political wing of the Christian Reconstructionist movement.

As third parties go, the Constitution Party is impressive, having climbed momentous hurdles to appear on the ballot in 37 states in 2008. In 2010, it achieved major party status in Colorado, thanks to the gubernatorial bid of former congressman and anti-immigrant crank Tom Tancredo.

At last week's Iowa debate, when asked if he would endorse the GOP nominee, Ron Paul dodged the question. I expect he will again endorse the Constitution Party's nominee -- especially if it's him.

While a third-party run by any of its early primary winners could cause problems for the Republican Party, if Paul is the third-party standard bearer, it's a circumstance that could prove vexing as well to the Obama campaign, siphoning off the most enthusiastic sort of young voters that Barack Obama relied on for his 2008 triumph. And in 2012, Obama will need every vote he can muster.  

For Ron Paul, this may just be the perfect holiday season -- one that delivers, before next Thanksgiving, a GOP pushed even further to his America-first, anti-government, Christianist agenda, while delivering a mighty blow to a despised Democratic foe. As Will Ferrell, in a postmodern cinematic holiday classic, said of the malevolent imp, Miles Finch, “He’s an angry elf.”

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan