Newt Gingrich’s stint as the designated front-runner in the GOP primary is drawing to a close. A recent Gallup poll found him back neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney — polling a mere 26 points to Romney’s 24.
Now Ron Paul’s on top.
Leading the Republican field is like being the goose who flies at the head of the V. Dick Cheney snipes at you, you are battered and ruffled by harsh winds and harsher windbags, and eventually you tire and drop back, a bit dazed, only to fly into a telephone wire. You spend the rest of the campaign season migrating slowly closer to Rick Santorum’s end of the debate podiums and wondering whether it was something you said.
The only person surging these days is Ron Paul, whom a line at the very bottom of my contract as a member of the Mainstream Media requires me to ignore, no matter what he does. Received wisdom insists that no matter how well he does in the caucus, he is incapable of making it in the general election — or even the primaries. Then again, received wisdom never predicts that the Republicans will nominate a septuagenarian who likes to Tell People Things Straight, and that was what happened last time, so who knows.
And Ron Paul has a unique cult of personality that is hard to predict.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney do a nice job of splitting the Old People spoils.
But what about the kids?
What’s curious about Ron Paul, as Andrew Sullivan points out, is that he really attracts the young demographic. Come for the small government, offbeat approach and hand-lettered signs. Stay for the opportunity to spend a lot of time posting irate online comments. It’s hard to refuse a pitch like that. Barack Obama should try this technique instead of just creepily offering people dinner. He’s already done some things Ron Paul might approve of — bringing back the troops from Iraq, helping to make the government less popular with Americans than ever before, just to name two. Maybe this is a coordinated strategy. “Get rid of these squiggly light bulbs. I don’t trust ‘em,” he’ll be saying next. “Get us back on the gold standard!”
But maybe Obama will never be able to capture Ron Paul’s peculiar magic.
Perhaps it’s a hipster thing. Like most things espoused by Kids These Days, Ron Paul is vintage. He dates from the 1930s. You have the sense that he appreciates the warm, rich sound of vinyl. Never mainstream enough to be kitschy, always consistent, fervent and dogged, he’s the Betty White of politics, a new Ron for a new era, like Reagan but without all the baggage associated with having airports named after you.
It takes a peculiar concatenation of circumstances to make an old-timer surge into popularity. Witness what happened with Ms. White. It requires consistency on the part of the person himself and fickleness from the general public. It takes a lifetime to perfect. Chuck Norris, tearless and macho. Betty White, foul-mouthed and feisty. Ron Paul, Ron-Paulish. Chuck Norris isn’t cool. He’s Chuck Norris. The same is true of Ron Paul. He’s been doing the same thing for years, in relative obscurity, banging the drum for the Ron Paul brand of American libertarianism. It’s the kind of dogged consistency that pays off online, the instantly recognizable shtick capable of inspiring and transcending parody.
Now suddenly, he’s cool, with a more visible online fanbase than any of the other candidates (at least in terms of who shows up to comment on this blog). He’s practically a meme. And he’s surging in Iowa. Maybe he’ll even make it in the caucus.
Besides, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never count out a septuagenarian named Ronald in the Republican Party.