By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007 8:50 AM
Ron Paul just grabbed the media by the throat and got their attention with the only language they understand: money.
Until now, journalists have basically dismissed the Texas Republican congressman as a joke, a fringe candidate, a comic-relief figure with a whole lot of wacky views. He was entertaining at debates, good fodder for the occasional bemused feature, but otherwise seen as cluttering up the stage.
What reporters and pundits respect, though, is poll numbers and fundraising numbers. And while Paul is anemic on the first, he raised a staggering $4 million online Monday, shattering the previous GOP record.
The one-day total would be a coup for a front-runner, let alone an eccentric also-ran. So reporters across the country put aside their Hillary and Rudy pieces to ask the burning question: How on earth did he do that?
What no news organization will ask, of course, is: How on earth did we miss the significance of the Paul movement?
Politico's Jonathan Martin sees a human Rorschach test:
"Similarly to Howard Dean in the last presidential contest, Paul is becoming a vessel with which one can fill with his hopes, dreams, resentments and grievances. He is, in effect, what you want him to be. Many on the left choose to ignore that Dean was a pro-gun, budget-balancing Yankee moderate governor. They wanted an anti-war, anti-establishment spear-carrier and Dean, a son of Park Avenue, become the unlikely leader.
"Just the same, many Paul supporters don't know or don't care about his somewhat outlandish views on the Gold Standard. They just want a man who will speak truth to power about the war and, more broadly, a flawed foreign policy that has been hijacked by neocons.
"So Paul could potentially play a role in both the New Hampshire primary (where Democrats and independents can vote) and in the general election, should he choose to run as a third-party candidate. And in the general he could take from both parties. For all the elite media obsessing over Michael Bloomberg and his mushy centrism, it's not global warming and trans-fats that will energize most Americans. Rather it's flashpoint issues like the war, immigration and jobs (i.e. trade policy). And an 'America First' candidate -- even a Libertarian-leaning one -- who stood squarely against interventionism, any sort of amnesty and free trade deals would have natural appeal."
National Review's David Frum, who is working for Giuliani, is puzzled but not worried:
"Of course I am saddened to discover that many thousands of Americans have rallied to a candidate campaigning on a Michael Moore view of the world.
"Saddened, but not greatly surprised. There is a constituency for anything in a country this big. And from a pragmatic political point of view, it's also true that the Paul candidacy helps rather than hurts my party and my preferred nominee, Rudy Giuliani. Rudy is in no danger of losing Republican primary voters to Ron Paul. And if (as I have speculated) Paul mounts an independent candidacy in the general election, he will draw votes from disaffected Democrats, disappointed in Hillary Clinton's failure to articulate a more radical antiwar message. As third-party candidates go, Ron Paul is Nader, not Perot."
Andrew Sullivan sees a validation of his view of Republicanism:
"The Ron Paul phenomenon is real. The Christianists and neocons will decry it because it affects their power over the GOP. And because when a conservative stands for freedom again, it resonates and threatens them. Congrats, Congressman - and everyone who is pulling for him. Whatever happens in this race, Paul's candidacy has already provided a focus for all of those conservatives who despise the big-spending, unchecked executive, busy-body, Christianist wing of the GOP. And all those liberals who know that a new politics - centered around individual freedom and global peace - needs to be born."
Elsewhere on the right, Paul is still something of a punch line. CBN's David Brody:
"Are you kidding me? Ron Paul is becoming the Thurston Howell III of presidential politics. (Look it up. It's my Gilligan's Island reference,) What we are seeing here is pretty amazing. I'm somewhat speechless which is rare. OK, Ron Paul has the money side down pat. Now, his national poll numbers need to start moving. It's funny. Huckabee's poll numbers are moving without much money. Paul isn't moving as much nationally yet he has much more green."
But even if Paul's odds are a zillion to one, could he affect the other contenders? Yes, says Steven Stark at Real Clear Politics:
"Its real significance is this: Paul is still terribly unlikely to do well at all in the race for the GOP nomination. But to the extent he gets any votes, he probably gets at least some of them at the expense of John McCain -- another candidate with appeal to independents. This is especially true in New Hampshire -- a state with some libertarian leanings -- and a state in which McCain must either finish near the top or end his candidacy.
"The long-term significance . . . is that Paul has now shown enough grass roots financial support that he can think about a credible third-party candidacy -- something he already tried 20 years ago as a libertarian."
At Power Line, Paul Mirengoff is dismissive toward the man who bears his name:
"Ron Paul is not a serious force at this juncture, and there's no reason why the fact that 40,000 people saw fit to give him money should cause the rest of the population to give him a second (or a first) look . . .
"The candidate understands his campaign very well -- it's an anti-war candidacy and little else. Notice how during debates, he routinely turns questions about domestic policy -- normally meat and drink for a libertarian -- back to Iraq.
"The only other seriously distinguishing feature of the campaign is that it's nutty. Being anti-war is respectable, but Paul's opposition to the war is founded on conspiracy theories, over-the-top isolationism, and an unhealthy dose of hostility to Israel."
But Paul's haul gets a much more respectful hearing from Captain Ed, who wonders whether the formula can be bottled:
"The libertarian impulse may have stronger legs than anyone recognizes. It certainly seems more individually vibrant than the 'values voters' segment of the Republican Party, which hasn't even produced a candidate in this election, let alone this kind of impromptu grassroots effort . . .
"Beyond Paul and his flaws, the Republicans had better start paying attention to these voters. Like it or not, they represent a passion that seems to have left the GOP in recent months, and even if they skew young and may not vote as promised this cycle, they will eventually."
On the left, there is a kind of admiration without endorsement. Here's Kos:
"Amazingly, it had nothing to do with Paul's campaign. His supporters decided on their own to do a flash mob fundraiser and pulled it off handily . . . His supporters are banned from Republican websites like Red State and establishment Republicans try to find ways to keep him out of their debates. Pretty funny.
"This is the single biggest example of people-power this cycle. And as annoying as it is that we're seeing it from a Republican -- and a crazy one at that -- it's nevertheless a beautiful thing to behold."
Salon's Glenn Greenwald says Paul's fundraising success "is being ignored by much of our establishment press -- not a single article about it in The Washington Post (though it is discussed on a couple of their blogs), nor even a mention of it on the websites of CNN or CBS News (which found space to report on Stephen Colbert's non-candidacy). But MSNBC and Fox News did at least both post the AP article on the Paul story."
(The Post ran an item in its Trail column yesterday, but that was hardly huge play.)
"Regardless of how much attention the media pays, the explosion of support for the Paul campaign Monday is much more than a one-time event. The Paul campaign is now a bona fide phenomenon of real significance, and it is difficult to see this as anything other than a very positive development.
"There are, relatively speaking, very few people who agree with most of Paul's policy positions. In fact, a large portion of Americans -- perhaps most -- will find something in his litany of beliefs with which they not only disagree, but vehemently so. Paul has a coherent political world-view and states his positions clearly and unapologetically, without hedges, and that approach naturally ensures greater disagreement than the form of please-everyone obfuscation which drives most candidates.
"Paul, of course, is not only in favor of immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but also emphatically opposes the crux of America's bipartisan foreign policy consensus. He reserves his greatest scorn for America's hegemonic rule of the world through superior military force, i.e., its acting as an empire in order to prop up its entangling alliances and enduring conflicts . . .
"At the same time, Paul is as much of an anti-abortion extremist as it gets, having proposed federal legislation to define conception as the beginning of life, and denying federal courts jurisdiction to adjudicate abortion cases. He is near the far end of what is considered the 'right' in terms of immigration policy and favors a drastically reduced role for the federal government in everything from education to health care.
"So there is at least something in Paul's worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate, if they are so inclined. Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about our political discourse and about what kind of country this is supposed to be."
A NYT blog by Virginia Heffernan says Paul is popular in cyberspace because he gets "lots of video praise from blogosphere-certified free-thinkers Jon Stewart and Bill Maher" and "an ascetic engineer's appearance (no hairspray, dye, bronzer or veneers) and plain-talk style that appeals to male bloggers who cherish the illusion of no spin."
But the posting could use a little editing. It ends by saying: "He's up to $7,306,451.20 total -- or make that $TK total." TK is newspaper-ese for "to come," a placeholder in a first draft in which the reporter is promising to come back with the missing fact. Well, I'm sure they'll get around to it.
So much for Hillary stumbling in that debate: A USA Today poll gives her a 50-22 lead over Obama, with Edwards at 15. Rudy leads McCain 34 to 18, with Thompson at 17 and Romney at 14.
Bill gets spanked, at least as the New York Post tells it:
"Bill Clinton found himself in an unusual and uncomfortable position yesterday -- drawing intense fire from Democratic presidential candidates and a brushback from his wife's own campaign.
"Barack Obama and Chris Dodd both took rare shots at the former president for claiming that critics of Hillary's stance on giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants were unfairly trying to 'swift boat her . . .
"In a stunning in-house slap at the former president, a senior adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said the former president's remarks were not part of campaign strategy and were considered counterproductive by her advisers."
But there's no quote, even an anonymous one, to back up the headline that Hill was giving her husband "A 'Swift' Kick."
"Betty Larson of Amherst said, 'He's a mean son of a bitch, and that's exactly what we need.' "
Dean Barnett starts out praising Obama, but then switches gears:
"Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate . . .
"All of which makes his campaign's ineptness more mysterious. Yes, Obama gives a great speech; I think we can all agree on that. But whatever special qualities that so impressed those who knew him back in the day haven't translated to the realm of wholesale politics . . .
"On the campaign trail . . . Obama comes across as the opposite of an alpha male. In the fight for the Democratic nomination, that role has fallen to Hillary Clinton. Obama is reminiscent of another extremely impressive man who fell flat as a wholesale politician--Admiral James Stockdale. Like Stockdale, Obama doesn't seem exactly sure of who he is or what he's doing running for president."
As for someone who says he's not running for president, the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti wonders why Michael Bloomberg rated a Newsweek cover story:
"New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has done an okay job of not undoing any of Rudy Giuliani's signature reforms. But this excerpt from Jon Meacham's more-than-6,000-word-long cover story in Newsweek is absolute hyperbole:
" Note what else he remembers, too: The raised platform. The assembled revelers. Photographers snapping away. A real live microphone. For Bloomberg, public service and public attention are inextricably linked, and he thrives in the spotlight. From TR to FDR to Reagan, our greatest politicians have understood that showmanship is a critical element of leadership, and Bloomberg is among the best showmen and leaders at work in American politics.
"Really? 'Among the best'? You've got to wonder why Bloomberg has received so much fawning attention from the media, since he is identified closely with no particular ideology, issue, or movement, and does not command any real broad base of national support. But then you realize that he does have a lot of money, owns an incredible media company, throws some great parties, and is the executive of the jurisdiction in which most of the major magazine editors and television news producers live. The Bloomberg presidential bubble seems more and more like one of the greatest cases of New York City parochialism in my lifetime. Sounds like it's time again to dust off the old Saul Steinberg 'View of the World' New Yorker cover."
Shades of Vince Foster: Kathleen Willey may or may not have been groped by Bill Clinton as she claims. But why would anyone publish a book in which she says she suspects that the Clintons were responsible for the death of her husband, who was thought to have committed suicide? This wouldn't be a case of trying to make a few bucks with wild accusations by playing to Hillary-haters, would it?