Last week the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Ron Paul didn't win Iowa. He didn't win New Hampshire. He won't win here [South Carolina] on Saturday, and he won't win Florida. The Texas congressman will not likely be the first choice for Republican nominee in a single U.S. state.” This journalist seems so perplexed with Paul’s campaign strategies that she asks “What does Mr. Paul want?” (WSJ, Strassel, Jan 20). Despite his enormous popularity, Ron Paul doesn’t have the kind of traction that the front-running candidates have. There are large philosophical differences between Libertarians and Conservatives. And though they agree on some things, the polls show that the GOP is not changing. I tend to take a libertarian stance on most political issues, and even though I like him, I don’t really pay much attention to Ron Paul. After all, his ill-fitting suits and rants on the FED are off putting to a lot of voters, and I don’t think he has much of a chance at winning the nomination. However, after spending Winter Break in Peru and Chile, I learned that we shouldn’t analyze Ron Paul’s success as in a purely political context
In South America whenever I met someone new, after asking where I was from, the next question was always ‘do you like Ron Paul?’ The question came almost systematically. I always replied, “Sure, he’s cool, but he won’t win.” My acquaintances seemed to be disappointed with my lack of enthusiasm. In many conversations, my college aged friends quoted things from Ron Paul’s newsletters, and during breaks from a class I took in Chile, my fellow students asked me if I had seen what Ron Paul ‘tweeted’ during the class. I don’t even follow Ron Paul on Twitter.
I was shocked to see so much enthusiasm for U.S. Presidential Candidate from students on a different continent, not even eligible to vote in the U.S. election. The illegal drug trade, and the violence stemming from it, is such an important political issue in Latin America, that I figured Ron Paul’s ‘pro-legalization’ stance was the root of his popularity, but that’s really only part of it. A libertarian candidate as popular and as seriously acknowledged by the general public as Ron Paul is not something that public opinion would allow in stereotypically left-leaning Latin America. They highly respect the support he has.
Despite my first reactions, I realized this respect is not unfounded. We tend to judge Ron Paul’s success like the Wall Street Journal did last week: via his performance in the election. His chances in the election don’t look so good, but he is succeeding in another realm. After he came in fourth place in the South Carolina primary he remarked, “The message of liberty is being received by more people every day,” and in this realm Paul is succeeding.
You don’t have to win elections to promote social change. In fact, President Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan was the Democrat party’s candidate for President in the 1896, 1900, and 1908 elections. He lost every time- even after 500 speeches. However, he managed to change the Democratic Party’s platform to the big-government-oriented, progressive-leaning character that we know today. Bryan, the person, failed, but his ideas succeeded. Winning elections is only one metric of success.
Ron Paul is succeeding in spreading ideas about liberty. Other campaigns have accepted his positions on monetary policy, students in other countries know his name, he is the second most popular presidential candidate on Facebook, and there are over 500 University-based Ron Paul groups. Paul might lose the GOP nomination, but one can’t deny his huge social influence- in fact, his ideas seem to be winning. Even if he loses the GOP nomination, Ron Paul is leading a movement to renew an American political ideology based on individual, civil, and Economic liberty. Just like William Jennings Bryan, Ron Paul can lose and still succeed. We shouldn’t let his lackluster political performance lead us to underestimate his power as a social influence.