Ron Paul's candidacy this primary season presents a kind of mystery. His campaign has been breaking fundraising records in the last three months, garnering with the dollars more national press attention than the Republican congressman from Texas has ever received.
The Ron Paul organization says it raised $6 million Sunday in one of the candidate's "money bombs." But thus far, the money bombs have not turned into likely voter bombs. According to the latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Ron Paul's candidacy has not even cracked 5% of the Republican voter pie. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped Governor Huckabee is surging this week, with 21%.
In some ways this is a reflection of the fact that money means far less in a Google-Youtube election. For the first time in the era of political television, a candidate can reach millions of voters without purchasing airtime.
But we think the disparity between Dr. Paul's fundraising numbers and how he polls, at least among conservatives and Republicans reflects something altogether different. In a wartime election, Republicans just aren't buying Dr. Paul's message.
It's true that the man opposes abortion, seeks to diminish the federal government, and has a good record on cutting taxes. Had Dr. Paul decided to run for the Republican nomination in 1996, he may have had a shot when the party was squeamish about interventions in the former Yugoslavia.
But Dr. Paul is running for office as our military is trying to stand up a democratic Iraqi government and our nation is fighting a global Islamic supremacist movement determined to impose Sharia law on millions of their co-religionists and, eventually, everyone else.
Dr. Paul says Sunni and Shi'ia Shariacrats are expressing legitimate grievances. At last month's Republican debate, Dr. Paul proclaimed on Iraq, "Already, part of their country has been taken back. In the south, they claim the surge has worked, but the surge really hasn't worked. There's less violence, but al-Sadr has essentially won in the south. The British are leaving. The brigade of al-Sadr now is in charge, so they are getting their country back. They're in charge up north — the Shi'ia — the people in the north are in charge, as well, and there's no violence up there or nearly as much."
Let's leave aside that America's allies, the Kurds, are in charge of northern Iraq, and that a Kurd, Jalal Talabani, is also the president of Iraq's federal government that Mr. Sadr's organization withdrew from earlier this year. Dr. Paul's assertion that the brigades of Moqtada al Sadr represent the national aspirations of Iraq's Shi'ia is so silly that it is nonsense.
When Mr. Sadr controlled the health ministry in the federal government, his brigades turned Baghdad's hospitals into abattoirs. Most Iraqi Shiites, like most Iraqi Sunnis, do not want to live under the boot of pious gangsters. In the areas where Mr. Sadr's men are in control, they extract loyalty by fear. To assume that Mr. Sadr's predilection for confessional sadism represents the desires of millions of Iraqis is to make a classic mistake of the left.
Conservatives have traditionally seen through efforts to refashion terrorists and mass murderers into misunderstood nationalists. We didn't buy it when the left tried this with Fidel Castro, we didn't buy it with Ho Chi Minh, and we didn't buy it with Yasser Arafat. What makes Dr. Paul think conservatives and Republicans will go for this line in 2008?
Dr. Paul skates close to this kind of rationalization when it comes to America's chief nemesis, Osama bin Laden. In the first CNN Republican debate in May, Dr. Paul offered this explanation for September 11 in a colloquy with Mayor Giuliani. "Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years," he said. In other words, America was owed the terror of September 11, and Mr. bin Laden and his band of joyless fascists have legitimate grievances. Don't be surprised if Dr. Paul starts lecturing us about root causes and the like, purchasing the popular academic chicanery today that the Western victims of terrorism are its prime movers.
So what exactly will Dr. Paul do with all this money he is raising? He insists he has no desire to run as a third party candidate. But so far there's little indication that Republican voters are much interested in supporting a candidate whose message is that the terrorists have a point.