For some in the mainstream media, critics of government are all alike. That’s why some are treating Congressman Ron Paul, the Harold Stassen of the screwball libertarian crowd, as if he were the incarnation of the Tea Party movement that swept the nation last year. Or so, at least, Michael Shear suggests in the New York Times. “The rise of the Tea Party movement,” Shear says, “offers Mr. Paul an opportunity to be embraced as a kind of mainstream candidate that he never was while running last time around .”
In a word, nonsense. Paul’s beliefs about the role government do overlap to some extent with Tea Party principles. But anyone who cared to listen to him during last week’s first Republican presidential debate in South Carolina quickly understood that the Texas congressman, and his fans, aren’t exactly in sync with the Republican Party or any other party, including the one named Tea.
Paul isn’t just an opponent of taxes and of federal spending and entitlements, issues that drive the Tea Party. He is an ideological extremist, combining fiscal conservatism with isolationism on foreign affairs and amoral stands on drugs and prostitution and other social issues that leave him with little in common with even the wackiest of Tea Partiers, let alone the rest of the country. Paul has his libertarian fans and they tend to show up in droves at his speeches and straw polls, cheering wildly. But as was the case in 2008, once the votes started being counted he will be seen as a marginal candidate. Paul can and will raise a lot of money and be a vocal participant in the primaries. But that doesn’t mean he has crossed the threshold into mainstream acceptance.
The Tea Party vote is up for grabs in the Republican race. A fiscal conservative like Mitch Daniels will have an argument to make that he most effectively represents their views. But an outsider such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who combines Tea Party principles on government with social conservatism, could also compete for their support. In a race with a genuine conservative, even an outlier like Bachmann, Paul doesn’t stand a chance.
But don’t expect liberal journalists to understand the difference. To them, all right-wingers look alike.