The efforts to gently guide Ron Paul out of the race while coaxing his supporters to Mitt Romney are already beginning. It’s an entertaining dance to watch, especially from conservatives like Jim DeMint, who’s been bubbling with praise this week for a candidate who he clearly thinks is a complete lunatic on foreign policy and social issues.
“I really don’t want Ron Paul to drop out until whoever our frontrunner is is collecting some of the ideas that he’s talking about,” DeMint told the Daily Caller. “I don’t know whether Ron Paul expects to be our nominee, but if Republicans don’t listen to a lot of things he talks about, I don’t see how we can become a majority party.”
Translation: “Ron Paul will never be the nominee. Never. Now banish that idea from your head, while I say some patronizing things to appeal to his supporters.”
But if it’s ludicrous to believe Ron Paul could appeal to enough Republicans to win the nomination, it’s also wrong to ignore the fact that he’s built a sizeable, devoted following. How Republicans deal with that following is a tough call. Will Paul be invited to speak at the GOP convention, after he got iced out of it in ’08? Grover Norquist argues that Paul will only bring his supporters into the party if he’s given a prominent speaking role this time:
However, Ron Paul is the only candidate for the Republican nomination whose endorsement will matter to Mitt Romney. It is the only endorsement that will bring votes and the only endorsement, if withheld, that could cost Romney the general election.
If Ron Paul speaks at the GOP convention (as he was not invited to do in 2008), the party will be united and Romney will win in November 2012. If Ron Paul speaks only at his own rally in Tampa, Florida (as happened at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota), the party will not be at full strength.
The longer Paul stays in the race, the more leverage he can likely rack up for the convention. But Charles Krauthammer reminds in his weekly column that the last time the GOP was forced to placate a fringe candidate by offering him a prime convention speaking role, it had disastrous consequences for the party:
No one remembers Bush’s 1992 acceptance speech. Everyone remembers Buchanan’s fiery and disastrous culture-war address. At the Democratic conventions, Jackson’s platform demands and speeches drew massive attention, often overshadowing his party’s blander nominees.
The Democratic convention will be a tightly scripted TV extravaganza extolling the Prince and his wise and kindly rule. The Republican convention could conceivably feature a major address by Paul calling for the abolition of the Fed, FEMA and the CIA; American withdrawal from everywhere; acquiescence to the Iranian bomb — and perhaps even Paul’s opposition to a border fence lest it be used to keep Americans in. Not exactly the steady, measured, reassuring message a Republican convention might wish to convey. For libertarianism, however, it would be a historic moment: mainstream recognition at last.
I don’t think Paul would be as toxic as Buchanan, if only because he doesn’t engage in the aggressive culture warrior rhetoric. When Paul starts spouting nonsense at the debates, he comes off as laughable and harmless, not hateful and angry. He also has a lot of fans on the left, so Democrats would have to be careful about mocking any speech he makes.