Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ron Paul

Rand Paul Praises Ron’s “Blowback” Theory

Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:

The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.

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Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:

The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.

“Had he not talked about blowback I don’t know anyone ever would have,” he said. The younger Paul boasted in the interview that he received standing ovations from the packed crowd, some of whom were chanting “Paul 2016.”

Rand’s cautiousness when it comes to discussing his foreign policy positions has helped his political ascent, but nobody should doubt that he shares many of his father’s views. His praise of Ron Paul’s “blowback” comments above is enough to raise alarms with Republicans.

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Ryan Reaches Out to Ron Paul Supporters

Ron Paul is apparently making Republicans nervous — either because they’re worried his over-exuberant fans will disrupt the festivities today, or because they’re gunning for the libertarian vote in November (I’m guessing the former, since Romney’s not much competition for Gary Johnson).

Whatever the reason, Paul Ryan offered an olive branch to the Paulbots in a Fox News interview yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor):

“[Ron Paul and I] see eye to eye on a lot of issues,” Ryan said. “We believe in sound money. We believe in economic freedom. We believe in the founding principles. We believe this is a watersheds moment for America, whether we are going to reclaim the American idea or a cradle-to-grave welfare state which is where I think the president is taking us. So, I think in the final analysis Ron, he and his supporters should be comfortable with us.”

“Ron is a friend of mine,” Ryan added.

“I have known him a long time in Congress. And so at the end of the day it is a choice between the president’s failed leadership, the big government that he is offering, the borrowing that he is offering, the spending and regulating that he is offering, which will give us a stagnant economy, a lost generation, not just a lost decade, and the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan plan of reclaiming our founding principles, getting back to economic freedom and liberty and reviving this economy.”

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Ron Paul is apparently making Republicans nervous — either because they’re worried his over-exuberant fans will disrupt the festivities today, or because they’re gunning for the libertarian vote in November (I’m guessing the former, since Romney’s not much competition for Gary Johnson).

Whatever the reason, Paul Ryan offered an olive branch to the Paulbots in a Fox News interview yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor):

“[Ron Paul and I] see eye to eye on a lot of issues,” Ryan said. “We believe in sound money. We believe in economic freedom. We believe in the founding principles. We believe this is a watersheds moment for America, whether we are going to reclaim the American idea or a cradle-to-grave welfare state which is where I think the president is taking us. So, I think in the final analysis Ron, he and his supporters should be comfortable with us.”

“Ron is a friend of mine,” Ryan added.

“I have known him a long time in Congress. And so at the end of the day it is a choice between the president’s failed leadership, the big government that he is offering, the borrowing that he is offering, the spending and regulating that he is offering, which will give us a stagnant economy, a lost generation, not just a lost decade, and the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan plan of reclaiming our founding principles, getting back to economic freedom and liberty and reviving this economy.”

Some pro-Israel conservatives, like Seth Lipsky, have argued that, while some of Ron Paul’s foreign policy views are naive, his positions on the Federal Reserve and sound money are too important to ignore. That seems to be Ryan’s position as well — he lists “sound money,” “economic freedom” and “founding principles” as issues on which he and Paul see “eye to eye.”

Still, when considering the entirety of Paul’s career — which the GOP is doing today — it’s difficult to get past Paul’s views on intervention, terrorism-as-blowback, and the years of racist newsletters published under his name (which he says he wasn’t aware of). All seem to point to a core mental glitch. It’s not just that Paul has been wrong on a few issues; it’s that he’s willfully ignored, and continues to ignore, basic truths in order to cling to a defective worldview.

Additionally, from a political perspective it makes it harder for Republicans to criticize the DNC for giving a speaking slot to Jimmy Carter when the RNC is devoting a tribute video to (and praising) Paul. Carter may be much more overt when it comes to slandering Israel and defending terrorists, but it still weakens the GOP’s case.

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All Ron Paul Backers Can Do is Complain

As Alana noted, Ron Paul’s speech at his Tampa rally yesterday was an appropriate swan song to a political career during which the Texas congressman has promoted a view of foreign policy that would probably earn more applause from left-wing Democrats than Republicans. Paul won’t speak at the Republican convention this week, but the 177 delegates he won will be there and the media is counting on them to provide a more interesting story line than the scheduled speakers will provide. But given the rules and the “nosebleed” seats being assigned to those state delegations where Paul supporters are numerous, it’s not clear that the adherents to what Paul calls his “liberty movement” will be able to cause much trouble.

The extremist libertarian has to walk a fine line as he defies the Romney camp this week. He doesn’t want to do anything that will sour Republicans on the future ambitions of his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who will (unlike his father) be speaking from the podium. But Paul is as little interested in the traditional courtesies as President Obama and won’t release his delegates to vote for the party’s choice. Nor do the delegates themselves seem inclined to play along with the RNC’s infomercial script. They are hoping to find a way to circumvent the rules and either place Paul’s name in nomination or at least cast their votes for him, rather than let the convention’s choice be unanimous. But those looking to inflate these tiffs into high drama are bound to be disappointed. All Paul’s delegate can really do is act disgruntled about rules changes that will hurt future libertarian challenges and vent their frustration for a liberal press that will happily lap it up.

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As Alana noted, Ron Paul’s speech at his Tampa rally yesterday was an appropriate swan song to a political career during which the Texas congressman has promoted a view of foreign policy that would probably earn more applause from left-wing Democrats than Republicans. Paul won’t speak at the Republican convention this week, but the 177 delegates he won will be there and the media is counting on them to provide a more interesting story line than the scheduled speakers will provide. But given the rules and the “nosebleed” seats being assigned to those state delegations where Paul supporters are numerous, it’s not clear that the adherents to what Paul calls his “liberty movement” will be able to cause much trouble.

The extremist libertarian has to walk a fine line as he defies the Romney camp this week. He doesn’t want to do anything that will sour Republicans on the future ambitions of his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who will (unlike his father) be speaking from the podium. But Paul is as little interested in the traditional courtesies as President Obama and won’t release his delegates to vote for the party’s choice. Nor do the delegates themselves seem inclined to play along with the RNC’s infomercial script. They are hoping to find a way to circumvent the rules and either place Paul’s name in nomination or at least cast their votes for him, rather than let the convention’s choice be unanimous. But those looking to inflate these tiffs into high drama are bound to be disappointed. All Paul’s delegate can really do is act disgruntled about rules changes that will hurt future libertarian challenges and vent their frustration for a liberal press that will happily lap it up.

The original schedule for the convention would have put the roll call — and the potential for a mini-Paulite uprising — outside of the scope of broadcast network coverage. Hurricane Isaac has changed that and therefore the whole nation — or at least that portion of it that is sufficiently interested in the convention to not watch the hundreds of available television channels that will not be showing the Republican show — will get to see what happens when Paul’s supporters attempt to get five delegations recognized to nominate their hero.

But Republicans shouldn’t worry too much about the pique of the Paulites. Even if they get a brief moment of publicity at the convention, that won’t hurt Romney. And though the media is hungry for any sign of dissent from the Romney script, the problem for the Paulites is that hurricane coverage will probably suck up all the time the networks won’t be devoting to the real business of the convention.

Paul’s backers may not vote for Romney on the convention floor, and some of those who backed him in the caucuses may not vote for him in November either. Given that his most ardent fans were often Democrats, that’s not likely to affect Romney’s chances of victory.

All of which means the next time many Americans hear about Ron Paul’s extremist libertarians will be four years from now when they will be mounting a quixotic protest against Mitt Romney’s re-nomination or being swamped by the next generation of Republican leaders like Chris Christie, Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan. The odds are four years from now we’ll be having the same sort of discussion about their attempt to distract us from the winner of that race at the next GOP convention.

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Good Riddance, Ron Paul

Ron Paul has given us plenty of entertainment throughout the years, and his farewell rally speech was no exception. BuzzFeed reports that Paul continued to spout his “chickens coming home to roost” theory about the Sept. 11 attacks at his alternative convention event yesterday:

That blowback theory is so convenient. If Israel created Hamas and the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks, then world peace is within grasp, if only we could get over our own “hubris.”

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Ron Paul has given us plenty of entertainment throughout the years, and his farewell rally speech was no exception. BuzzFeed reports that Paul continued to spout his “chickens coming home to roost” theory about the Sept. 11 attacks at his alternative convention event yesterday:

That blowback theory is so convenient. If Israel created Hamas and the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks, then world peace is within grasp, if only we could get over our own “hubris.”

In other words: cutting off our allies when the going gets tough, and ignoring threats as they metastasize globally — all the while, hoping that our enemies return our courtesy and leave us alone.

As a side note, did you ever notice that Paul fans only seem to use blowback to explain acts of Islamic terrorism? The U.S. has bases in 38 countries, yet you never hear about terror attacks from the Bulgarians, the Singaporeans or the Portuguese. If our bases are supposed to be so threatening, why aren’t others rising up against them?

Maybe it has to do with the fact that our enemies are radical Islamists who don’t really need much of an excuse to kill capitalist infidels. Rudy Giuliani said it best when he shot down Ron Paul’s nutty theories during the 2008 GOP primaries:

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The Ron Paul Convention Threat

Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.

As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.

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Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.

As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.

The Broadway revival of the Gore Vidal play “The Best Man” may feed on nostalgia for the era when national conventions not only picked presidents but also were the greatest political show on earth. But the last convention that convened with the identity of the nominee still in doubt was 1976, when Gerald Ford edged out Ronald Reagan for the GOP nod. Since then, they have become nothing more than infomercials for the nominee. Where once all the networks covered them from gavel to gavel, now even the cable news networks don’t show every speech.

As for the party platforms, once the cause of bitter debates and much drama, nobody reads or cares about them. The only interest will be to see if the Obama or Romney camps are negligent and allow party activists to slip in items that could embarrass the candidates.

If anything, the next presidential go round will be even less likely to produce convention excitement. Fears about a Republican deadlock in 2012 were produced by new rules that mandated proportional allocation of delegates. Don’t be surprised if such rules are eliminated in 2016 whether or not Romney is running for re-election then.

Which brings us back to the threat of radical libertarians disrupting the GOP convention on behalf of Ron Paul. Should Paul be given a speaking slot, you can bet he will say things that will embarrass the party and its nominee. And it is always possible for Paul’s delegates to do something to spoil Romney’s big moment, especially if they feel they are being slighted. Expect Romney’s stage-managed show to be carried off in a way to minimize that threat, as they know the media is desperate to hype any such hijinks into a big story.

But the problem with this whole discussion is that the conventions simply are not that important anymore. Both Obama and Romney may get some sort of a post-convention bounce in the polls but expect it to be smaller than other candidates have gotten in the past. The full bore campaigning we are seeing this summer — something that didn’t happen decades ago — shows the old rhythms of presidential election year campaigns in which the conventions were the highlight are as outdated as “The Best Man.” Which means that even if the ragtag band of delegates supporting a man who can’t even have his name put before the convention misbehave, it will be meaningless.

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Did Ron Paul Change the Republican Party?

During the long winter nights when Ron Paul and his boisterous supporters were raising hell in caucus states, one of the regular themes sounded by many mainstream media political observers was the damage the libertarian outlier was doing to the Republican brand and ultimately the party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama. Paul’s cheering throngs were loud and clear at the GOP’s presidential debates, and his strong showing in Iowa seemed to presage a dangerous extremist tilt to the opposition party.

But today, as Paul announced that he would no longer be campaigning in the remaining primary and caucus states, those warnings ring hollow. Paul may have had his moments during a fractious race, and his supporters will continue to make nuisances of themselves at state conventions, but in the end, his remained a symbolic candidacy that had little appeal to most Republicans. His libertarians will probably be heard from again in four or eight years if his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, takes the torch from his father and tries his luck at the presidential game. And some will claim he influenced the race and made great strides during his previous presidential runs. But the fact remains that his efforts fell flat as soon as the real voting started. Ron Paul ends his presidential run pretty much the way he began it: as someone outside the broad consensus of the Republican Party.

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During the long winter nights when Ron Paul and his boisterous supporters were raising hell in caucus states, one of the regular themes sounded by many mainstream media political observers was the damage the libertarian outlier was doing to the Republican brand and ultimately the party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama. Paul’s cheering throngs were loud and clear at the GOP’s presidential debates, and his strong showing in Iowa seemed to presage a dangerous extremist tilt to the opposition party.

But today, as Paul announced that he would no longer be campaigning in the remaining primary and caucus states, those warnings ring hollow. Paul may have had his moments during a fractious race, and his supporters will continue to make nuisances of themselves at state conventions, but in the end, his remained a symbolic candidacy that had little appeal to most Republicans. His libertarians will probably be heard from again in four or eight years if his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, takes the torch from his father and tries his luck at the presidential game. And some will claim he influenced the race and made great strides during his previous presidential runs. But the fact remains that his efforts fell flat as soon as the real voting started. Ron Paul ends his presidential run pretty much the way he began it: as someone outside the broad consensus of the Republican Party.

It should be conceded that Paul’s campaign was well-organized and highly effective in any state where delegates were chosen in caucuses where low turnouts minimized his main deficiency: the lack of broad support from the voters. Any place where tiny groups of motivated activists could seize control of the situation was one where Paul could make a good showing. Under those circumstances, Paul’s appeal to young, disaffected Democrats and independents who loved his isolationist stance on foreign policy and libertarian approach to social issues could make up for the fact that the overwhelming majority of Republicans had little interest in his ideas.

Paul was able to briefly shine in Iowa and stole the show at times in debates with his bizarre attacks on the Federal Reserve or his defense of the Islamist tyrants of Iran. Some liked his unassuming style and were charmed by the fact that, unlike the others on stage at the debates, he had no real plans to be president and therefore made no effort to pander to the voters. But his sideshow carnival candidacy ran out of steam as primary voters began to choose between the first tier candidates and he began a streak of last place finishes that were a better indication of his importance than the Iowa results.

His exit from active campaigning will, no doubt, provoke some pundits to claim that in 2012, his libertarians stopped being a marginal factor in the GOP and entered the mainstream. But this is, at best, an exaggeration. There was some overlap between Paul’s strict libertarianism and Tea Party sentiment about the size of government, debt and taxes. But that common ground was dwarfed by the gap between Paul’s conspiratorial view of economics as well as his foreign policy views that had more in common with the knee-jerk anti-American doctrines of the far left than with that of most Republicans.

Though many on the left wrongly assume his extremist approach resonated with the party’s base, the truth was, he had little to offer average Republican voters. Nor can it be credibly asserted that he moved the conservative discussion in his direction on any issue where it had not already moved. Every time he opened his mouth, he demonstrated the strong distinction between his own extremist approach and that of even most Tea Party hardliners.

Despite all the noise he made and the delegates he won, on the day when his campaign ended with a whimper, the chasm that separates Paul’s followers from the rest of the Republican Party is no smaller than it was a year ago.

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Ron Paul’s End Game

While most people have been focused on the general election news, Ron Paul has quietly continued to rack up delegates in the Republican primaries. This weekend he pulled off two delegate majority victories at the Maine and Nevada conventions, causing some to wonder what exactly he’s aiming for:

Ron Paul scored big victories at the Maine and Nevada Republican Party conventions on Sunday. In both states his forces won the majority of delegates to this summer’s national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.

Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.

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While most people have been focused on the general election news, Ron Paul has quietly continued to rack up delegates in the Republican primaries. This weekend he pulled off two delegate majority victories at the Maine and Nevada conventions, causing some to wonder what exactly he’s aiming for:

Ron Paul scored big victories at the Maine and Nevada Republican Party conventions on Sunday. In both states his forces won the majority of delegates to this summer’s national GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.

Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.

Anyone who has been to a conservative political convention knows that Ron Paul supporters are old hands at causing “embarrassing disarray,” but it doesn’t seem likely that Paul would have racked up all of this support and goodwill from the party only to throw it all away by wreaking havoc at the convention. And the idea that Paul is in this to try to steal or withhold the nomination from Romney also seems unlikely. If true, why wouldn’t he have hit Romney much harder when he was higher in the polls and had the opportunity?

No, this still seems to be about his legacy and successor. Paul’s collection of delegates is a way to display his power at the convention. He can bring his substantial group of ragtag supporters into the GOP fold before handing off the baton to his son Rand, who has always been better at bridging the divide between the establishment and the grassroots than his father.

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Press Bias for Obama Overwhelms Romney’s Primary Advantage

The mainstream media’s liberal bias long ago ceased to be a matter of debate. Other than the conservative strongholds of talk radio and Fox News, few pundits even bother to argue anymore that the overwhelming majority of their platforms tilt to the left. But that still doesn’t stop some of them from trying to deny the obvious. A prime example comes today from the normally sober Howard Kurtz, who writes in the Daily Beast to claim that President Obama has received more unfavorable press coverage than the Republican candidates during the recent GOP nomination contest.

Kurtz bases his assertion on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that analyzed the positive and negative treatment of the president and the candidates in the press during the last few months. But the main takeaway from their data is not so much that the press was filled with Obama-bashing — a result that was generated mostly by the fact that all the GOP candidates were critical of the president — but that his normally adoring press corps covered him more like a candidate than a commander-in-chief. That might have more to do with the fact that Obama has been spent more time in the last year playing the partisan than governing. A more insightful conclusion about the press and Obama came from an unlikely source — Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Timeswho wrote yesterday to call out his own paper for their fawning and biased coverage of the president.

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The mainstream media’s liberal bias long ago ceased to be a matter of debate. Other than the conservative strongholds of talk radio and Fox News, few pundits even bother to argue anymore that the overwhelming majority of their platforms tilt to the left. But that still doesn’t stop some of them from trying to deny the obvious. A prime example comes today from the normally sober Howard Kurtz, who writes in the Daily Beast to claim that President Obama has received more unfavorable press coverage than the Republican candidates during the recent GOP nomination contest.

Kurtz bases his assertion on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that analyzed the positive and negative treatment of the president and the candidates in the press during the last few months. But the main takeaway from their data is not so much that the press was filled with Obama-bashing — a result that was generated mostly by the fact that all the GOP candidates were critical of the president — but that his normally adoring press corps covered him more like a candidate than a commander-in-chief. That might have more to do with the fact that Obama has been spent more time in the last year playing the partisan than governing. A more insightful conclusion about the press and Obama came from an unlikely source — Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Timeswho wrote yesterday to call out his own paper for their fawning and biased coverage of the president.

Brisbane is, for once, spot on in his analysis of the Times’ embarrassingly obvious tilt toward President Obama:

Many critics view the Times as constitutionally unable to address the election in an unbiased fashion. Like a lot of America, it basked a bit in the warm glow of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. The company published a book about the country’s first African-American president, “Obama: The Historic Journey.” The Times also published a lengthy portrait of him in its Times Topics section on NYTimes.com, yet there’s nothing of the kind about George W. Bush or his father.

According to a study by the media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, the Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Brisbane deserves some credit for pointing out that the Times’s bias issues stem not only from a skewed news section and unbalanced opinion pages but also from liberal feature writers who work in criticisms of the right into extraneous topics. He says these problems can be overcome, however, if the paper’s reporters provide hard-nosed coverage of Obama’s campaign, his promises and record. But given the Times’s predilection during the past year for attack pieces on Republicans and puffery about Obama, it requires an Olympic-style leap of faith to believe that the imbalance can be redressed by a decision to finally tell us “who is the real Barack Obama.”

As for the Pew Study that Kurtz referenced, it provides little reason for Democrats to complain. It is true that the absence of a Democratic primary battle gave the stage to Republicans who used it to compete with each other to see who could come across as the most heated opponent of the president. But the GOP candidates each got a great deal of negative coverage, the only exception being Ron Paul, who, though deserving of a scrutiny for his extremism, was mostly ignored. Mitt Romney fared well at times but mostly as a result of his primary victories, not due to any admiration or positive coverage of his positions on the issues. If, as Pew states, the president was covered more as a candidate than as a decision-maker, then it is because of how he conducted himself.

Brisbane’s comments about the Times could be applied to much of the media’s treatment of the president and the campaign. There is little doubt that the Obama-Romney contest will be largely colored by the predilection of the press to lionize the president as a historic figure while treating Romney as a figure of scorn. Given the willingness of many Americans to disdain the liberal bias of the press, such coverage won’t decide the outcome. But it is a fact that Romney will have to live with and overcome if he is to defeat an incumbent who, despite a poor record, is still being given the Camelot treatment from his cheerleaders at the Times and the rest of the press corps.

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Only Path for Santorum: Gingrich Has to Go

Despite Mitt Romney’s less-than-exceptional performance last night, neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has a viable path to the nomination from here. At Frontloading HQ, Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that while it’s not mathematically impossible for either candidate to get to the 1144 delegates needed to win, the chances are so low that it might as well be.

For Santorum, the possibility is more likely if Gingrich – who has been trailing in the race, but still siphoning off potential Santorum supporters – drops out. The Wall Street Journal describes the impact this had on the primaries last night:

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich effectively split the southern states in Tuesday’s contest: The former Pennsylvania senator won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and the former House speaker claimed the richest delegate prize in his home state of Georgia. Mr. Santorum also claimed North Dakota. Both men used the results to argue they were the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. …

Mr. Gingrich has siphoned off just enough votes in key states to cost Mr. Santorum wins and delegates, [campaign strategist] Mr. Brabender said. In last week’s Michigan primary, Mr. Santorum lost to Mr. Romney by 3 percentage points.

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Despite Mitt Romney’s less-than-exceptional performance last night, neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has a viable path to the nomination from here. At Frontloading HQ, Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that while it’s not mathematically impossible for either candidate to get to the 1144 delegates needed to win, the chances are so low that it might as well be.

For Santorum, the possibility is more likely if Gingrich – who has been trailing in the race, but still siphoning off potential Santorum supporters – drops out. The Wall Street Journal describes the impact this had on the primaries last night:

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich effectively split the southern states in Tuesday’s contest: The former Pennsylvania senator won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and the former House speaker claimed the richest delegate prize in his home state of Georgia. Mr. Santorum also claimed North Dakota. Both men used the results to argue they were the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. …

Mr. Gingrich has siphoned off just enough votes in key states to cost Mr. Santorum wins and delegates, [campaign strategist] Mr. Brabender said. In last week’s Michigan primary, Mr. Santorum lost to Mr. Romney by 3 percentage points.

Realizing the problem, Santorum’s campaign is now all but calling for Gingrich to drop out:

Senior campaign strategist John Brabender said the key for the campaign going forward will be creating an opportunity to challenge Mitt Romney one-on-one, though Brabender maintained the Santorum campaign would not directly call on Gingrich to drop out of the race.

Based on Gingrich’s speech last night – in which he enlightened us with a protracted, completely inaccurate history of the race so far – he seems to have no intention of dropping out anytime soon. As untenable as his path to victory is, he may just be delusional enough to think he can pull it off.

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Is There a Romney-Paul “Alliance”?

Rick Santorum is claiming Mitt Romney and Ron Paul forged some secret backroom non-aggression pact with each other, and today a Think Progress study is adding fuel to that story. Out of the 20 debates Paul has participated in so far, he’s directly attacked the other candidates 39 times – but hasn’t once laid his gloves on Romney:

Rick Santorum has directly accused Paul and Romney of working together, noting “their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks.” A review by ThinkProgress of the 20 GOP debates suggests Santorum might be onto something.

While Paul has freely attacked Romney’s top rivals, he has never once attacked Romney.

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Rick Santorum is claiming Mitt Romney and Ron Paul forged some secret backroom non-aggression pact with each other, and today a Think Progress study is adding fuel to that story. Out of the 20 debates Paul has participated in so far, he’s directly attacked the other candidates 39 times – but hasn’t once laid his gloves on Romney:

Rick Santorum has directly accused Paul and Romney of working together, noting “their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks.” A review by ThinkProgress of the 20 GOP debates suggests Santorum might be onto something.

While Paul has freely attacked Romney’s top rivals, he has never once attacked Romney.

Twenty debates and no Romney attacks? As Allahpundit quips, “Out: Conspiracy theories advanced by Ron Paul. In: Conspiracy theories involving Ron Paul.”

There’s clearly a pattern here, but it’s important to get perspective. The same “Romney alliance” rumor has gone around about other candidates, including Michele Bachmann before she dropped out. Legal Insurrection detailed the theory last December:

The speculation was fueled by Bachmann’s relentless and often inaccurate attacks on everyone who rose to be the lead challenger to Romney, first Pawlenty, then Perry, then Cain, and most recently Newt.  Yet Romney was spared the wrath of Bachmann, other than the “Newt Romney” line.

Bachmann’s former campaign manager Ed Rollins later speculated that she took it easy on Romney because she was holding out for a VP slot. A less calculated reason could be that she knew she wasn’t going to win and didn’t want to alienate the party’s most likely nominee.

But Paul also has a personal and professional interest in maintaining good relations with Romney. Like Bachmann, he knows he can’t win the nomination. But he’d like some signs of respect at the GOP convention, and wants to leave as many bridges intact in the party as he can for his son. Beyond that, Paul and Romney seem to have a friendly rapport, while Paul has had a rocky personal history with both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. It’s a perfectly logical reason, but not a scandalous one.

 

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Santorum Flops in the Debate Spotlight

After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

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After nine months on the periphery of the Republican race, tonight’s debate in Mesa, Arizona, was Rick Santorum’s opportunity to show he deserved to be considered a frontrunner. But instead of using the occasion to build on the surge that led him to the top of the national polls, the former senator flopped as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded him unmercifully from the start of the evening to its finish. By the end of the night, the grim look on his face betrayed the effect of having to explain his stands on issues such as earmarks, being a “team player” in the Senate and his support for Arlen Specter and “No Child Left Behind.” Whereas in previous debates, he had been on the attack pointing out Romney’s inconsistencies, in Mesa, it was his turn to be on the defensive.

Though Romney was far from brilliant and took his own lumps over his own hypocritical positions on earmarks and healthcare, there was little question he emerged the victor if only because Santorum came across as both long-winded and surly. If recent polls in Michigan showed the Pennsylvanian’s momentum was slowing, this debate may have put a period on his brief moment in the lead. A good night for Santorum might have helped put him over the top in Michigan and maybe even in Arizona next week and done irreparable harm to Romney’s hopes. But we may look back at this night and say this moment was not only when Santorum began to fade but also when Romney salted away the nomination.

Ironically, it was on his weakest point — his position on contraception — that Santorum sounded the strongest when he parried a question on the issue and made the point that promiscuity and the breakdown of the family was doing great damage to society. No one on the stage disagreed with him on that.

Yet that was overshadowed by the way Santorum found himself getting buried on his Senate record of voting for spending bills and earmarks. Romney’s attack on this was, as Santorum pointed out, deeply hypocritical since he relied on congressional earmarks to fund the 2002 Winter Olympics that he led. But whatever good he did with that retort was lost by his angry replies to attacks on his record, especially the way he went along with the Senate leadership on a number of issues. Santorum was clearly exasperated by having to defend himself in this manner and it showed. He discovered it is a lot harder to score points in a debate when you are wearing the bull’s eye on your back that goes with being in the lead.

Santorum’s failure once again should allow Romney to vault back into the lead. It will also give him the momentum that may allow him to hold onto Michigan after falling behind there.

Newt Gingrich was back in strong debate form and even managed to do so while avoiding joining in the gang tackle of Santorum. Ron Paul also had a strong night belaboring Santorum on government spending from a purist point of view though whatever advantage he gained in the battle to avoid last place was lost by his attempt to rationalize Iran’s nuclear quest at the same time as the other three Republicans were uniting to blast President Obama’s failure to stop the Islamist regime.

But the only real winner was Romney, who was repeatedly able to take down the man who is leading him in Michigan. Rick Santorum had one shot at solidifying his status as a frontrunner but failed. The ripple effect of this defeat will be felt in every state where he hoped to compete.

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Newest Domestic Threat: “Sovereign Citizens”

It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

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It’s nice to see the FBI is keeping its eye on the real homegrown threat in America — Ron Paul fans:

Anti-government extremists opposed to taxes and regulations pose a growing threat to local law enforcement officers in the United States, the FBI warned on Monday.

These extremists, sometimes known as “sovereign citizens,” believe they can live outside any type of government authority, FBI agents said at a news conference.

The extremists may refuse to pay taxes, defy government environmental regulations and believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard.

Routine encounters with police can turn violent “at the drop of a hat,” said Stuart McArthur, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

How large has this epidemic of “sovereign citizens” grown? According to the FBI, 18 sovereign citizens were convicted of mainly white-collar crimes in 2010 and 2011, up from 10 in 2009. Two of these sovereign citizens were involved in two separate police shootings in 2010 and 2011.

So there’s certainly been some violence coming from these anti-government activists. But based on the data provided by the FBI, is this really a threat that warrants a major press conference?

It’s hard to reconcile this report with the one in the New York Times today, which claims homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslims poses “little threat” to the U.S. The evidence? According to a new study, there were only 20 Muslim Americans charged with terror attacks or plots in 2011 – down from 47 in 2009:

A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

Left-wing blogs have been touting both of these stories, warning about the danger of sovereign citizens and declaring that the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is overblown, and largely invented by Rep. Peter King. But clearly, if you consider 20 Muslim American terrorists trying to carry out large-casualty attacks on U.S. soil over the past year a “non-existent threat,” then it’s hard to argue that 18 libertarian wackos refusing to pay taxes and flouting environmental regulations is the latest great danger to the nation.

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Paulbots Crash Adelson Caucus

Last night’s late-evening caucus for Jewish voters who couldn’t participate in the morning caucus due to Shabbat conflicts cranked up the typical anti-Jewish paranoia of the Ron Paul community to a new level. Not only were the conspiracy theorists out in full force on the Ron Paul fan-sites (but I repeat myself), they also showed up en masse at the special caucus, which was hosted at a school run by Gingrich-backer Sheldon Adelson:

Next came about 25 passionate speakers for Paul. In short order, the scene in the auditorium began to feel like a revival meeting for anti-government paranoiacs.

The first one accused the government of “genocide.” Another complained that Paul was the victim of media bias, as evidenced by the fact that in the GOP debates, “When they go on Ron Paul the lighting’s dimmer.” Another accused the government of “using our own men as guinea pigs.”

As Gingrich, across town, was vowing bitterly to continue his campaign, a Paul supporter was testifying: “Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney run the two-legged race together at Bohemian Grove! There’s not a bit of difference between those two puppets! I got one word to describe my support for Ron Paul, and that is: End the Fed!”

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Last night’s late-evening caucus for Jewish voters who couldn’t participate in the morning caucus due to Shabbat conflicts cranked up the typical anti-Jewish paranoia of the Ron Paul community to a new level. Not only were the conspiracy theorists out in full force on the Ron Paul fan-sites (but I repeat myself), they also showed up en masse at the special caucus, which was hosted at a school run by Gingrich-backer Sheldon Adelson:

Next came about 25 passionate speakers for Paul. In short order, the scene in the auditorium began to feel like a revival meeting for anti-government paranoiacs.

The first one accused the government of “genocide.” Another complained that Paul was the victim of media bias, as evidenced by the fact that in the GOP debates, “When they go on Ron Paul the lighting’s dimmer.” Another accused the government of “using our own men as guinea pigs.”

As Gingrich, across town, was vowing bitterly to continue his campaign, a Paul supporter was testifying: “Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney run the two-legged race together at Bohemian Grove! There’s not a bit of difference between those two puppets! I got one word to describe my support for Ron Paul, and that is: End the Fed!”

And what about all those predictions that Adelson was going to “steal” the caucus for Gingrich (and the alternative theories that the late-evening caucus was a “distraction” so that the establishment could pocket Nevada for Romney)? Shockingly enough, they never came to pass. The Adelson school caucus went overwhelmingly to Ron Paul, by 58 percent. Meanwhile, Romney won the state by a landslide, and his win was projected before the nighttime caucus even began.

As Jonathan wrote last week, the late-evening caucus to allow Orthodox Jews to vote was the right thing to do. But critics were also right to question the ethics and constitutionality of requiring participants to fill out forms saying they missed the earlier voting for religious reasons.

However, Ron Paul’s robocall to his supporters asking them to crash the caucus – and the vile anti-Jewish paranoia about it on the pro-Paul websites – shows exactly why the Republican Party should keep Paul and his fans at arms-length. Should Paul supporters have the right to attend the late-evening caucus, just like the Orthodox Jewish voters it was designed to accommodate? Sure. But they should have done so because they honestly had a voting conflict, not to disrupt the event, and definitely not based on psychotic Jewish conspiracy theories.

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The Ron Paul Brand of Foreign Policy

At nutty as Ron Paul is on foreign policy, he typically tries to be consistent. But in this exchange with Newt Gingrich and Bret Baier at last night’s debate, Paul can’t even manage that. It’s impossible to understand what Paul’s position on this is – on one hand, he says he supported efforts to take out Osama bin Laden, but then says he disagrees with the actual mission that killed bin Laden because it was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. How exactly were we supposed to kill bin Laden without entering Pakistan, seeing as he was living there? This is the problem with the Paul brand of foreign policy theory. It all comes crashing down when it meets reality. (Video via HotAir):

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At nutty as Ron Paul is on foreign policy, he typically tries to be consistent. But in this exchange with Newt Gingrich and Bret Baier at last night’s debate, Paul can’t even manage that. It’s impossible to understand what Paul’s position on this is – on one hand, he says he supported efforts to take out Osama bin Laden, but then says he disagrees with the actual mission that killed bin Laden because it was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. How exactly were we supposed to kill bin Laden without entering Pakistan, seeing as he was living there? This is the problem with the Paul brand of foreign policy theory. It all comes crashing down when it meets reality. (Video via HotAir):

Gingrich does a phenomenal job challenging Paul on this, and in the process gives us one of the best historical references of the night: “South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabered by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them.”

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Appeasing Ron Paul Won’t Work

As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

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As Alana noted, Republicans are rightly concerned about Ron Paul playing a destructive role in the presidential campaign this fall. Efforts to keep him on the reservation are already beginning, and there is little doubt the significant number of delegates he may win for the party’s national convention in Tampa will have to be dealt with carefully lest they cause trouble and sabotage what will in all likelihood be Mitt Romney’s coronation.

But I think the GOP would be foolish to go too far in seeking to make nice with Paul. His followers are just as likely to vote for Barack Obama or simply stay home as they are to back Romney or any other mainstream Republican. That’s why giving Paul a prime time speech at the convention would be a disaster.

The analogy Charles Krauthammer made to Pat Buchanan’s culture war speech at the 1992 convention is quite instructive. Though his address has gone down in history as a devastating embarrassment for the elder President Bush and his party, its text was not as crazy as most people remember. In comparison to one of Ron Paul’s crackpot rants about the Federal Reserve and the destructive role America has played in the postwar world, the social conservative battle cry delivered by Buchanan in Houston looks fairly normal.

As Krauthammer noted, libertarianism’s role as a critique of big government has deeply influenced the modern Republican Party. But there is huge difference between the Tea Party and the extremism articulated by Paul. His conspiratorial view of the economic system sometimes seems to have more in common with the Occupy Wall Street movement than it does with the legacy of Ronald Reagan. His isolationism and willingness to rationalize the motives and actions of America’s Islamist enemies is not merely isolationist, it is an expression of the worst sort of radicalism that has no place in the Republican Party or any other political faction that seeks to win mainstream support or to govern.

That’s why the efforts of Romney and other Republicans to bring Paul’s supporters into a big GOP tent are bound to fail. That may create problems at the convention and provide fodder for liberal journalists looking for story lines that undermine Republican hopes for defeating Obama. But the silver lining to that cloud for Republicans is the fact that many of Paul’s backers were never going to vote Republican anyway. Romney will lose far more votes in the center by appeasing Paul than he will gain on the margins. The sooner he and the rest of the GOP realize this, the better.

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Should Ron Paul Be Given a Speaking Role at GOP Convention?

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.”

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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.

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Exaggerating the Paul Effect

After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.

While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.

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After strong showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Ron Paul is starting to get some respect from the media, even if it is grudging. But while no one, not even Paul himself, seems to believe the libertarian extremist is any threat to steal the Republican nomination from Mitt Romney, there is growing sentiment that his appeal to young voters, Democrats and independents will be a problem for the GOP frontrunner in the coming months as well as the general election.

While Paul has tapped into some Tea Party support outside of his own constituency with his rigid stance against virtually all government spending, the idea that he could sabotage Romney with an unlikely third party run or that his supporters could cost the Republicans the election in November is, at best, an exaggeration. Paul’s top three finishes in the first two states to hold primaries were the result of him bring bringing out to the polls voters who are attracted to political outliers and protest candidates. Though any group, no matter how small, may prove decisive in a close election, Romney’s presidential hopes will not rest on the affections of youngsters who want to legalize pot or those who like Paul’s isolationist foreign policy. Even more to the point, as the primary season advances and Paul’s results start to decline, talk of his influence on the election will fade.

One factor that will quickly diminish Paul’s prominence is that most of the rest of the primaries will not be open to the independents and Democrats whose votes inflated the Texas congressman’s totals. Polls in South Carolina and Florida — the next two states to hold primaries — show Paul dropping out of the top tier of GOP contenders. If Paul’s supporters at his New Hampshire headquarters were acting as if they won the Super Bowl last night, it was because for them it was. His distant second place finish there was as good as it’s going to get for him.

Paul doubled the votes he received in both Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008, and that’s an indication his movement has gained some traction. But it will soon be apparent it is just as marginal in terms of Republican sentiment in 2012 as it was four years ago. The idea that Romney could or should pander to Paul’s supporters is bad politics as well as virtually impossible. The common ground between this group and the rest of the GOP is too narrow to allow it.

One only had to listen to his lengthy rant last night to understand that a group led by a man who obsesses about the Federal Reserve and views the United States as the moral equivalent of the Soviet Union is not someone who can or should be allowed to influence the Republican platform or party policy in any way. Romney has been careful to treat Paul with respect. Perhaps too careful for my taste, though it is no more cynical than the way Democrats have treated their outliers and extremists in the past.

Some of those Republicans who voted for Paul as a protest vote will probably stay loyal to the party in November because they despise Barack Obama. But undoubtedly many of Paul’s independents and Democrats will stay home or vote for Obama, as they did four years ago. If Paul runs on his own (and given his concern for his son’s future in the GOP I doubt that will happen), I think he’ll take as many if not more votes from Obama than the Republican candidate.

Romney can use all the help he can get this year, but his path to victory in November will be by attracting centrist independents and Democrats, not voters who are primarily interested in legalizing drugs or opposing American foreign deployments. Though it would be wrong to completely ignore Paul, once his primary vote totals start dropping down to single digits, it isn’t likely many will still be saying much about him.

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Handicapping New Hampshire Expectations

After months of campaigning, the Republican candidates face the voters in New Hampshire today. Though there’s little doubt Mitt Romney will finish first, there is plenty of uncertainty about his margin of victory and the order of finish. After being buffeted by harsh attacks in recent days, Romney’s hopes of maintaining his frontrunner status depends on a big win in New Hampshire. Though South Carolina is more of a do-or-die situation than New Hampshire for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, a better or worse than expected performance will heavily impact their chances of surviving in the race. As for Jon Huntsman, the New Hampshire primary is his one and only shot at making a run at Romney. With that in mind, here is our handicap sheet for the expectations for each of the candidates:

Mitt Romney: He’s taken a pounding from his rivals in the last few days, and the “like to fire people” gaffe may also hurt him. Nevertheless, the last three New Hampshire polls show him ahead by anywhere from 17 to 24 points and getting 33 to 41 percent of the vote. That’s good news for the candidate, but the bar for Romney is set very high here. Anything less than 35-40 percent of the vote and a 10-point margin of victory will be construed as a defeat. On the other end of the spectrum, a Romney vote of over 40 percent with a lead of more than 15 percent in a six-candidate race will have to be seen as a sign of strength that will help give him the momentum in South Carolina to try for an unprecedented sweep of the first three states to vote. This race is Romney’s to lose, and New Hampshire is the state where he needs to start to prove his inevitability is no myth.

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After months of campaigning, the Republican candidates face the voters in New Hampshire today. Though there’s little doubt Mitt Romney will finish first, there is plenty of uncertainty about his margin of victory and the order of finish. After being buffeted by harsh attacks in recent days, Romney’s hopes of maintaining his frontrunner status depends on a big win in New Hampshire. Though South Carolina is more of a do-or-die situation than New Hampshire for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, a better or worse than expected performance will heavily impact their chances of surviving in the race. As for Jon Huntsman, the New Hampshire primary is his one and only shot at making a run at Romney. With that in mind, here is our handicap sheet for the expectations for each of the candidates:

Mitt Romney: He’s taken a pounding from his rivals in the last few days, and the “like to fire people” gaffe may also hurt him. Nevertheless, the last three New Hampshire polls show him ahead by anywhere from 17 to 24 points and getting 33 to 41 percent of the vote. That’s good news for the candidate, but the bar for Romney is set very high here. Anything less than 35-40 percent of the vote and a 10-point margin of victory will be construed as a defeat. On the other end of the spectrum, a Romney vote of over 40 percent with a lead of more than 15 percent in a six-candidate race will have to be seen as a sign of strength that will help give him the momentum in South Carolina to try for an unprecedented sweep of the first three states to vote. This race is Romney’s to lose, and New Hampshire is the state where he needs to start to prove his inevitability is no myth.

Jon Huntsman: Huntsman has gone all-in in New Hampshire and anything less than a relatively close second place there will finish him. Polls show him currently in third with 11 to 16 percent support with a mini-surge, but he needs to do far better than that. If Huntsman can get to 20 percent, that will be considered a stunning upset, and he will be the subject of a lot of positive spin. But even if enough Democrats and independents choose to vote in the GOP primary for his sake, it’s hard to see where he goes from there, since the prospects for a similar showing elsewhere are slim and none. Odds are, he falls far short of that goal and New Hampshire is the effective end of his campaign.

Newt Gingrich: Despite the support of the most influential newspaper in the state and a late infusion of money and negative advertising about Romney, Gingrich is stuck in the second tier here with polls showing him only with anywhere from 8 to 12 percent of the vote. At this point, nobody expects much from Gingrich, so getting as much as 15 percent and third place would be considered a moral victory and possibly breathe some life into his sinking campaign. Second place would get him back in the conversation as a viable candidate. But above all, he needs to avoid a fifth place finish in a race where only five candidates are actively contesting the state (Rick Perry is concentrating his faltering hopes on South Carolina). Finishing last among those who showed up will convince many still thinking of voting for him in South Carolina to switch to Rick Santorum or Perry.

Rick Santorum: After his amazing showing in Iowa, Santorum has hit a speed bump in New Hampshire where his lack of money and organization has left him with little hope for another upset. Last Wednesday, in the heady aftermath of his 8-vote loss in Iowa, there was some talk of him riding that momentum to second place in New Hampshire, but the polls show him stuck at 10-11 percent, fighting with Gingrich for fourth. Santorum’s minimum goal should be to stay ahead of Newt. Doing so and especially beating him by five or more points is what he needs to convince wavering South Carolina conservatives that he, and not Gingrich or Perry, is their last best hope to stop Romney. Had he chosen not to compete in the state, he might have avoided the comparison but having done so, Santorum, like Gingrich, needs to avoid a fifth place finish which would erase a lot of the momentum he got from Iowa.

Ron Paul: The libertarian extremist is in second place in all the polls and with anti-war/radical Democrats and independents free to vote for him this is another state where a good showing is within his grasp. A close second for Paul would give most Republicans heartburn and allow Democrats to spend the next month talking about the radicalization of the GOP. But even that won’t give Paul a chance for the nomination. On the other hand, should he slip to third, he will cease to be the object of much conversation and, though he will stay in the race, mark the end of his relevance in 2012.

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Ron Paul Now Taking Zionism Advice From Neturei Karta

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, of the anti-Zionist haredi group Neturei Karta, has buddied up to some of the top anti-Semitic scumbags of our time. He’s been photographed at Holocaust revisionist conferences, burning Israeli flags, and warmly embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And yesterday, he actually showed up at a campaign event for Ron Paul.

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Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, of the anti-Zionist haredi group Neturei Karta, has buddied up to some of the top anti-Semitic scumbags of our time. He’s been photographed at Holocaust revisionist conferences, burning Israeli flags, and warmly embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And yesterday, he actually showed up at a campaign event for Ron Paul.

At the American Spectator, John Tabin posted a photo of Weiss and Paul shaking hands in New Hampshire. Tabin, who was at the event, adds:

On the way out, I overheard a late-middle-aged Ron Paul supporter, identifiable by button and sticker, talking to one of the Neturei Karta guys, saying that “The Zionist are godless atheists … they only believe in themselves.” Ron Paul may not hate Israel, but people who hate Israel sure seem to like Ron Paul.

The conversations between Paul’s fans and the Neturei Karta sound interesting, but what did Paul himself talk about with the group’s leader? Thanks to this C-SPAN video, which captured Paul’s brief conversation with Weiss, we get to listen in on what the two were saying while they shook hands. The interaction starts around the 49-minute mark:

Weiss: Excuse me. I’m a rabbi from New York. Thank you for the [garbled] into Zionism and Judaism. This is a religion, and it should never be transformed into a nationalism.

Ron Paul: Good advice! Good advice.

Note to Ron Paul staffers: If you’re trying to help soften your candidate’s anti-Israel reputation, taking advice from the Neturei Karta rabbi is not a good way to start. Even if he is wearing a black hat and peyot.

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Rivals Attack Romney, But to No Avail

At last night’s debate, there were surprisingly few direct attacks on Mitt Romney. This morning, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum finally went after him, but neither was able to land a knockout punch:

Santorum began the morning’s attacks, accusing Romney of abandoning Republicans in Massachusetts by “bailing” from a difficult 2006 reelection campaign. When Romney cast his decision not to run for a second term as a selfless choice – saying he engaged in politics as a “citizen,” not a longtime official – Gingrich pounced. …

But the bad blood between Romney and his foes resurfaced before the debate was out, as Gingrich again went on the offensive – this time accusing Romney of duplicity in distancing himself from negative ads run by a super PAC funded by his “millionaire friends.”

Romney once more avoided a deer-in-the-headlights moment, though his speech was uncharacteristically halting as he explained that he wouldn’t support any attack ads that were inaccurate.

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At last night’s debate, there were surprisingly few direct attacks on Mitt Romney. This morning, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum finally went after him, but neither was able to land a knockout punch:

Santorum began the morning’s attacks, accusing Romney of abandoning Republicans in Massachusetts by “bailing” from a difficult 2006 reelection campaign. When Romney cast his decision not to run for a second term as a selfless choice – saying he engaged in politics as a “citizen,” not a longtime official – Gingrich pounced. …

But the bad blood between Romney and his foes resurfaced before the debate was out, as Gingrich again went on the offensive – this time accusing Romney of duplicity in distancing himself from negative ads run by a super PAC funded by his “millionaire friends.”

Romney once more avoided a deer-in-the-headlights moment, though his speech was uncharacteristically halting as he explained that he wouldn’t support any attack ads that were inaccurate.

Romney’s response to Gingrich’s attack on a pro-Romney super PAC was mystifying – he first said he never saw the PAC’s anti-Gingrich ad, and then went on to recite it blow-by-blow. But he managed to keep his composure,and came out of the dustup without any serious damage.

The question many observers have been asking is why are Romney’s rivals treating him so lightly? At the Daily Caller, Matt Lewis raises an interesting possibility:

Some of the candidates, by now, know they cannot win. As such, they have little incentive to attack Romney. (Perhaps he will give them a position in his administration if they help him? — Why ruin that? Or maybe he would counter-attack them and make them look bad if they criticize him? …. Or maybe they just want to be thought of as “nice”?)

Meanwhile, the candidates who think they can win — Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — probably believe their best shot at the nomination is to finish second in New Hampshire. And while going “negative” in a debate may hurt Romney, it would also tarnish their reputation, as well.

Lewis’s take makes sense. Perry isn’t hitting Romney because his past attempts to do so have blown up in his face (the convoluted “flip-flop” attack, for example). Whether Perry’s staying in the race because he actually believes he can compete seriously in South Carolina, or whether he’s simply to redeem his national reputation after multiple embarrassments, he has little incentive to go after Romney. The possibility of a future appointment may not even factor into the equation.

As for Huntsman and Paul – could they really be pulling punches with Romney because they’re gunning for administration positions? There’s notoriously bad blood between Huntsman and Romney, and Paul doesn’t have a shot at an appointment.

But at least Huntsman isn’t afraid of sparring with Romney once in awhile. Paul’s unwillingness to attack the frontrunner is actually the most confounding out of all of the candidates. He actually turned down an opportunity to criticize Romney this morning when it was explicitly presented to him. Paul’s polling second in New Hampshire, so why is he spending his time punching down at Santorum and Gingrich, who are both polling at single digits? It makes no sense.

Beyond that, Santorum and Gingrich are going to have to start turning their guns on each other at some point soon. Gingrich is fading in South Carolina, but not fast enough that Santorum can rest easy. Meanwhile, Gingrich can’t allow Santorum’s recent burst of popularity to propel him to the top of the polls there. Of course both of them have to attack Romney – they’re locked in a three-man race with him in South Carolina right now – but one of them will also have to definitively capture the not-Romney title. That means they’ll have to take the gloves off pronto – and with Santorum’s recent fundraising boost and Gingrich’s $5 million cash infusion, they now have the money to do it.

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