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.