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The Ornery Observer
January 25, 2012

The Irrepressible GOP Conflict
by Paul Gottfried

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ELIZABETHTOWN, PA —The Republican presidential candidate who is the most divisive is Ron Paul. Pat Buchanan observes (syndicated column, January 9) that Paul is the only candidate whom his rivals, and most emphatically Gingrich, would never vote for, even if the Texas Congressman were the Republican presidential nominee.

Paul loudly scolded Gingrich for packing away millions as a politician and lobbyist and then pretending to be “against Washington.” He also mocked the former Speaker as a “chicken hawk,” for incessantly advocating war after having avoided military service himself. In return, Gingrich has called Paul a phony Republican, whose isolationist views put him on the far left. Paul later went after Rick Santorum for having enriched himself in the Senate while pretending to despise big government. The former senator then responded forcefully: “Ron Paul is disgusting.”

Note the accusations that Paul has been flinging around are no more abrasive than what Gingrich and Romney have been hurling at each other. According to Buchanan, Paul’s invectives do not even seem unusual in the current “GOP war of all against all.” What makes them particularly offensive is that Paul is frontally challenging the GOP establishment. Moreover, though he’ll probably never come near the Republican presidential or vice-presidential nomination, the Texas congressman may force what is called in the history of science a “paradigm shift.”

Such establishment GOP columnists as George Will and Charles Krauthammer have made this observation, that Paul can exert a powerful influence over the party to which he is only accidentally linked, if he can force Republican leaders to accept at least some of his ideas. Will and Krauthammer think that such conservative-libertarian concerns as scaling back the federal bureaucracy and pursuing a more “sensible” and less ideologically driven foreign policy can be transmitted to the party at the national level, even if Paul will not be the nominee. They also insist, together with Republican strategist Ed Rollins, the GOP leadership must learn to treat Paul with respect. Otherwise they’ll face a third party candidacy that could cost them the presidential race.

All of this may be wishful thinking. Paul and the other candidates are operating in different political universes. While these other candidates favor the same foreign policy as the one advocated by McCain and Bush and while they are unlikely to make much of a dent in existing social programs, Paul would turn things around dramatically. Unlike the others, he would not be providing a Bush-third term or the McCain presidency that we missed in 2008, but a program of massive dismantling of the federal bureaucracy, including and perhaps especially the Federal Reserves, and a sharp shift away from the liberal internationalism that is the staple of the Republican foreign policy.

Those whom Paul has attracted to his banners are typically younger voters; and in both Iowa and New Hampshire, well over forty percent of his votes came from independents. He will undoubtedly do worse in the South, where the voters are overwhelmingly GOP establishment types and big fans of the military and defense industries. (Things military seem to be the overriding consideration of Republican voters in the South.) But between now and next summer’s GOP convention in Tampa, Paul will be amassing primary votes from across the country; and in Western states, he is likely to do better than among instructed party regulars in South Carolina. It is not the value-candidates, Santorum and Gingrich, who represent the real break with the GOP establishment. These candidates in office have behaved like party-line Republicans, while being ceaseless advocates of an aggressive, human rights-based foreign policy. The significant fissure is between Paul and the other candidates, who would support each other but never Paul in a presidential race.

Paul is running for a cause rather than to decorate his resume (which is what Romney and Gingrich seem to be doing). But he can only advance his cause if two things happen. One, he does not end his campaign with the GOP convention but is willing to launch a third party candidacy and to continue running for the presidency until the election in November. Two, Paul must also hope that the probable GOP candidate Romney comes a cropper and that the loss can be clearly ascribed to his third-party presidential run. Any other outcome will not help Paul’s cause. A win for Romney would put back in the White House the old faces from the last Bush’s presidency, together with most of the same policies. Buchanan has aptly compared the GOP to the Bourbon dynasty in France, which when it returned to power after the French Revolution had allegedly neither forgotten nor learned anything. Unless the GOP suffers defeat at the hands of those on the antiwar, small-government right that it will do nothing to accommodate, its leaders will continue to behave like arrogant Bourbons.

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2012, by Paul Gottfried. A version of this article appeared in the Lancaster newspapers in Pennsylvania.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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