South Carolina senator Jim DeMint on Friday cautioned his fellow Republicans against ignoring the Ron Paul vote in their party’s presidential primary elections. “If Republicans don’t figure out how to listen to and understand some of the things he’s saying,” he told Fox News’ Hannity, it could break up the party.
Conservatives worry about a third party run by Paul because it could split the right-wing vote and enable President Barack Obama to win reelection in November.
Unlike previous primary contests, when Paul rarely won more than 10 percent of the vote, in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, he won more than 20 percent each time. Voters registered as independents were able to participate in both elections and Paul did especially well among them and voters under the age of 29. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul won half the youth vote and in the latter, a third of self-declared independents.
Among first time voters, too, Paul’s limited government and anti-war rhetoric resonated but it’s anathema to many social conservatives and defense hawks who reject the Texas congressman’s candidacy as having no bearing on the party’s future. DeMint didn’t share that view on Friday. “The whole debate within the Republican Party needs to be between conservatives and libertarians,” he said.
Paul’s used to be mainstream conservatism in the United States. The Republican Party abandoned its noninterventionism in the wake of World War II while its emphasis on individual liberty eroded as a consequence of the religious revival of the 1980s which prompted even once presidential candidate and Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, whose views on the proper role of government were similar to Paul’s, to lament his party’s reactionary positions on cultural issues as abortion and gay rights.
Representative of the religious right in today’s primary race is former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum who rivaled frontrunner Mitt Romney for a first place finish in Iowa and who hopes to do well in South Carolina’s primary next week.
Santorum told National Public Radio in 2006 quite frankly that most conservatives do not embrace the notion of personal autonomy anymore. “Some do,” he admitted. “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want.”
Although Paul is opposed to abortion rights, his views on drug legislation, education policy and marriage are far outside the mainstream of Republican thought. According to Santorum, it is “not how traditional conservatives view the world.”
I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.
Goldwater would beg to differ. So does between 5 and 7 percent of voters nationwide if Paul were to run as an independent in November’s presidential election.
At least 80 percent of his support as a third party candidate would come at the expense of the Republican ticket. States like Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, which were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 but won by Obama in 2008, could all go for the Democrat if Paul acts as a “spoiler” on the right. Together they wield 68 electoral votes which could tilt the balance in the president’s favor. So if only for electoral reasons, Republicans ought to take notice of Paul’s mounting popularity.