As we all know, Ron Paul induces a strange dual reaction of fear and loathing in conventional Republican circles. He is supposedly so irrelevant and “nutty” that he can be safely dismissed and his supporters ignored, but at the same time he allegedly represents a dire threat of an independent run, potentially Naderising the 2008 election. The first response seems foolish, since a lot can change in Iowa and New Hampshire between now and January–voters there make their final determinations fairly late in the process.
Despite the fact that he has explicitly and repeatedly ruled out an independent run, the fear of his impact on the general election is real enough. Dismissing and insulting Paul’s supporters are the defensive responses of a crumbling, dying party, as if to say, “Yes, most Americans may despise us and everything we have done, but at least we’re not a bunch of kooks who talk about the Constitution!” If things were like they were in 2002 and the GOP was still dominant, this arrogant dismissal of a small but noticeable group of Republican and independent voters might make more sense, but under the present circumstances it is baffling why anyone interested in GOP victory next year would go out of their way to insult and denigrate a relatively small but extremely active segment of the electorate. This response is premised on the assumption that Ron Paul has little Republican backing, but until a couple months ago no one thought Huckabee had that much backing, either. There is a significant bloc of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire who favour immediate or near-term withdrawal from Iraq, but many of these voters are currently split among the various pro-war candidates. They make up approximately a third of the Republican electorate up there–there are many in the modern GOP who want to write off 30% of its supporters who are antiwar. This 30% represents a bloc of natural Paul voters, who could lift him to a respectable third or second-place finish if he could rally them on the question of withdrawal. That doesn’t mean this will happen, but it shows that Paul’s potential base of support is much greater than current polling suggests.