Analysis: For Ron Paul, with so much promise, what went wrong?
Published: March 9th, 2012
His crowds were among the most energized of any in this presidential election year. Thousands turned out to see him in states all over the country. Many thought he’d be a solid contender this time around.
But disrespect from the lamestream media, an often-inept campaign, poor organization, lackluster debate performances, a lack of serious campaign money and a flawed message have conspired to make U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas little more than an afterthought this election year.
What happened to the Paul campaign? More specifically, what happened to it in Oklahoma, where his coordinator claimed a large body of supporters and a rally drew one of the largest crowds of the year?
Conclusions The Evidence Produces
The McCarville Report has read dozens of national stories about Paul’s campaign, asked dozens of Oklahomans for their opinions.
We’ve read almost three dozen not-for-your-eyes emails from inside and outside the Paul campaign in Oklahoma and from all of the data. These conclusions can be drawn:
1 ~ Paul’s message did not resonate beyond a hardcore group.
2 ~ Paul’s shoestring campaign was outspent and outclassed at almost every turn, crowd size and enthusiasm excepted.
3 ~ Paul’s Oklahoma “campaign organization” was a paper tiger, with virtually no ground game and what there was of it directed by a political novice more intent on brow-beating Republicans than putting together a Paul coalition that could produce votes. The novice’s actions resulted in campaign volunteers referring to him as “The Great Offender.”
4 ~ Given the ramifications of the problem just mentioned, there were deep divisions within the Paul campaign as to the strategy and tactics employed; the veterans in politics long ago saw a train wreck coming but no one in Paul’s state, or national, campaign offices seemed to care.
5 ~ Paul doubled his vote from 2008 to 2012; 27,572 this time around. An improvement, but clearly a minor-league one compared to Santorum, Romney and Gingrich.
6 ~ The mixing of the Sooner Tea Party name and questionable reputation with the Paul campaign.
7 ~ Paul’s foreign policy positions seemed bizarre to many.
8 ~ Paul was perceived as a marginal candidate and thoughtful voters didn’t want to waste their votes on a candidate without a chance of winning the nomination.
9 ~ A campaign that lacked charisma, either from the candidate or his Oklahoma surrogates; in fact, his primary surrogate exuded disrespect and hatred. The only bright spot he had on the stump was Senator Ralph Shortey [an Oklahoma City Republican], whose enthusiasm for Paul was contagious.
10 ~ Paul’s selection of a leader in Oklahoma was flawed; instead of turning to tried, tested and respected conservative leaders like Charles Key and Randy Brogdon, he picked an abrasive neophyte who quickly lost the trust and respect of many.
On The National Level
It’s not just in Oklahoma that Paul failed.
James Hohmann, writing for Politico ~ Ron Paul’s top strategists are confused and frustrated that the wild enthusiasm they see at their campaign rallies and events is not translating into votes. Thousands turned out to see the Texas congressman at events in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota in the days before Super Tuesday. Paul said publicly and believed privately that he could win all three states outright. When the votes were counted, though, he finished third in Alaska and Idaho and second in North Dakota. Paul may still emerge with a big chunk of delegates in the GOP nominating race, but the candidate’s much-hyped focus on caucus states has yet to yield an outright victory in any state.
This gap between dreams and reality came to a head during a Wednesday morning conference call for senior staff when the discussion turned to why the campaign keeps underperforming its own forecasts. “They count the numbers and then they count the votes,” said Doug Wead, a Paul senior adviser who was on the call. “Did they get overconfident? … We’re digesting that.”
Despite his lack of success, Paul is unlikely to get out of the race anytime soon. He often says he is leading a “movement” and his campaign is concentrated on amassing delegates rather than winning the nomination. Read more here.
Editor’s Note: The balance of this report consists of direct quotes from a wide range of sources (some named, some anonymous) that McCarville posted in his post-election analysis
In Oklahoma, opinions of Paul’s poor showing range from blame for his coordinator, Al Gerhart, to his message to his organizational failures to his lack of charisma.
Here are opinions from experts, observers and analysts:
Oklahoma Truth Council Blog ~ Ron Paul could have capitalized on the negative campaigning and produced a freedom loving, Constitution waving race that would have cut through the mudslinging and captured a large block of voters. Paul had the opportunity to leverage the leadership of Sen. Randy Brogdon, whose 2010 campaign base had captured 45% of the Republican primary voters and join that with the ultraconservative voting record of Rep. Charles Key to build an effective statewide strategy. But instead of trying to actually win votes, Ron Paul decided to christen the “Great Offender” Al Gerhart to use the Paul campaign as a grenade throwing, insult hurling, vitriol filled campaign that not even die hard Paul supporters could stomach. The Paul campaign seems to have capitalized on the old adage, “Elections are too important to leave up to the voters.” Rather than campaign for votes, Gerhart has decided to attempt to perform hostile takeovers of county conventions so that he can take over the state convention, subvert the will of the voters and take over the national nominating convention in Florida. At least Chicago Democrats had the decency to steal elections at the ballot box.
LD Jackson/ Political Realities ~ … I have proudly supported him (Paul) throughout this campaign. I publicly endorsed him in October, not that my endorsement means much, and I have tried to write in a way that highlights his good points, while at the same time, trying to be honest about his drawbacks.
I have tried to show in my support that not all Ron Paul supporters are crazy fanatics. I hope I have accomplished that.
Having said that, there is a time when the writing is on the wall and this is one of those times. When I cast my vote for Ron Paul …, I knew it was a lost cause. For months, we have been watching the campaign, and everywhere Paul goes, he seems to attract a large crowd of supporters. In my home state of Oklahoma, the crowds were huge, but the results of the voting were not nearly as grand.
According to the final results, Ron Paul finished dead last in every congressional district in Oklahoma. He also finished last in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia. Even though Paul and Romney were the only candidates on the ballot in Virginia, he never came close to winning. He fared the same in Vermont, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Idaho, and Alaska.
This leads me to a conclusion that I really don’t like, but one that I can not avoid. Even though Paul has a large group of supporters, people who strongly believe in his fight for liberty and a return to the Constitution, that support does not translate into Republican votes at the ballot box. Because of the convoluted manner in which the delegates are being counted and awarded, I’ll not even get into that, other than to say this.
Those of us who are supporting Ron Paul can claim “it’s all about the delegates” all we want, but it will not make a difference in the end. Hopefully, he will have enough support to be a part of the convention, but we need to face the facts.
Ron Paul is not going to win the GOP nomination for President. That’s not to say the fight for liberty is over. I am sure Ron Paul will continue to espouse his message past the nomination fight and he may very well be setting the stage for someone else to carry it to the White House in the near future. Could it possibly be his son, Rand Paul? That remains to be seen, but unfortunately, it will not be Ron Paul.
Rep. Mike Reynolds ~ I have never supported Ron Paul. I agree with many of his positions on the constitution, but absolutely disagree with the idea that abortion is a state issue. That is utterly ridiculous. I met Senator Santorum several years ago and was quite impressed. I was glad to see that many of my more conservative colleagues also endorsed Senator Santorum. With regard to the idea that he can’t beat Obama, I believe he is the most capable. The election boils down to a few states in the upper Midwest that I believe he has a far better connection with. In fact one of the issues that Romney attacked him on was his handling of union/right to work issues, which will probably allow him to gain massive amounts of Democrat votes that Romney can not get. He is also in my opinion the best candidate when it comes to an issue of Trust, the most important reason I believe anyone should look at when selecting a person to represent them.
Chris Wilson/Pollster, Pundit, Commentator ~ Simply put, I just don’t think his campaign is taken seriously any longer and Republicans just didn’t want to waste their vote. At this point he’s nothing more than a spoiler.
Bill Shapard/ SoonerPoll.com ~ I think his foreign policy views were a non-starter for conservatives in a big military state.
Steve Dickson, Oklahoma City GOP activist and ardent Paul advocate ~ There are several factors at play. As you know, a certain segment of the “establishment” backs Governor Romney. Another “establishment” group backs Speaker Gingrich. A third “establishment” group backs Senator Santorum. You can look at who endorsed these candidates for a breakdown of the groups, and which political consulting groups those candidates use for the inside baseball fight among them.
The non-establishment remainder – made of largely young people and older idealistic types and activists – backed Congressman Paul, with a few exceptions. My contact with the “national campaign” was limited to two events – the Ron Paul OKC Rally, and the Oklahoma County GOP Convention.
I can only give you my personal experience, and let you make your own judgment. The Paul campaign is unconventional in that it is primarily driven from below, with almost zero guidance from above. I personally decided – in January – to focus on helping people get to precinct meetings in Oklahoma County, then to the County Convention, then State and District.
There were other people leading this process already, and I found them and began offering what little support I could give. This part of the process is confusing for many people, and a little work goes a long way there. We held training meetings so people would know what to expect, and spent a lot of time talking to people about it. Others would put signs out, or do sign waves in high traffic areas, make phone calls, whatever they could do – but it was not really in an organized way. Just people believing in a cause, doing their best.
The national campaign – and I speak of the campaign outside of Oklahoma, not it’s presence here – has a focus on gathering delegates. This is poorly understood even by those in the party. Oklahoma was not a good state for Ron Paul in 2008. He tripled his numbers this year, but still didn’t get to 15% to acquire delegates.
In other states, this is not an issue because they are unbound from the start, but we have GOP rules and state law governing the delegate allocation here. As a result, he didn’t spend on media here, he did about 4 direct mailings, and he had a large grassroots effort – and he did great. You may ask why I say that, and the reason is because from what I have seen, there is a virtual three way split of the delegates from Oklahoma.
If nobody gets a majority in Florida, Ron Paul has a national platform to spread the message of Liberty – and that is our objective. Winning the Presidency would be the best outcome for us, but an open convention and nomination fight gives a minority (our movement) a greater voice.
A Movement is different than a campaign, and the GOP makes a mistake if they see this as about Ron Paul, because it is not. We hold Dr. Paul in great esteem for his lengthy career and consistency, but we do not follow “an old man in a poor fitting suit.” Have you ever heard a politician discuss monetary policy in front of thousands? It is his intellectual solutions that the Movement believes in, not the man.
The amazing thing about Paul is that he espouses what the GOP claims – in the Platform – to stand for. He has spent decades fighting for it. Those in the Establishment who profit from the status quo – in the GOP Ike would call it the Military – Industrial Complex, for the DEM’s it’s the Welfare State – fear him, and rightly so. He would end their insanity. He is the long shot of long shots, but he is right.
In regards to the “controversy” surrounding Al Gerhart, I would say this. I do not know him. I have spoken to him no more than a handful of times, and all of those in the last 30 days. I called for him to step down because I believed his emails to be counter-productive in both the fight for votes on Super Tuesday and the fight for delegates. I think he is someone who is passionate about what he believes, but don’t like his methods. I have since heard from others who both agree and disagree with me. Regardless of that, it appears he put in a lot of time and effort in the campaign, with not much resources to call on.
After this is all over with, I will still be a Republican. I have been one for all of my life. There are people in the Party who I will disagree with, and fight with, but I will join them to defeat people like Obama when we get to the General Election. I suspect it is the same for most if not all of us, including Al.
I was fortunate to vote FOR someone on election day, not against everyone else. It’s not every day you can say that.
Fount Holland/Consultant ~ Oklahoma Republicans are true Reagan conservatives. We’re a socially conservative state, and a very pro-military state. Ron Paul lacked a message that connected to those critical voting groups. In addition, Oklahomans want a viable option to President Obama, and Paul was never seen as viable on the leadership question.
Veteran GOP Expert Operative ~ I believe Paul’s expectations were too high going into Super Tuesday. The truth is, Paul supporters make a lot more noise within the party apparatus than they actually represent in the broad population. Their activism is well out of proportion to Paul’s actual support, as evidenced by the results on Tuesday.
Voters take a candidate’s position on the important issues of the day very seriously when casting their ballot for President every four years.
In this case, I believe Oklahomans are troubled about Paul’s positions on Iran. Anyone who doesn’t believe that a nuclear Iran would not represent a very real threat to our security is out of touch with reality. Paul’s position on spending is very much in the mainstream of Republican orthodoxy today, as all of the candidates agree we can’t sustain the spending spree we’ve been on for decades.
The truth is, there is little or no difference between the four remaining candidates when it comes to fiscal issues. Given that, their positions on foreign policy are difference makers, and a vast majority of patriotic Oklahoma Republicans noted Paul’s apostasy on Iran and Israel, and voted accordingly. Oklahoma is a very pro-military state.
The thought of Ron Paul as the nation’s Commander in Chief leaves most in a cold sweat. Next, I believe Paul’s characterization of Santorum as a “fake” was off-putting to many. This guy (Santorum) has been fighting the conservative fight for years, and has the scars to show for it. When people make a value judgment on someone, then hear him attacked as a fake, they feel they are being attacked themselves. To question an opponent’s bona fides as a fiscal conservative or any other position is fair game in politics. But you have to have substance to your charges.
Simply calling someone a “fake” is making it way too personal, and I think people rejected that approach.
Ron Paul reminds people of the angry old man who told them to keep off his lawn when they were kids. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — Republicans want to BEAT OBAMA in November, and any rational observer knows that Paul has no more chance of beating Obama than their crazy uncle does. While there is room for principled debate as to if Romney, Santorum or Gingrich are best positioned to defeat Obama, no one truly believes Paul would prevail in November, so why waste your vote?
Pat McGuigan, CapitolBeatOK ~ Rep. Paul had 26,686 votes, only 9,65 percent of the statewide Republican vote and well out of the running for delegates. In the campaign’s closing weeks, controversy dogged his state organizer, Al Gerhart, whose attacks on other Republicans and on presumed allies infuriated many of Rep. Paul’s best-known supporters, including several elected officials.
Respected Political Expert ~ 1) No polling of which I am aware ever showed Paul getting much higher than he got, so while the controversy of the final days with Gerhart certainly was not helpful, it really was not why Paul did not catch on.
2) Our Republican Party has grown and we have many voters who were not reached by the Paul grassroots. They became a movement unto themselves, not one that reached out to established voters to deliver any message. They did bring new people, but because our party is so much larger now than when the Pat Roberts movement changed our make-up, it is not enough.
3) Too many of Ron Paul’s stands do not mirror those of Oklahomans. Extreme isolationism, legalization of drugs, anti-Israel etc.
4) No charisma – from the candidate or from any leaders in the state. When you don’t have enough of the issues with voters, you have to create a likability. Nothing like this from the Paul camp.
5) – this may be the most important – a vote for Paul was viewed as a wasted vote to many. Had the nomination already been secured for Romney (or Santorum or Newt or Perry or anyone….) then you would have seen more votes for Paul. As it was, a vote for Santorum, Romney or even Gingrich still mattered Tuesday. Even for those wanting a Paul presidential nomination, one could argue a vote for Santorum and keeping the fight going to convention would be the best way to make that happen.
CapitolBeatOK Editor’s Note: Mike McCarville is a veteran radio and online journalist. His analysis from the McCarvilleReport.com is reposted here, with his kind permission. CapitolBeatOK, cited above, also pointed to the collapse of “Ron Paul’s once-promising campaign” as he second most significant outcome of Oklahoma’s 2012 presidential primary.