Ron Paul is done, almost

The idea of liberty with a capital "L" is animating young Americans in a way not seen since Obama's

Ron Paul isn't really quitting the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, but he isn't really campaigning for it anymore either.

That's the kind of hairsplitting you have to do when you run out of campaign cash but you have enormous support among young libertarians seeking political alternatives to partisanship-as-usual. So much, in fact, that the Ron Paul Revolution could end up barrelling on to the party's national convention in August even without its popular septuagenarian namesake.

Then again, maybe this isn't hairsplitting at all. Maybe Paul's announcement this week that he won't be campaigning in states that haven't held primaries yet is yet another kind of decoy. We've seen this before and it was scary!

While everyone else last month turned his attention to the general election after Mitt Romney's closest rivals dropped out, news broke that Paulites (or Paulbots, depending on one's point of view) were securing state and national delegates in caucus states. This terrified mainstream Republicans, who fear most the appearance of a unified front at the convention that's kind of squishy in the unified department.

Indeed, before making his partially-quitting-partially-not announcement on Monday, Paulites in Oklahoma heckled Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They failed to place delegates but not before a Paul backer reported being struck in the back of the head by a Romney backer. Paulites had been shouting complaints that the convention wasn't following the convention's rules. And in Arizona, they booed Romney's son, Josh, off the stage during that state's convention. Paulites had reportedly said that his dad was just "a white Obama."

This is the sort of chaos the Republican Party hopes to avoid at the convention and that's probably why Paul spokesman Jesse Benton urged supporters to show decorum and respect in Tampa. Benton even said Romney is probably going to the nominee. "We recognize that Gov. Romney has what is very likely to be an insurmountable delegate lead," he said. He also said Paul is unlikely to endorse Romney and that Paulites would continue to bird-dog delegates in the run-up to the national convention.

So if Paul isn't campaigning (as much) and if he concedes that Romney is the party's de facto nominee, what are all the Paulites shouting so much about? And why are they bothering to stack up delegates. The math suggests there's no way he can win. The math also suggests Paulites are a relatively small contingent. Loud but small. Even if Paul were to force a floor vote at the convention, it would be soundly crushed. If Romney wins in November, Paul would be 84 by the time he had a chance to run for president again. What is the revolution's practical value?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question (as are many others scratching their heads over the Ron Paul Question). Maybe there is no practical value. Not yet anyway. Ron Paul is, after all, more idea than man. That idea is liberty with an capital "L" (which is Paulian code for hardcore state's rights libertarianism.) And that idea is animating young Americans in ways not seen since Barack Obama's historic election.

I've said before that maybe Paul hopes to force a floor vote to create a backlash that would push him into a third-party position to take on Romney and the president. But that seems almost too myopic for a visionary like Paul. He's not running for president as much as he is running for the way he believes the US should be. Americans love winners but they love losers, too, when their loss is really a lost cause.
 

Ron Paul supporters at the University of Maryland. March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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Bernie Sanders is America’s most popular politician – and he’s coming after Donald Trump

Sanders, unlike Clinton, had a clear and coherent vision. As of now, he is the best hope the Democrats have of retaking the White House in 2020.

“I like Bernie Sanders,” my four-year-old niece in Texas said to me last month. “Why isn’t he president?” More than six months on from the defeat of Hillary Clinton, it’s a question that countless frustrated progressives across the United States continue to ask aloud.

Remember that the election of Donald Trump was not the only political earthquake to shake the US establishment last year. A 74-year-old, self-declared socialist and independent senator from the tiny state of Vermont, in a crumpled suit and with a shock of Einsteinian white hair, came close to vanquishing the Clinton machine and winning the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders began the campaign as the rank outsider, mocked by the former Obama strategist David Axelrod as the candidate with whom Democratic voters might “flirt” and have a “fling” before settling down with Clinton. By the end of the campaign he had won 13 million votes and 23 states, and raised more than $200m.

In this dystopian age of Trump, it is remarkable that Sanders is now by far the most popular politician in the US – and this in a country where “socialist” has long been a dirty word. Increasing numbers of Americans seem nevertheless to “feel the Bern”. As such, Sanders supporters cannot help but ask the big counterfactual question of our time: would Trump be the president today if he had faced Bernie rather than Hillary in the election? Throughout the campaign, polls showed him crushing Trump in a head-to-head match-up. In a poll on the eve of the election, Sanders trumped Trump by 12 percentage points.

Democratic voters were told repeatedly that Clinton was more “electable” – but had they opted for Sanders as their candidate, there would have been none of the backlash over her emails, Benghazi, Bill, her Iraq War vote, or her Goldman Sachs speeches. So did the Democrats, in effect, gift the presidency to the Republican Party by picking the divisive and establishment-friendly Clinton over Sanders the economic populist?

I can’t prove it but I suspect that Sanders would have beaten Trump – although, to be fair to the much-maligned Clinton, she, too, beat Trump by nearly three million votes. Also, one-on-one polls showing Sanders ahead of Trump in a hypothetical match-up fail to tell us how the independent senator’s support would have held up against a barrage of vicious Republican attack ads during a general election campaign.

Then there is the matter of race. Clinton, despite deep support in African-American and Latino communities, was unable to mobilise Barack Obama’s multiracial coalition. Sanders would have done even worse than she did among minority voters. Trump voters, meanwhile, were motivated less by economic anxiety (as plenty on the left, including Sanders, wrongly claim) than – according to most academic studies, opinion polls and the latest data from the American National Election Studies – by racial resentment and an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim animus. Sanders, who at a recent rally in Boston defended Trump voters from accusations of bigotry and racism, would probably have struggled as much as Clinton did to respond to this “whitelash”.

Nevertheless, Sanders, unlike Clinton, had a clear and coherent vision and I would argue that, as of now, he is the best hope the Democrats have of retaking the White House in 2020. His support for greater Wall Street regulation, debt-free college tuition, universal health care and a higher minimum wage is not only morally correct and economically sound but also hugely popular with voters across the political spectrum.

The Democrats have a mountain to climb. They have to find a way to enthuse their diverse, demoralised base while winning back white voters who are concerned much more by issues of race and identity than by jobs or wages. A recent poll found that the party had lower approval ratings than both Trump and the Republicans as a whole.

Yet press reports suggest that at least 22 Democrats are thinking about running for president in 2020. This is madness. Few are serious contenders – thanks to the dominance of the Clinton machine in recent years, the party doesn’t have a deep bench. There is no new generation of rising stars.

The only two people who could plausibly prevent Sanders from winning the nomination next time round are the former vice-president Joe Biden and the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. The good news is that all three of these Democratic contenders are, to varying degrees, economic populists, willing to stand up passionately for “the little guy”. The bad news is that the Democratic base may fantasise about a young, dynamic Justin Trudeau or Emman­uel Macron of their own but, come the 2020 election, Sanders will be 79, Biden 77 and Warren 71. (Then again, they’ll be up against a sitting Republican president who will be 74, behaves as if he has dementia and refuses to release his medical records.)

Bizarrely, that election campaign has already begun. On 1 May, Trump released his first official campaign ad for re-election, 1,282 days before the next presidential vote. Biden visited New Hampshire last month to give a speech, while Warren is on a national tour to promote her new bestselling book, This Fight Is Our Fight.

Sanders, however – riding high in the polls, and with his vast database of contacts from the 2016 race as well as a clear, popular and long-standing critique of a US political and economic system “rigged” in favour of “the billionaire class” – is the man to beat. And rightly so. Sanders understands that the Democrats have to change, and change fast. “There are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo,” he said in March. “They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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