Iowa and Ron Paul: How the Rockwell Strategy Harmed Ron Paul
Let’s look at Iowa and what it may mean. First, Santorum obviously pulled up at the last second. This is not particularly surprising. Santorum is one of the most fanatical of the Religious Right candidates. The rural counties in Iowa are filled with Religious Right types. Remember this is a process that put Pat Robertson into first place in the Republican caucus before and favored Mike Huckabee. So, religious kooks like Santorum do have an edge in Iowa.
The religious voters are a firm percentage of the vote. Romney had little chance with them as his Mormonism counts strongly against him. Next to gays, these people certainly hate Mormons. Ron Paul did his level best to secure their vote, but failed. He put a religious extremist in charge of his Iowa campaign, who actively courted the most extreme fundamentalists in the state, but it didn’t work. At the last minute, the Religious Right voters fled to Santorum, not to Ron Paul.
In spite of this, we should remember that the difference in votes between Santorum and Romney is insignificant. Both have 25% of the vote and with Romney winning by only 8 votes.
The other thing to remember is that these votes don’t mean a lot. There are almost 1200 precincts and each of them will elect delegates to go to the 99 local country conventions. At those conventions delegates will be elected to district conventions, which will then elect delegates to the state convention who elect the delegates to the national convention. At no stage are delegates required to vote for any particular candidate. They are free to vote for any candidate they want. Long-term. a lot can change before the state convention and delegates are free to vote for whomever they wish. Circumstance between now and then can easily sway delegates. This is why I argue the Iowa caucus doesn’t actually mean a whole lot. And Iowa has a poor record picking winners in the national election.
I will guess that a majority of the small number of delegates, 28, that Iowa sends to the Republican convention will support Romney.
From where Ron Paul gain his support? Voters did NOT support Ron Paul because of his paleolibertarian leanings. The views expressed in his newsletters were NOT the main reason people supported Paul. In addition Ron Paul’s attempts to appeal to religious conservatives failed.
The so-called paleolibertarian strategy, which was concocted by Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard, was an attempt to appeal to the ugliest aspects of the Right. It promoted a moralistic view, intolerance of gays, racism, conspiracy paranoia and religious-based politics. Rothbard and Rockwell were the main forces behind the ugly parts of Ron’s newsletters. And, I simply cannot accept, based on my knowledge of the newsletters, that Ron was unaware of it. In fact, some of those very elements made their way into later campaigns.
Rothbard and Rockwell hated what they called “modal libertarians,” those who promoted social tolerance, social freedom and didn’t like the bigotry they were spewing. Ron tried to appeal to social conservatives with his emphasis on abortion and his attempts to win over fundamentalist Christians.
So, how did this strategy work out in Iowa?
It didn’t. Ron’s support, according to entrance polls came from the voters LEAST likely to find the bigoted views of Rockwell and Rothbard appealing.
First, the most socially liberal age group in the Republican Party is those under the age of 29. Ron Paul won an overwhelming plurality of young voters. He had 48% support in that age group, more than double the closest rival. Santorum won the age groups of 30 to 64, those Republicans most likely to have come to the GOP during the take-over of the party by evangelicals. The oldest voters, those most likely to be old line Republicans, went for Romney. [Please note that entrance poll data is being updated constantly and that the percentages are changing. What is stated here may be slightly off when the final numbers are accumulated.]
Breaking this down further you see that Paul got 50% of the votes of those 17-24 years of age, 45% of those 25 to 29 and 34% of those 30 to 39. In each age group this is a plurality. Young voters, who tend to be socially liberal, voted for Paul.
Paul also attracted non-typical Republicans. Of caucus virgins, voters who never attended a previous caucus, Paul won a plurality with 33%. Both Republicans and independent voters could attend the caucus. Republican voters overwhelmingly rejected Paul. Paul only received 14% of Republican votes, but he got 43% of the votes cast by independents. .
Republican voters went strongly for the candidates who were most consistently attempting to use religion as the foundation for law. I define those candidates as Santorum, Perry, Gingrich and Bachmann. Between them they received 59% of the Republican votes. The candidates who were perceived as the less religious candidates, in terms of imposing religious values through the law, received 41% of the Republican vote. The GOP is still controlled by the Religious Right.
Among independent voters at the caucus a very different story is told. The theocratic wing of the GOP only got 36% of the support. Candidates not perceived as theocrats—Paul, Romney, and Huntsman—received 64% of the votes.
Voters who self identified as “very conservative” rejected Paul; only 15% of them supported him, about the same percentage as went to Romney. The theocrats received 70% of the “very conservative” vote. For those who identified as “somewhat conservative” Paul’s support increased to 21%. The theocrats received 47% of this group. Voters who identified as moderates or liberals went to Paul. Forty percent of them supported Ron Paul and 35% went for Romney with 3% for Huntsman. Only 22% of these voters supported one of the theocratic candidates.
When it comes to the evangelical voters Ron Paul only received 18% of the vote. The plurality of the evangelicals went to Santorum. The theocratic wing won 66% of the evangelical vote. Romney, Paul and Huntsman received 33% of the evangelical vote. Among non-evangelicals Paul did better; support was 8 points higher. The non-evangelicals preferred Romney and Paul, giving them 64% of the votes.
Ron Paul also jumped into this campaign with a renewed opposition to abortion. He has been more strongly in favor of federal regulation of abortion than any time in his past. But he didn’t gain much because of it. Only 13% of Republicans said abortion was the most important issue. Of these voters, only 7% supported Ron Paul. His support came from people concerned about the budget deficit not abortion.
Look at each group where Paul did well and you see a consistent pattern. They were not the kind of bigoted voters that Lew Rockwell was trying to appeal to with this paleolibertarian strategy. Ron’s support came from voters who were most like the libertarians that Rockwell has consistently slandered.
The very kind of voters that Rockwell would dismiss as “hippies”—the young, independents, liberals and moderates—were the people who made up the majority of Ron Paul's supporters. The people that Rockwell tried to appeal to were far more likely to vote for Santorum.
The flaw in the paleolibertarian strategy was that the people they tried to win over like big government. They are not libertarians. The very kind of people that Rockwell and Rothbard attacked in those newsletters, and in other places, were the ones willing to vote for Ron Paul.
If Ron Paul had sounded more like Gary Johnson, I suggest he would have done better, perhaps enough to win. The publicity about his hateful newsletters lost him a lot of support. He was polling better a few days ago. By trying to appeal to the bigoted vote that Rockwell cherished, Ron Paul lost votes in Iowa.
What about the future for Paul? Can he leave behind the newsletter baggage. He can, but he won’t. To effectively leave behind the ugly images of racism and bigotry Paul would have to name the author of his newsletters. He has refused to do that. And he is not likely to throw Rockwell under the bus. Without doing that the newsletter will always be a ghost from his past that will haunt him.
Paul would also need to more consciously abandon paleo strategy that he has been following. He would need to reduced his anti-abortion rhetoric—which didn’t help him—and stop trying to appeal to the Religious nutters on the Right. They rejected him as well. He needs to ratchet up his appeal to young voters, independent voters and to moderates and liberals. In other words, he needs to the do the complete opposite of what Rockwell and Rothbard laid out in their grand paleolibertarian scheme. Paul can strengthen his position by cutting his ties to Rockwell, admitting he was behind the ugly newsletters, and consciously gooing after the voters who have proven most receptive to his message—and that isn't the Religious Right.