Ron Paul's run for the presidency has been considered quixotic. His isolationist views on the use of military force and support for the legalization of marijuana are thought to be too far outside the Republican mainstream for him to win. There are five reasons, however, to believe that the Texas congressman has a chance to win the nomination.
1. Delegate Selection
The Republican Party has changed how state parties select their delegates. This could work in Paul's favor.
The party nominee is selected by delegates from each state who attend the convention and vote for a candidate. Previously, most state Republican parties assigned delegates by a winner-take-all system. This means that no matter what proportion of the vote each candidate gets, the one with the most votes gets all the delegates from that state.
The national Republican Party now requires its state parties to assign delegates proportionally if its primary or caucus is before April 1. This means that candidates are assigned a number of delegates based upon the proportion of votes they received. If they get 10 percent of the vote, they get 10 percent of the delegates.
Whereas previously candidates must win a number of states to win the nomination, now candidates can continue to collect delegates even if they do not place first in a state.
The new system advantages candidates whose support is broad and whose followers have high levels of commitment, such as Paul. His support is not concentrated in a single region. Rather, his devoted followers are spread across the country.
A recent Public Policy Polling poll of likely Republican voters showed Paul has the strongest support among those likely to vote for him. When asked if they were “strongly committed” to their candidate, or “might end up supporting someone else,” Paul supporters were the most likely, at 50 percent, to answer “strongly committed.”
The way that delegates are selected is like the “rules of the game” to win the nomination. Introducing a shot clock or three-point line changed the type of players coaches recruited in basketball. Similarly, changing how delegates are selected changes the type of candidate that can win the nomination.
After the raucous 1968 Democratic Party convention, Democrats changed the rules of their game to encourage more primaries. This meant that candidates who had the support of rank-and-file Democrats could win even if they did not have the support of party leaders. As a result, in 1972, George McGovern, who was more liberal than most at the top of the party, was able to win the nomination.
Similarly, Republicans have changed the rules of the game ahead of the 2012 election. The question remains, could Ron Paul perform well in the new system?
2. No Democratic Contest
Unlike 2008, there will be no contest for the Democratic Party's nomination. President Obama will be the nominee. This means that in states that have an open primary, in which voters choose the day of the election which party's primary they will vote in, independents and Democrats can vote in the Republican primary.
Independents and Democrats who voted in the Democratic primary will not have to choose, as they did in 2008, between voting in the Democratic or Republican primary.
Ron Paul is doing well among voters who voted in the Democratic primary in 2008. A recent PPP poll of likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa showed that Ron Paul received the strongest support (28 percent) among those who voted in the Democratic caucus in 2008.
Money does not determine the outcome of the race, but it is better to have more of it than less of it.
While not as well financed as the Rick Perry and Mitt Romney campaigns, Paul has done well at fundraising. At the end of the third quarter, his campaign was in third place with cash on hand at over $3.5 million, according to Opensecrets.org. Paul's fundraising ability will be particularly important if there is a long fight to win the nomination.
4. “The Establishment” Can't Pick the Winner
If the nomination were won by endorsements, Mitt Romney would already be the clear winner. It used to be the case that party leaders had the power to narrow the choices of candidates for voters. This is no longer true. The power of party elites has slowly dwindled over time, beginning with reforms of the Progressive Movement in the early 20th century.
Today, candidates can win the nomination without the support of party elites. Indeed, being the “non-establishment” candidate can even be an advantage. A mid-December PPP poll showed that only one-third of likely Republican voters in Iowa had a favorable view of the Republican establishment.
The Tea Party movement has been motivated by a desire to oppose elites of both parties, who they hold responsible for the current financial crisis. It had some success in the 2010 primary elections of defeating party-backed incumbents for the House and Senate and electing “non-establishment” candidates.
Every time Paul is attacked by someone that voters perceive as part of “the establishment,” it gives him street-cred with anti-establishment voters.
5. Crony Capitalism
Crony capitalism is the main issue that will animate the nomination process and general election in 2012. Voters have a deep concern about big government and big business working together for their own profit at the expense of everyone else. Though the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Tea Party Movement are on opposite sides on most issues, crony capitalism bridges both movements.
No other candidate, Democrat or Republican, speaks as effectively about the dangers of crony capitalism as Paul. He has been speaking about the excesses of both big government and Wall Street for decades.
Could He Beat Obama?
Winning the nomination does not ensure, of course, that Paul would win the general election. It would certainly throw the Republican Party into chaos and may inspire a third-party candidacy.
A Ron Paul candidacy would also, however, cause chaos in the Democratic Party. What would the anti-war left do if the choice were between Paul and Obama, for instance? Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan and has continued drone strikes in Pakistan, while Paul wants a complete troop withdrawal from the region.
What would the Occupy Wall Street Movement do if the choice were between Paul and Obama? Obama received more campaign money from Wall Street executives than any other candidate in the 2008 race. Plus, he backed the bank bailouts that the Occupy Wall Street Movement has railed against.
Though still a long-shot, Ron Paul's path to the presidency is more within the realm of possibility than many suggest.