Ron Paul hasn’t won a single state in the Republican primary so far. Pundits assume this should sound alarm bells among the congressman’s supporters. But the self-dubbed champion of liberty has increased his vote totals from his run in 2008, and his backers — even Paul himself — are taking the long view.
In the states that have voted so far, Paul has received 973,925 votes, versus 451,797 in 2008, a 115 percent increase. These numbers aren’t completely comparable: Hawaii switched from a closed caucus to an open primary, so he went from 0 to 1,902 votes in the Aloha State. In Idaho, meanwhile, he lost votes (dropping from 29,741 to 8,086), because the state switched from a primary system to caucuses.
Still, the trend is unmistakable. Paul has increased his electoral standing in 28 of the 31 states that have voted so far. And he’s made sizeable gains in some states. In Florida, for instance, he won 116,776 votes this year, an 85 percent increase from the 62,887 votes he got in 2008. At the same time, he made surprisingly little headway in the theoretically friendly caucus state of Nevada. In 2012, Paul won 6,175 votes — only slightly better than his 6,084 total in 2008.
In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove once observed that Ron Paul had a high floor and a low ceiling. It appears that Paul has now slightly raised that floor.
Phyllis Woods, the Republican national committeewoman for New Hampshire, thinks one reason Paul hasn’t caught fire among GOP voters is his lack of executive experience. “He has the right message, and his heart is in the right place for many people, but [he] hasn’t been in a leadership role,” she says. “He hasn’t accomplished a lot.”
She has a point. In CNN’s New Hampshire exit polls, 26 percent of voters said the “right experience” was a candidate’s “most important quality.” Among this demographic, Mitt Romney won with 36 percent of the vote, while Jon Huntsman placed second with 33 percent. But Paul, who came in second statewide, placed a distant third with just 14 percent of the vote.
Another reason for Paul’s weakness is his anti-interventionist foreign-policy views. “The one thing that has hurt him some has been his position relative to Iran,” former Nevada governor Bob List tells National Review Online. “I think that’s been a big factor in why he hasn’t done better out here.” Paul’s supporters have long been more interested in fiscal conservatism and a candidate’s authenticity than in foreign policy. In CNN’s 2008 Iowa entrance polls, Paul almost tied victor Mike Huckabee among voters who thought the assassination of Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto (then a hot topic) was “not important at all.” (Paul got 37 percent of them, to Huckabee’s 38.)
Paul himself all but admits he won’t win the nomination. When asked earlier this year whether he saw himself in the White House, Paul admitted, “Not really, but I think it’s a possibility.” He explained, “I don’t deceive myself. You know what the odds are. The odds have been slim.”
According to CNN’s exit polls across the country, Paul voters are more likely to be young, independent, and ideologically liberal or moderate — very different from the typical Republican primary voter. He’s got a quirky coalition, but that coalition is growing.
And that’s the point, says Paul backer Aaron Libby, a Maine state representative. The Paul campaign “is a liberty organization,” he says. “It’s all about the message; Congressman Paul is the messenger. This is not going to end with Congressman Paul; this is only going to grow.”
That’s not to say his supporters wouldn’t love for him to be the GOP nominee. “Some people will skew [my argument] and say he’s not in it to win,” Libby notes. “I say, ‘Yeah, there are long-term points to this, and we’re looking at secondary goals, but winning the candidacy furthers them.’”
And so, even if Paul’s bid for the nomination ends in defeat, Paul’s backers will probably see 2012 as a victory.
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.
Editor’s Note: This article has been emended since its original posting. It had stated that Ron Paul had decreased his vote total in the Virgin Islands since 2008. In fact, he won the popular vote this year with 112 votes.