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The Republican Party has become bipolar. This is the only logical conclusion to draw after reviewing its treatment of the swelling ranks of Ron Paul supporters who have long been dismissed as insignificant, yet who are now being courted by commentators hoping to prevent another Ross Perot-like split vote in November’s general election.
Throughout this presidential campaign cycle, media pundits and competing candidates have been quick to label Ron Paul and his supporters as unrepresentative of the GOP. “I don’t think Ron Paul represents the mainstream,” said Mitt Romney just days before the Iowa caucus in January. “I’m working harder than anyone to make sure he’s not the nominee.”
That statement would repeatedly prove itself true over the following eight months as Romney’s lawyers and surrogates worked multiple angles to unseat elected delegates who supported Ron Paul, change convention rules to minimize the influence of such delegates, and frustrate their goals in sparking any change or controversy. As if it couldn’t get any worse, Romney’s campaign and the RNC scripted the convention itself so that no mention of Paul’s delegate vote was made, and the result of an important vote was pre-determined to be read from the teleprompter by the chairman.
One can imagine how disenfranchised and frustrated Paul supporters have felt in recent weeks with the GOP. Treated like enemies, it’s a bit jarring to hear so many insisting that they should see Romney and his campaign as friends. But that’s exactly what is happening.
Told over and over again that they were not wanted, let alone needed, Ron Paul supporters are now being recognized as a significant voting bloc without whose support Romney may not become elected. This has prompted some awkward reactions, most notably by Breitbart’s Kurt Schlichter, whose recent post (fetching nearly 4,000 comments in a few days’ time) urges Ron Paul supporters to set aside their frustration and their principles to pull the lever for Romney.
“Nothing less than the Constitution is at stake here,” writes Schlichter. “And you could make the difference.” Because Romney advocates for policies which Paul supporters overwhelmingly reject, they are being asked by the Schlichters of the world to set aside their principles in the short term in order to save them in the long term.
This is an odd, but recently prevalent pattern within the party. Recall George Bush defending the bailout: “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” Romney’s VP pick Paul Ryan sang the same tune when voting for TARP: “This bill offends my principles, but I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles…”
The Ron Paul wing of the Republican party does not think this way at all. Principles are not conveniently set aside because of strategy, and the lesser of two evils is ultimately recognized as just that: evil. Libertarian-leaning folks recognize that you cannot preserve something by violating it, any more than you can save a village from would-be pillagers by razing it to the ground yourself.
Consider the example of a woman whose husband beats her whenever she defies his command or expresses a contrasting opinion. Who in their right mind would suggest that the woman should stay put? After a long history of violence, the best course of action is to flee to safety. Why, then, would Ron Paul supporters think of cozying up to a candidate whose staff and party have gone out of their way to ensure they are pushed aside as irrelevant and troublesome?
But let’s be clear—this isn’t just about campaign strategy and thuggish convention practices. The real reason why Ron Paul supporters aren’t lining up to help “defeat Obama” by voting for Romney is that they see little substantive difference between the two. There are myriad superficial differences, to be sure, but on foreign policy, civil liberties, the war on drugs, and a litany of domestic issues, there is no distinguishable contrast between candidates. Ron Paul’s crowd doesn’t get very excited over trading lots of big government for a little less big government.
Libertarian-leaning voters are therefore being asked to jump on a bus going 95 mph towards the cliff’s edge rather than the 100 mph vehicle, when they see the switch as a largely futile exercise. They believe, rather, that unless we slam on the brakes and shift into reverse, it matters little whether we decelerate slightly when the destination remains the same.
Appealing to Ron Paul supporters to vote for Romney simply to help defeat Obama will not be an effective argument when they see Romney as espousing many of the same policies, even if only with slight contrast. If this voting segment does in fact carry the weight it was repeatedly told it never had, then the Republican Party should stop presuming it has earned their vote by default, and encourage Romney to start making severe, sincere concessions to demonstrate his willingness to put the brakes on America’s steady path towards the brink. Failing to do so means that Ron Paul Republicans will refuse to jump on either candidate’s car, and will instead be found running in the opposite direction.