The irrelevance of the passions of the Paul voters

Stuart Rothenberg:

Thank goodness for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his campaign for president.

Single-handedly, the quirky libertarian Republican from Texas has unintentionally exposed the over-hype that accompanies much of the talk about politics and the Internet.

Paul has been doing well in post-debate call-ins and Internet "polls" for months, and his Web site has been scoring more hits than a bong at a Grateful Dead concert.

Recently, he received a wave of publicity because of a single day of fundraising, when some 35,000 contributors gave more than $4 million to the Congressman's presidential bid.

But big-sounding numbers can be deceiving, and politics is more about breadth of support than depth. Ultimately, elections are about winning votes, not Web visitors or even campaign dollars.

Yes, $4 million is a lot of money to raise in a single day.

But it pales in comparison to the overall fundraising of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who didn't need a one-day fundraising event to get media attention. Still, let's give the Texan credit for his fundraising.

But what does that mean if he also has no chance of becoming the GOP presidential nominee, or even of winning a single primary contest?

Yes, I know. This statement alone is enough to generate far too many e-mails and telephone calls from Paul supporters accusing me of being anti-democratic and of violating the Constitution. When I wrote months ago in this space that it was time for Paul and other third-tier candidates to be excluded from televised debates, more than a couple of reporters made it clear that although they agreed with my view, they didn't want to be swamped by angry e-mails and phone calls.

The result is that many in the national media have treated Paul casually. Some media types surely find him interesting, especially given his views on Iraq. And people who cover "new technologies," including the Internet, have a self-interest to hype Paul's Web hits and Internet fundraising. But you hear very little about his kooky votes.

Hardly anyone is bothering to talk about his votes against resolutions calling on the government of Vietnam to release political prisoners and on the Arab League to help stop the killing in Darfur. Nor do they note that he said during his 1988 Libertarian bid for president that he would do away with the FBI and CIA, abolish the public schools, eliminate Social Security and all farm subsidies, and withdraw from NATO.

Reporters don't talk about his views and philosophy because they know he isn't a credible contender, but at the same time they refer to his fundraising and Web presence as if he's relevant.

...

Paul is a libertarian idealist. His fellow idealist are very passionate about their ideas and they guy who espouses them, but those passions have not persuaded voters to accept those ideas and the internet hyperactivity cannot substitute for that lack of acceptance. Another element of his attractiveness to some is his anti war stance. The anti war left is another passionate group that has raised a lot money for MoveOn.org and other groups who want to lose the war. I suspect that some of his financial backers are from that group who want to see his message in Republican debates, to make it appear that their views are more widely shared. It is not working, but they will continue to flog their points until the votes are counted.

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