Monday, December 26, 2011

Strassel’s Straddle

December 26, 2011

Kimberley Strassel writes the weekly Potomac Watch column for the Wall St. Journal. Her December 16th column contained her WSJ-obligatory “hit piece” on Congressman Ron Paul, who is gaining in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Her title, “Why Ron Paul Can’t Win,” said it all. . The term “ideological crank” was bandied about, and Strassel explained Paul “does himself in” when discussing foreign policy. He doesn’t support what Strassel, whose historical knowledge of foreign policy seems to begin in the 1940s, views as the “traditional” American role of world policeman and global-striding colossus. Such views, in Strassel’s opinion, cannot win in the Republican primaries. This creates a problem for Paul. But not only Paul, it seems...
In her very next column, 12/22/11,  “The GOP’s Message Problem,” Strassel discusses how the Republican candidates for their party’s Presidential nomination “are consistently failing to provide the sort of message that will resonate with those voters who will matter most in 2012.” Who exactly are these voters? Reporting on a Crossroads analysis of “18 in-depth focus groups in battleground states,” Strassel notes that Republicans are not reaching out to engage potential cross-over voters concerned about the federal debt, seen as completely out of control and evidence of a DC culture addicted to spending.
And Strassel has a point. Consider Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed alternative budget, which doesn’t cut one cent. It merely increases government spending somewhat less rapidly than Barack Obama’s over the next decade. As pointed out by Keith Hennessey, among others, Ryan doesn’t move the federal budget from yearly deficits to yearly surpluses until 2040, almost 30 years from now. Strassel’s own WSJ calls that “Revolutionary” and candidate Mitt Romney initially refused to sign onto the Ryan Plan because increasing government spending slightly less fast than Barack Obama might be too extreme…
Well...there is ONE candidate who talks of shuttering FIVE cabinet departments and cutting $1 TRILLION in his FIRST YEAR in office. There IS one candidate who seriously discusses what that sort of cut implies: Not just cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Rather, a fundamental re-assessment of what our government should do, including policing the world and filling prisons with peaceful drug users. How is that candidate doing among the very cross-over voters who so concern the Kimberley Strassel of December 22nd?
Quite well. According to the latest Public Policy Poll, Paul is winning in Iowa, 23% to Romney’s 20% and Gingrich’s 14%. His support is deeper and more dedicated. A greater number of Paul supporters indicate they will not switch. Most importantly as regards those swing voters so important to Barack Obama in 2008, Paul carries 33% of the youth vote (those under 45), and 35% of the quarter of voters who call themselves either Democrats or Independents. 
So combining her December 16th and 22nd columns, Kimberley Strassel’s analysis is that the GOP, excluding Paul, can’t connect with the key subset of the electorate needed to win in November, and that Paul himself is not acceptable to enough GOP voters. The only GOP candidate that might take away key voting blocks from Barack Obama in November can’t, per Strassel, win the GOP nomination.
Against a generic Republican candidate, Barack Obama loses. Against each of the actual candidates, Obama wins, but Paul comes second closest to beating him (within 8% points; Romney is within 3%. These numbers are, of course, very fluid). We understand why Romney does well: he LOOKS Presidential. He is wealthy and successful, handsome and tall, speaks with confidence and sobriety, never saying anything that might get him in trouble. Just what the establishment thinks Americans want in their President. But why is Paul doing well? It can’t be the man himself. He IS somewhat crankish. He DOES tend to blather on a bit. How can HE possibly be doing so well. When you think about it, it MUST be his message.
In a rational world, this sort of thing would make establishment Republicans re-assess their aversion to Ron Paul. But in the WSJ’s worldview, nothing can allow re-thinking their “small limited government capable of policing the whole world” ideology. Nonetheless, they shouldn’t ignore the fact that, distorted and hysterically pilloried though it has been, Paul’s principled non-interventionism attracts support from the people actually fighting America’s wars. Paul receives more monetary contributions from US soldiers than all the other GOP candidates. As for traditional GOP voters, to judge by the applause he receives at the GOP debates he is gaining traction here as well. 
It would be tragic if Strassel were right, that the person best positioned to reach out to Americans sick of big government can’t win because he actually wants to cut big government.