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Ron Paul: An Iowa Anti-Endorsement

And why he can’t be so neatly separated from the GOP field

Marc Tracy
January 03, 2012
Rep. Ron Paul yesterday in Iowa.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Rep. Ron Paul yesterday in Iowa.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As a Jew, I hope Rep. Ron Paul does not win today’s Iowa caucuses. This isn’t about policy differences, although certainly, say, the Republican Jewish Coalition found enough simply in Paul’s policies—his support for a more isolationist stance, including reducing aid to Israel, and his total lack of concern for Iran’s race to build nuclear weapons—to condemn him. It is the publication in the 1990s of newsletters, under his name and reportedly written by a close adviser, that trafficked in racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism (greatest hits here), combined with his refusal to treat this fact as something serious rather than a bugaboo trumped up by his enemies and the mainstream media, or to acknowledge that he was aware of the newsletters’ contents and defended them. It’s his rantings about the Trilateral Commission. It’s comparing Gaza to a concentration camp. You can make a case that President Obama is wrong on Israel, but you can’t in good faith argue that he is motivated by anti-Jewish animus. Ron Paul, by contrast, is not one of our friends.

Yet it is not unlikely that Paul will win the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses—he was the fairly clear frontrunner not two weeks ago, although he has since lost ground, so that overall frontrunner Mitt Romney is now considered the favorite. Which puts Jewish Republicans in a tricky position! To the long list of reasons why Jews typically don’t vote Republican could be added the fact that lots of Republicans do vote for this reactionary little man. In a year (happy new year, by the way!) when the Democratic standard-bearer may be especially vulnerable among Jews and the Republican standard-bearer, assuming it’s Romney, may be pretty appealing, the last thing the Republican establishment wants Jewish voters to do is associate the party with Paul.

Enter the argument that Paul is actually a liberal, or at least draws much of his support and enthusiasm from liberals. It’s not as ludicrous as it seems on its face (on its face, it’s completely ludicrous: the man has run for the Republican nomination, twice). A recent poll argued that Paul does derive much of his support from non-Republicans; his positions on the war on drugs and gay marriage are much more compassionate and sensible than those of his competitors, although I would ask people suckered by this to read what Paul’s newsletters had to say about inner-city blacks and homosexuals.

However, it is undeniable that Paul’s ideology is classic, pre-William F. Buckley conservatism, and that the single largest and most coherent voting bloc that is likely to support him is not leftists or radical independents or progressives but Tea Partiers. Indeed, the ultimate Tea Party politician is generally thought to be Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—Ron Paul’s son, and a key supporter. And the Tea Party is fundamentally a Republican bloc. Rand Paul advocated ending aid to Israel, and nobody seriously suggests he’s not a true Republican. So this argument that Paul is properly understood as somehow un-Republican is sophism, ranging somewhere on the spectrum between disingenuous and dishonest.

The most troubling aspect of the Paul phenomenon is, in fact, that he could win the nomination: the winners of four of the past five competitive Iowa caucuses have gone on to be their parties’ nominees; Paul has a national organization, a lot of money, and a sophisticated strategy to accumulate delegates. No, I don’t think he’s going to win—it’s going to be Romney—but it’s foolish to dismiss the prospect outright, as virtually every professional prognosticator does.

But the secondarily troubling aspect of the Paul phenomenon, and the one that has already come to pass, is the specter of the mainstream, legitimate candidates—including Romney—saying they would support him over Obama. Leaving aside the Israel stuff, on which Obama happens to be more “Republican” than Paul (President Paul would not fund Iron Dome, to choose one example), this is appalling given the newsletters and the other stuff. At Commentary, Jonathan Tobin argues that Romney’s approach to Paul is no different from John Kerry’s approach to Al Sharpton or 1980s Jewish Democrats’ approach to Jesse Jackson. But Sharpton was never anything other than completely marginal; and as for Jackson, I have no idea where Tobin gets the idea that Jewish Democrats coddled him. No: Romney’s promise to vote for Paul over Obama is shockingly craven, and one way you know it is that Newt Gingrich—whose actual politics are arguably closer to Paul’s—has said he wouldn’t vote for Paul over Obama. Gingrich, you see, has less of a chance of winning than Romney and tends to be more candid on the stump.

Ron Kampeas asked the $64,000 question: “Are they”—Romney and Rick Santorum, who has put up an impressive showing in the Iowa polls over the past week, also said he’d support Paul over Obama—“nodding to what they see as a genuine pro-Paul GOP constituency?” The $64,000 answer is yes—the alternative is to believe that Romney is also a dangerous extremist. I don’t think he is, and I’m certain the RJC doesn’t.

Most of all, it’s disturbing that Tobin’s first instinct, mirroring that of the GOP, is to regress into partisan talking points (he says Democrats lack standing to attack Romney, as though this were an appeals court rather than the democratic process) rather than to engage with this problem. The Republican establishment’s and Republican Jewish establishment’s decision to brush Paul and the very real movement he represents off rather than to acknowledge it, own it, and deal with it makes Paul’s isolationist, xenophobic, hateful ideology that much more dangerous; it makes it likely that, just as the 2012 Paul has gained more traction than the 2008 Paul, the 2016 or 2020 Paul equivalent will be even bigger than 2012 Paul—a candidate who, afer all, may win today’s caucuses.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.