Jewish World Review August 17, 2011 17 Menachem-Av, 5771
Ron Paul Remains Media Poison
By Roger Simon
On Saturday, the Ames Straw Poll was conducted in Iowa amid huge media interest and scrutiny. The results were enough to force one Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, out of the race and catapult another, Michele Bachmann, into the "top tier."
There are so many "top tier" stories in the media today that I can barely count them, let alone read them all, and Bachmann is in all of them by virtue of her victory at Ames. The rest of the tier is made up of two candidates who skipped Ames, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
As The Daily Beast put it: "The new top tier of Bachmann, Perry and Romney — created by Bachmann's Iowa straw poll win, Perry's entry into the race and Romney's lead so far in many national and state polls — has unleashed torrents of talk about the reshaped race."
Ron Paul's name was not mentioned in this piece or in many others. A Wall Street Journal editorial Monday magnanimously granted Paul's showing in the straw poll a parenthetical dismissal: "(Libertarian Ron Paul, who has no chance to win the nomination, finished a close second.)"
But "close" does not fully describe Paul's second-place finish. Paul lost to Bachmann by nine-tenths of one percentage point, or 152 votes out of 16,892 cast.
If it had been an election, such a result would almost certainly have triggered a recount. It was not an election, however, and that is my point. Straw polls are supposed to tell us, like a straw tossed into the air, which way the wind is blowing.
And any fair assessment of Ames, therefore, would have said the winds of the Republican Party are blowing toward both Bachmann and Paul.
Nonsense, some would say. Straw polls are just organized bribery, with the campaigns buying the tickets and distributing them to supporters. (And, in fact, this is what I wrote before Ames.)
What they really show, many argue, is not where the philosophical heart of the party is, but the organizational abilities of the candidates.
Fine, I'll buy that. But why didn't Paul get the same credit for his organizational abilities that Bachmann got for hers?
I am far from a Libertarian. I believe big government is swell as long as it does big things to help the common good. But after Ames, it was as if Paul had been sentenced to the Phantom Zone.
Bachmann appeared on five Sunday shows following Ames. Paul appeared on none. Politico's Kasie Hunt was one of the few reporters to do a separate story on Paul's showing at the straw poll, but to most of the media, he remained an exotic, unworthy of attention.
And I don't disagree that some of his beliefs — legalizing heroin, the right of states to secede — are peculiar (though he has been elected to a congressional district in Texas 12 times). But if Bachmann's victory at Ames was good enough to gain her enormous publicity and top-tier status, was why Paul's virtual tie good enough only to relegate him to being ignored?
So I asked Paul on Monday if the media blackout disturbed him.
"It did disturb me, but it was not a total surprise," he replied. "The result at Ames was significant; it might well have propelled us to the top tier. The media cannot change that."
But the media can, of course, change that since we get to determine who the top tier is.
"It is hard for them to accept," Paul said of his showing at Ames. "I had one interview scheduled for this morning, a national program, but they canceled. It is shocking to be told nobody wants you."
Was this because technically Paul came in second and not first? I don't think so. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee came in a bad second to Romney, losing by 13.4 percentage points. Huckabee managed to spin that into a victory at Ames and became a media darling.
But Paul almost wins the thing, and he remains poison.
"I think they (the media) believe this guy is dangerous to the status quo," Paul said, "but that is a reason to be more energized. I am a bit more challenging, but I am not on the wrong track. I don't think that my ideas are more exotic. They are threatening."
In his interview with me, Paul stressed his "peace" message — he wants our troops brought home from foreign soil — and believes that and his fiscal conservatism will gain him supporters.
"We are trying to reverse 100 years of history, the change from a republic to an empire, the change to tax and spending, who wants to admit that?" Paul said. "Who wants to admit we don't have to be policemen of the world?"
Let me say right here that unlike many of Paul's supporters, I don't believe there is a left-wing media conspiracy working against him. Ralph Nader, who is about as far as you can get from Paul politically, has the same problem whenever he runs for president.
And, no, media attention is not based solely on polls. The most recent polls, taken before Ames, showed Bachmann with 10.2 percent of the vote and Paul with 9.0 percent. That's not a huge difference, though those polls will no doubt change with all the publicity Bachmann is now getting due to her "stunning" victory at Ames.
There was a deliciously intriguing line in The Washington Post's fine recap of Ames on Sunday. It said that had Paul edged out Bachmann, "it would have hurt the credibility and future of the straw poll, a number of Republicans said."
So don't blame the media. Here are Republicans, presumably Republican operatives, who say if one candidate wins, the contest is significant, but if another wins, the contest is not credible.
Amazing. And disturbing.
"Well, yes, I can get discouraged and dispirited," Paul told me. "We came so very close. To come that close to winning, it shows my views are very mainstream. And if we are worth our salt and our message is sound and we tell it honestly, we will do well."
Though possibly no one will notice.
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