Tucker Carlson’s TNR piece on Ron Paul is freewheeling and slightly zany and worth reading if only because there are far too few opportunities to read political correspondents writing lines like, “I wasn’t planning on showing up at Paul’s press conference with a bordello owner and two hookers, but unexpected things happen on the road.”
Tucker also attempts to answer my question from the other day about the makeup on Paul’s coalition, and what drives it:
It’s hard to think of a presidential candidate who’s ever drawn a coalition as broad as Ron Paul’s. At any Paul event, you’re likely to run into self-described anarcho-capitalists, 9/11-deniers, antiwar lefties, objectivists, paleocons, hemp activists, and geeky high school kids, along with tax resistors, conspiracy nuts, and acolytes of Murray Rothbard. And those are just the ones it’s possible to categorize. It’s hard to say what they all have in common, except that every one is an ideological minority—or, as one of them put it to me, “open-minded people.” To these supporters, Paul is a folk hero, the one person in national politics who doesn’t judge them, who understands what it’s like to be considered a freak by straight society.
This seems roughly accurate to me, although I also think there’s something to the argument made by Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones that much of his support is based around and fueled by the tech-geek community.
I still wonder, however, whether or not the movement actually requires Paul, or if some other leader or organization might be able to act as a proxy for a similar message. And I wonder how his coalition, and its ideals, however unfocused they might be, will hold up in the coming years. He and his supporters could easily remain a disruptive force in the two-party system after the 08 election, but will they still rally if, for example, a Democrat takes the White House and the war becomes less of an issue? Would they follow a Paul-anointed successor (or someone who just took up the mantle), or is part of the appeal, as Tucker suggests, the unassuming persona of Paul himself? It’s not that hard to imagine both parties seeing their electoral (and possibly even legislative) strategies frustrated if any substantial chunk, even just 5% of the electorate, decided to mobilize in favor of a broadly libertarian platform, and it seems to me that, in many instances, establishing a small center of gravity there would probably be a good thing. And failing that, it’d be fascinating to watch.
Update: Even given the above, I think the strength is the libertarian vote is regularly overstated. So while I appreciate David Boaz’s regular enthusiasm for the potential power of a libertarian vote, I’m not entirely convinced. He argues today that “the libertarian vote is about the same size as the religious right vote measured in exit polls,” but I can’t help but wonder if this summer’s Fabrizio study of the makeup of the Republican party doesn’t provide a more accurate picture of the coalition. The Fabrizio report puts moralists — who are far less concerned about free-market and presumably are the crowd fueling Huckabee’s rise — at 24% of the coalition, the largest single group. Free-marketers, however, the outlook of whose members looks more or less like the Club for Growth’s, only make up about 8% of the coalition, and are tied for the smallest group in the coalition.