Making the Maverick Mainstream – The Saga of Ron Paul

Google the name “Ron Paul” and up comes the tag line “Hope for America.”

Certainly, the Presidential candidate who promotes limited constitutional government has a number of factors in his favor. Travel to his campaign site, and you see a website that nearly shouts “social networking.” A list of social networking sites is prominently displayed on the home page; there’s a You Tube video clip, a Meetup Competition, and a list of recent donors. It’s all so 21st century.

The Congressman has had a meteoric rise on the Internet which has translated into fundraising that’s viral in its intensity, along with plenty of grassroots buzz on the World Wide Web for his campaign. His fans are quite vocal in their support–they’re true believers to the nth power.

Yet, this maverick’s campaign is now at a crossroads. It’s decision time for Ron Paul. Will he continue as a protest candidate or embrace a broader agenda?

Of course, there’s value in playing the role of protester. Running against the rest of the Republican field has given him the name recognition he now enjoys. Those voters dissatisfied with the status quo may be more likely to pull the lever for an outspoken critic of Republicanism as usual, rather than for a media-appointed star such as Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. Also, despite what could be considered big media support for the frontrunners, there are always members of the press corps who delight in writing copy about candid candidates who speak their mind on the issues, rather than spout off slick campaign talking points.

Still, there are a number of reasons for Paul to shift a little toward tried-and-true conservatism. While libertarianism is trendy in some circles, it’s definitely not “big tent.” Ridding our nation of the Federal Reserve may be an enlightened idea, but it may have few takers on Wall Street. To govern, Paul needs consensus. The best way for him to demonstrate that he can achieve that is to establish common ground with the rank-and-file electorate. Paul moving towards conservatism would be a similar idea, in principle, to party nominees moving toward the center in order to win a general election.

It’s also a historical fact that protest candidacies eventually sputter out if they don’t morph into something else. Remember that perennial protest candidate, Ralph Nader? The Democrats co-opted a number of his “green ideas,” leaving him in the dust. Being a purist can be personally edifying, but it can be a disaster on Election Day, when a number of different constituencies make their voices heard at the polls.

Paul is to be applauded for his commitment to limited government, the pro-life cause, and pro-family values. Paul’s campaign notes that one of his Congressional colleagues once said, “Ron Paul personifies the Founding Fathers’ ideal of the citizen-statesman. He makes it clear that his principles will never be compromised, and they never are.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that, in 1976, he was one of only a handful of Republican Congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan for President.

Paul could conceivably claim the Reagan mantle–but to do it, he must appeal to a broad base. And that may require moving out of the maverick camp and into the mainstream.