You have to hand it to Ron Paul—as a non-establishment guy, he’s made much bigger waves in the presidential election than most outsiders typically do. No one ever took Ralph Nader as much more than a novelly idealistic sideshow to the main event, and as much as Ross Perot was able to flirt with legitimacy in the early ’90s, there was just no way someone was going to get elected from outside the two main parties.
As political outsiders go, the Ron Paul 2012 campaign has been a smashing success. And yet he hasn’t won a single state primary. He came in second in New Hampshire and again last week in Minnesota, but second seems to be about as close as he can get. Minnesota, remember, was a state that elected Jesse Ventura as governor—a guy who thinks FEMA is building concentration camps to store American citizens. If an eccentric like Ron Paul win somewhere, it would probably be Minnesota.
Nonetheless, there is one Republican vote that Paul has dominated as the top dog for the past two years: the CPAC straw poll.
Last year Paul’s supporters stormed the auditorium where his victory was being announced, cheering him for minutes on end. Sure, there is some suspicion out there that Paul’s vote was won by supporters who bought up 1,000 tickets to the event and filled it with the Paul-friendly voters to cast ballots. But is this really all that different from the way regular campaigns raise money to monopolize our attention with ads and make the election feel less like a conversation and more like an inevitability? And couldn’t other candidates’ supporters just as easily have bought tickets?
The point is that he won convincingly, and earned a lot of media attention for it.
While CPAC clearly isn’t a state primary and doesn’t count toward the election, it is a highly influential gathering and an annual touchstone for the conservative agenda—kind of like SxSW is for indie rock. Winning CPAC this year would send an important message in a year when sending messages has been so important for the Paul campaign.
Just last week, as Ron Paul was celebrating his second place finish in Minnesota, Rick Santorum was trumpeting his own victory in that state. Last June, Santorum said, “[I will] fight very strongly against libertarian influence within the Republican party and the conservative movement.”
CPAC is the kind of event that moves the needle on dialogue, where cultural milieus get established. Skipping the event and handing Santorum a victory could help shift momentum back from the brand of Libertarianism Paul has been fighting for and whipping his supporters into a frenzy over.
Paul’s campaign says he needs to miss the event due to a hectic travel schedule, but the Washington Post notes he doesn’t have any official travel plans on his agenda. His son, the also-controversial Sen. Rand Paul, will be in attendance to speak on the presidential candidate’s behalf.
Why Paul would give up the chance at perhaps his only first place victory of the primary season is beyond me. If you have ideas, let us know in the comments section.