Monday, August 15, 2011

The Silent Treatment?

According to Chris Wallace on today's Special Report, both he and Brett Baier have received a flood of emails over the past couple of days from supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul demanding more coverage of their man, who finished a very close second to Michelle Bachmann in the straw poll at Ames, Iowa, on Saturday. At first blush, they have a point: Rep. Bachmann has received a great deal of press for her showing; Texas Governor Rick Perry, who didn't even compete at Ames, has received as much; surely the man who almost won the poll ought also to receive his fair share of attention?

As is often the case with Ron Paul, however, the closer look tells the tale. The Congressman is very well known for standing against wasteful government spending, primarily because such spending exceeds Rep. Paul's strictly conservative interpretation of Constitutional limits on the role of government. But closer scrutiny shows that Ron Paul, like many others in Congress, has voted for Federal spending (on such projects as funding research on the reproductive lives of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico) that happens to benefit his constituents but which also seems exactly the kind of spending that he criticizes others for receiving. While TMH agrees with much of what Rep. Paul preaches, we also find some of that preaching a bit unconvincing since his actions in part belie his ideas.

And a closer look at the coverage of Paul's campaign reveals a deeper story than a media conspiracy to ignore him to death. The serious media, interested in careful analysis about what is likely to happen over the long term in the campaign, does not wish to devote a great deal of time to a candidate who simply cannot win the nomination. And his inability to win the nomination is emphatically not due to a lack of coverage by the media. The fact of the matter is that Paul's views are idiosyncratic: because so many of his supporters believe that 9-11 was "an inside job" (a view that Paul has been somewhat reluctant to repudiate), because he believes in an essentially isolationist foreign policy, because he believes we should end the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard, his views are out of the main stream of Republican opinion. That in turn means that his support in the Ames straw poll is extremely solid but that it could not grow significantly larger. To be sure, Bachmann defeated him by only a narrow margin, but, if the field had been smaller, she could well have beaten him by more.

Since Bachmann--and Pawlenty and Romney and Gingrich and Cain--are in the mainstream of Republican thought, any of them might have won. If fewer other candidates had participated in the poll, Bachmann would have received more votes because some who supported, say, Pawlenty might, if he had not been running, supported Bachmann. But because Paul is so different from the other candidates, it is unlikely that in a smaller field he would have attracted more support than he did. Now that Pawlenty has dropped out of the race, his support will drift to most of the other candidates; but because Paul is so unique, very little of Pawlenty's support will swing his way. Those who can be attracted to Paul support him already; since because of his views he is unlikely to gain support as the field inevitably narrows in the coming months, his slice of the pie cannot get any bigger: in fact, relative to the other candidates, his slice will only grow smaller. For this reason, he cannot ultimately win, and no amount of media attention will change that fact because it will not essentially change Paul's platform. On the other hand, Bachmann might win; so might Perry or Romney; so conceivably might Gingrich or Santorum--and for that reason, the media will pay more attention to them than to Paul.

As Paul's supporters point out, media bias certainly exists, but that is true of the mainstream media (think of the Newsweek cover of Michelle Bachmann), not of Fox News, for whom Baier and Wallace work. They do indeed cover other candidates more than they cover Congressman Paul, but not because they wish to silence him. Rather, they realize that the very passion of his supporters and uniqueness of his positions ensure that he is always at the peak of his fortunes, and that peak is simply not enough to make him a serious long-term contender. Congressman Paul is admirable in many ways, not least because his candidacy invites people to think seriously about important issues that we ignore at our peril. Ideas alone, however, do not ensure political viability, and since Paul is in the current political climate not viable as a first-tier candidate, he will not receive first-tier political coverage.

1 comment:

  1. To put it another way, he is a lunatic on the fringe.