The audience of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno yesterday was filled with enthusiastic (and vocal) Ron Paul supporters. (For those of you who missed the interview with Dr. Paul, check out the official Tonight Show web site here and choose "October 30" and "Chapter 5." The segment has also been posted to YouTube, but I can't guarantee that it will stay there long.)
There is no doubt that many more American voters saw Ron Paul on The Tonight Show than had seen him on any of the GOP presidential debates. (It's also likely that more Americans heard the term "Austrian economics" last night than have ever heard the term in the past century.)
While media attention matters, so does the fact that Ron Paul's campaign and his principles are earning the respect even of those who disagree with him on some issues.
One example of this is found in an opinion column in The Hoya, the oldest continuously-operating student newspaper at Georgetown University. (The Hoya has been published since 1920. Full disclosure: I contributed a couple of articles to The Hoya as an undergraduate.)
In the article, regular columnist Stephen Kenny, a supporter of Rudy Giuliani, explains "Why Ron Paul Matters":
[Ron] Paul is a model for Americans who support fewer big government solutions to problems, and try to confront difficult social issues with private, community-based efforts and personal sacrifice.Kenny, a Georgetown College senior, continues:
My favorite aspect of Ron Paul’s public service career is his strong fidelity to the Constitution. Too many members of Congress vote for bills that are popular, or support legislation based solely on how much funding their districts will get. Paul actually consults the Constitution to see if a bill falls under the enumerated powers of Congress. The Constitution offers many safeguards against government intrusion and remaining faithful to it is the best way to protect individual and states’ rights. Paul’s profound respect for the duties of his office is something sorely missing from many of our representatives in Congress.
Ron Paul has definitely played an important role in the Republican debates this year. Aside from his defense of an isolationist foreign policy, Paul has posed uncomfortable questions to the GOP frontrunners that will hopefully be answered during the course of the campaign. Most of the issues addressed by his campaign relate to the domestic response to the terrorist threat, such as the proper balance between civil liberties and security. He also stands resolutely against the use of torture on enemy prisoners and warns of the consequences of the enlargement of executive authority in the War on Terror. The separation of powers, Paul maintains, is an essential component of our Constitution that prevents tyranny and keeps the branches of government answerable to the people. These are principled stances that must be considered by the Republican Party as it formulates its platform for the 2008 presidential election.With praise like that from one who supports Ron Paul's leading opponent, what can we expect from uncommitted voters during the upcoming primary elections and caucuses? It is clear that Ron Paul's message is resonating with many people who have been disengaged from politics in the past. An MSNBC report this week noted:
Ron Paul's constitutionalist approach to government and his loyalty to the principles upon which this country was built has provided an important contribution to the Republican primaries. Hopefully, he will have a major influence on the direction of the party. His voice for a smaller federal government and individual liberty is a welcome one in the Republican Party, and I am grateful for his strong presence in the debates.
A small sample of Ron Paul’s supporters in Iowa in recent days found them to be a mix of young and old, mostly male, but some women.According to another MSNBC report, Dr. Paul told 700 supporters (described by the reporter as "whooping fans") gathered at Iowa State University last weekend:
They include traditional Christian social conservatives and homeschoolers, and fresh-faced fervent college students such as [Iowa State's Jacob] Bofferding, who embrace his free market ideas and an anti-interventionist foreign policy.
“There is something rather amazing about the Internet,” he told his Ames supporters, about two-thirds of whom appeared to be under age 25. “I’ve been used to delivering a message very similar to what I’m delivering tonight for many, many years and not getting a whole lot of responses. And all of a sudden, there’s a whole generation of people now very excited about hearing about the message of freedom.”MSNBC correspondent Tom Curry quotes a well-known political operative on Paul's chances of success in Iowa:
Joe Trippi, a 25-year veteran of Iowa caucus politics who served as Howard Dean’s campaign manager in 2003 and who’s now a top aide to [John] Edwards, said, “From what I see, Ron Paul is doing much better than his better-known opponents think he is doing. He is at that stage of the Dean campaign when all the other campaigns are laughing at him and have no idea of how strong he really is.”It is just 64 days until the Iowa caucuses. Is the momentum with the maverick from Texas?
Trippi added, “This kind of candidacy can be surprisingly strong in a caucus state particularly if it stays just below the radar.”