Darren Richardson



As he did so often in other online polls against different opponents during the primary season, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) scored an overwhelming win against Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in The Punditty Project’s Hypothetical Presidential Poll, which was open to online voters Sept. 29 through Oct. 7.

With 1,102 votes cast, Paul (as GOP nominee, not a third party candidate) won a decisive 79 to 20 percent victory over Obama, the Democratic nominee. Paul received 870 votes to Obama’s 228. Four voters chose “other.”

Some people reading this analysis might scoff, saying none of this matters. As to the effect it will have on the 2008 presidential election, they are right. But in the bigger picture – on such matters as the ideological and moral direction the Republican Party will take in the wake of what is shaping up to be a loss in November – the phenomenon these poll numbers is measuring could have an enormous effect when it comes to determining the GOP's nominee in 2012.

Before hypothesizing, let’s turn our attention to the Oct. 7 presidential debate, in which Sen. John McCain proposed a $300 billion mortgage-purchasing plan, at taxpayer expense. One of the networks had a color-coded graphic that charted the instant reactions of Republicans, Democrats and Independents to every moment of the debate. As McCain spoke about his costly idea, support among Republicans plummeted while support among the other two segments stayed about the same.

It was Democratic President Harry S Truman who said, “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.” In 2008, GOP voters must feel like their choice is between two Democrats, one of whom puts an “R” to his name just for kicks. Beginning Nov. 5, the Republican Party is going to be in the mood for some very thorough and honest soul-searching. Now more than ever, Republicans are open to hearing Paul’s ideas.

What if Americans had an actual choice?

Returning to the hypothetical realm of Punditty’s poll, imagine a Republican-nominated Ron Paul discussing sound money right now, with millions upon millions of attentive listeners. Imagine voters being given a choice between a major-party nominee who opposed the bailout and a major-party nominee who supported it. Having an actual choice would be the only game-changer the American people needed.

This is not to say that Paul would definitely win, but it is to suggest that the contest would be at least as close as it is now if not closer. Punditty bases this admittedly bold declaration on data compiled in December of 2007 by pollster Scott Rasmussen at rasmussenreports.com. According to findings published there, Obama prevailed 50 to 31 percent in hypothetical matchup with Paul. In a matchup between Paul and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Clinton prevailed by a mere 12 points, 49-37 percent.

Why is this important? Because it establishes that right off the bat, as the Republican nominee, Paul would have had approximately 40 percent of the voters behind him. It is perfectly reasonable to round up because once a candidate has secured the nomination of either major party, those who identify by party tend to rally around the nominee. Even Sen. George McGovern won 39 percent of the vote against President Nixon in 1972.

Suppose that even after the conventions, Paul was trailing 55 to 40 with a mere 5 percent of the voters undecided. Assuming that events on Wall Street would have played out the in roughly the same way, how would voters have reacted to one candidate being adamantly opposed to the bailout while the other tried to portray it as a much-needed rescue?*

We will never know. But we can be pretty sure that large numbers of party-line and independent voters who had been tuning out Paul’s economic message would have suddenly found his words and theories very interesting, and as the GOP nominee, Paul would have had the national platform from which to share them. If the Republican Party would have stayed true to its roots, as Paul urged throughout the primary campaign, and nominated the one candidate who has consistently warned about the dangers of fiat currency and a central banking system with the power to manipulate the credit markets, Americans might well be on the verge of electing Ron Paul president of the United States.

Instead, barring a major development, Obama is gaining momentum for what could be a decisive win. Punditty has already declared his support for Obama based on the fact that at least the Democrats nominated a very good candidate who more or less embodies his party’s principles (Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio would have been the best Democratic nominee) as opposed to a wishy-washy, impulsive senator who uses the word "maverick" as if that somehow explains everything about all his contradictions and deceptions, no further questions needed.

The looming fight for the soul of the GOP

As for 2009 and beyond, look for the battle for the soul of the post-Bush Republican Party to move in one of three basic directions. It could simply try to maintain the status quo in terms of overall brand and image -- but with a few focus group-tested bells and whistles added in to make it seem fresh and rejuvenated. That would be bad enough, but not nearly as bad a second possibility.

In this scenario, the GOP would move toward an unapologetic, quasi-fascist party that encourages a kind of ongoing clampdown, an Americanized version of Burma. Rather than armies in the street, however, fear and control would become the ultimate political tools through shows of force and deft media management. By repeatedly decrying Big Government even as it pushes and passes more Patriot Acts, more wiretapping, more military involvement on foreign soil, more NAFTAs, more "bailouts," the Orwellian concept of doublespeak would flourish at the expense of freedom, liberty and justice. Punditty may be overdramatizing a bit, but let’s not go there and we won’t have to find out.

A third, more hopeful – and I daresay realistic – possibility is that out of the financial darkness now besetting America and the world, a better way can be forged. At its best, the Republican Party has been a beacon for fiscal responsibility, a strong, smart military, individual liberty and real, honest-to-goodness free enterprise, not the government subsidized version crippling us today. The Ron Paul Revolution is poised to lead the way.

The fact that Paul supporters are still motivated enough to respond to an essentially meaningless poll even as they organize in precincts, districts and states across the country indicates a movement still on the rise. It’s not the poll results that matter; it’s the confirmation that the energy of the Ron Paul Revolution the poll tapped into is still very much alive and well. 2008 may belong to Obama and the Democrats, but as he faces the transition from candidate to president, Americans will already be wondering about what they can do if Obama’s plans and policies for the United States aren’t successful.

You can bet Paul’s supporters will be ready, willing and able to shape the direction of that debate - so much so that it’s going to surprise a lot of people who haven’t been paying attention.

*As any good student of alternative history knows, any such assumption is ultimately unverifiable, but for our purposes, it is at the very least plausible.