Ron Paul may not be on a path to winning the Republican party’s presidential nominee but the strength of his campaign is making a serious statement about American politics and the potential future of the Republican Party.
By getting 21.4 percent in Iowa and 22.9 percent in New Hampshire, Paul is showing that his anti-foreign war, anti-drug war, anti-Federal Reserve and “get the government out of my life” platform has a significant base of support in this country and in the Republican base. Most importantly this substantial base is made up mainly of young voters who will potentially be involved in politics for decades to come.
Looking at the exit polls in both states, Paul is overwhelmingly the choice of young people. In Iowa Paul won all the age groups under 40 and dominated with voters under 30, taking a full 48 percent of the under 30 vote in Iowa. Similarly in New Hampshire, Paul won 46 percent of the vote under 30, compared to Mitt Romney who won just 26 percent of the youth vote. No candidate comes even close to matching Paul’s support from young people.
On the other hand, Romney’s victory in both states is mainly due to his strong showing with senior citizens. Romney is the candidate of what the GOP once was and currently is, but Paul could potentially be the candidate of what the party could become.
Assuming these young supporters’ opinions don’t change significantly in the next few years, it is conceivable that another candidate in 2016, perhaps without as much of Paul’s baggage, could be successful just trying to ride Paul’s basic coalition.
Paul’s roughly 22 percent finishes are not good enough to win this time, but they are not very far off from what it takes. In a crowded primary all it takes is small plurality victories to become the prohibitive front runner. A candidate with a solid base equal to only about about 30 percent of the vote could have a decent shot at the nomination.
I’m not saying Paul supporters will be the future of Republican Party, I’m just saying the current success of Paul’s campaign indicates a latent potential. Given the right political conditions, leadership, and organizing his base in the future could be harnessed into a real force inside or even outside the GOP.
This youth energy could easily dissolve with the end of the Paul campaign, but it is at least possible this campaign could end up serving a role similar to the Barry Goldwater campaign in shaping a future generation of activists.
The old guard in both parties risk ignoring what gives Paul such a huge appeal to young voters at their own peril.