Four weeks from now, Ron Paul might win the GOP Iowa presidential caucus. Some in the media are starting to talk about the possibility, such as the National Review.
Winning in Iowa would bring a whole new set of challenges for the Ron Paul campaign. Below I discuss how the campaign can best address them.
Managing the Media Surge
One practical problem will be handling the media surge that would follow an Iowa win. For a campaign that has been ignored by much of the media (famously mocked by the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart), they will face many requests for newspaper interviews, TV appearances, and more.
The campaign team should, in advance of January 3rd, assess which media outlets will reach the largest audiences so that they can capitalize on the attention. Ron Paul’s time should be focused on the best of those. The Today Show and Good Morning America are examples of morning talk shows that are watched by many. The campaign should also have surrogates at the ready to handle those that can’t be fit into the candidate’s time. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the candidate’s son, has served in this role before and is recognized by the media. Campaign chairman Jesse Benton should also be ready, but the campaign may want to have at least one more surrogate. Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) would be another good option.
A related consideration is which media will treat Ron Paul fairly. Some so-called journalists have demonstrated extreme bias, as Bob Schieffer did during a November interview with Ron Paul on Face the Nation. Similarly, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News is openly biased against the Paul campaign. Others have been favorable and it might make sense to reward them with the early interviews. While cynical, it is not unusual and is a part of the game that politics has become.
The campaign should ensure that the candidate’s time is devoted to media that are more likely to be fair. Surrogates should be used for the ones who will try to ambush him. A surrogate can respond more aggressively.
Another critical issue for the campaign is honing the message. Ron Paul speaks well to his base, but he needs to work on reaching out to mainstream Republican voters if he wants to win the nomination. The candidate often gives long-winded answers and fails to talk about why his message matters to those voters.
A prime example of this is the Federal Reserve. Most voters simply don’t understand why it matters. If Ron Paul is going to talk about the Federal Reserve, he has to find a way to communicate to voters why it matters to them, and do it without long-winded statements.
The Des Moines Register recently had this quote from the candidate: The middle class keeps getting smaller and smaller, because when you destroy a currency by printing too much money, the value of the money goes down, prices go up, jobs go overseas (and) the middle class gets poorer. That statement is too complex and lacks clarity.
In other situations Paul has said something along the lines of: The bankers got bailed out and the people suffered. That is more direct and connects better with voters.
As we have seen with other candidates, skeletons in the closet can be very damaging. With Ron Paul there is one particularly bad moment in his past – the Ron Paul newsletters (Reason.com). It happened 20+ years ago, but it will come up again.
The short story is that newsletters were sent out in Ron Paul’s name. Some of these newsletters contained language about African-Americans and gays that could at best be described as politically incorrect. Others have described them as racist and bigoted.
While this story has been addressed in the past a Ron Paul win in Iowa will bring a whole new round of attention, with dramatically increased intensity and thorough scrutiny. An example of the nastier side can be seen on HotAir.com, describing Paul as “a candidate with a long history of disseminating racist, anti-gay and crypto-anti-Semitic tracts”. The campaign has to get this right or it will end his candidacy.
His past response has been inadequate. In 2008 CNN described it this way:
Paul told CNN’s “The Situation Room” Thursday that he didn’t write any of the offensive articles and has “no idea” who did.
“When you bring this question up, you’re really saying, ‘You’re a racist’ or ‘Are you a racist?’ And the answer is, ‘No, I’m not a racist,’” he said.
Paul said he had never even read the articles with the racist comments.
“I do repudiate everything that is written along those lines,” he said, adding he wanted to “make sure everybody knew where I stood on this position because it’s obviously wrong.”
While his repudiation is important, he also needs to accept responsibility and explain his role. These newsletters went out under his name. He should acknowledge that it was a mistake on his part for allowing it to happen, and demonstrate that he’s learned from it.
There has been a call in past coverage for disclosure of who actually wrote the offensive statements. The pressure for that will increase exponentially. This should be done the first time he’s asked about it. It is widely thought that Paul supporter Lew Rockwell wrote or at least edited them. If Rockwell truly believes in Ron Paul and the liberty movement, he should be prepared to fall on his sword and take the heat. This is something the campaign should discuss thoroughly with the relevant parties to ensure everyone stays on message when it is done.
Since this post was written, the newsletter question has been raised already and Ron Paul has been addressing it well. He turns on the question and talks about his record of opposition to racism. In one interview the CNN the reporter kept asking the same question over and over. I’d suggest if this happens that he challenge the reporter: “We’ve covered that. Let’s talk about something that matters to the voters, like the economy. I proposed cutting $1 Trillion in spending and some people say that’s radical. Don’t you think we should talk about that?”
One of Ron Paul’s longer term problems in this campaign is that his outlook tends to be gloomy. He frequently talks about how our country is bankrupt. While this is true, and it connects with what people are feeling now, what they really want is hope for the future.
Ron Paul can, and sometimes does, deliver this kind of optimistic view. When confronted on Meet the Press with the Keynesian attitude that cutting government spending damages the economy, Paul pointed out what happened at the end of World War II: “draconian cuts … stimulated the economy.” He truly believes that his plan will remove the shackles from the US economy and generate spectacular growth. He needs to communicate this positive vision, perhaps in manner similar to Reagan’s “Morning in America” approach.
The campaign should be ready with a TV commercial to hit the airwaves shortly after the Iowa win, talking about how the coming Ron Paul presidency will bring America back to greatness. They’ve done an excellent job with commercials so far, but they need to turn to the positive with clarity, in a way that connects with ordinary people.
If Ron Paul wins Iowa it can be the start of a long and successful campaign. He has to be ready to seize that moment and get it right.