Ron Paul placed third in the Iowa Republican Caucuses, trialing closely behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. The only antiwar candidate reaped tens of thousands votes in the first campaign event of the pro-war party.
Paul didn’t come in first place, due apparently to Romney’s “electability” and a mysterious and rapid surge from Santorum, who was the only candidate yet to have experienced one. He lost to two of the most belligerent pro-war candidates in recent memory.
But Paul has so far displayed incredible sway, despite firmly advocating Republican Party sacrilege: anti-war, anti-empire, anti-secrecy, pro-civil liberties.
Towing the hawkish line, whether for a war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 or for maintaining an empire of bases peppered across the planet, is practically a religious commitment for Republicans. Paul broke from that and has succeeded to an extent that would have been unthinkable only five years ago.
In the 2008 Iowa Caucus, Paul came in fifth place with under 12,000 votes. His progress this year has been gradual, contrasting sharply with the erratic ups and downs most other candidates have experienced. Unlike last time around, Paul wasn’t ridiculed and laughed at with derision by the other candidates. Instead, they implicitly and explicitly acknowledged his credibility.
So how has an antiwar Republican garnered this much support heading into the Presidential primaries?
Part of it is because the people have come around to his ideas. “A CNN/ORC poll released in November,” writes Mary Meehan in the Baltimore Sun, “found that 68 percent of Americans opposed the war in Iraq and 63 percent are against the one in Afghanistan. Yet, we keep hearing that only hawks have a chance to be elected president.”
Some say Paul, partly as an antidote to the warfare and welfare of the Republican Bush years, has instigated a realignment. The Tea Party that he helped set in motion elected a number of Republicans in 2010 that are against nation building and military adventurism, including his son Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky.
Antiwar sentiment has lost at least some of its pariah-like qualities within the party. In June, the New York Times profiled Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC), who “defied typecasting” on the issue of war. “An early critic of the American invasion of Iraq,” it read, “he has been ostracized by the Republican leadership in Congress. And now he is emerging as a leading advocate for swiftly withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan.”
Jones sponsored a bill last May that intended to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and “26 Republicans broke with their leadership to support it, triple the number who voted for a similar measure last year.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) “broke ranks with the GOP to vote against funding the war in Afghanistan,” wrote Antiwar.com’s Kelley B. Vlahos in July in a column exploring the new antiwar Republicans. “For these new members of the war opposition,” she wrote, “big budgets and nation building are unsustainable now.”
The Wall Street Journal also tackled the issue this summer, blasting many Republicans in Congress for “transform[ing] themselves into isolationists” now that a Democrat is in the White House. “What is the explanation for the 87 Republicans,” exclaimed the editorial, “who voted for Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s resolution that would stop U.S. military action in Libya within 15 days”?
This apparent rift in the Republican Party seemed to have provoked some 2012 candidates to advocate even more hawkish positions than usual. A number of them hysterically lied about Iran admitting its quest for nuclear weapons and openly advocated for aggressive covert action and preventive military strikes.
Still, a good portion of Ron Paul’s support has come from young people, independents, and even some antiwar Democrats. In other words: not your typical Republican voters. So Paul may not be changing the GOP as much as he is spearheading something new. Something separate from the two major parties.
History has made a fool of too many fortune-tellers reading change in the tea leaves. Politics is nothing if not capricious. It’s likely all the GOP needs to return to unanimous support for war is an unexpected international event or, indeed, a return to the Presidency.
The question is whether enough ordinary people, grassroots Republicans, Democrats, and independents, have been morally and intellectually convinced of peace and non-intervention to have a lasting change on American foreign policy.