Among the many charges waged against traditionalist conservatives and Ron Paul-type libertarians is that we believe in “conspiracy theories.” It might be about the New World Order, 9/11, the Bilderberg Group, or the Federal Reserve. Most are too silly to be believed for a minute.
But one of the weirder conspiracy theories out there today is actually a product of the mainstream media: the alleged Ron Paul – Mitt Romney alliance.
The narrative Republicans are telling each other goes something like this: Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have some sort of agreement where they won’t attack each other in ads or in debates. Paul, who has no chance of winning the nomination, will be Romney’s “wingman” by attacking all of the former governor’s conservative opponents. In exchange, Ron Paul might get a primetime speaking spot at the convention or the vice presidency. Or maybe son Rand Paul will be VP.
All of this, of course, is based upon mere speculation and active imaginations. Yet it’s fascinating to wonder, as with the occasional conspiracy theorist we come across, whether this is just theater for them or do they actually believe such an implausible scenario? Are there really non-brain damaged human beings out there who think the Champion of the Constitution, and a man who even his ideological enemies concede is incorruptible, is in cahoots with the flip-flopping, individual mandating, bailout-supporting Empty Suit?
This theory has actually been circulating for months. It’s been floated around the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Republican talk radio. Rick Santorum has gotten in on the act now, accusing Paul and Romney of ganging up on him. None of that proves evidence of a conspiracy, only that Santorum is a whiner. But it does beg the question: Why does Romney, the 250 Million Dollar Man who has a well-documented army of PACs to run negative ads, need a wingman?
Pardon the pun, but the main “evidence” people have is that Paul and Romney have basically kept their mitts off each other. But the conspiracy theorists are reading too much into it. The main reason these two haven't attacked each other is that they don’t have to.
Romney is the candidate of the establishment, the center, and the moderates. Ron Paul is the candidate of the very conservative, independents, youth, and disaffected Democrats. Romney can win the nomination without Paul’s supporters. But it will be very difficult for Romney to beat President Obama without a coalition that is consistently taking 15-20% in Republican primaries. He's not going after Paul because he can’t afford to alienate either him or his supporters.
At the same time, though, Ron Paul is not really going after Romney. What may be lost on the perpetuators of the Romney-Paul connection is that the two candidates are not appealing to the same constituencies. Paul has attacked all the so-called conservative alternatives because he is the real alternative to Romney. The point of Paul’s attacks on Santorum and Gingrich et al. is to bring their supporters over to his side. The rationale for supporting all the so-called conservative alternatives is to provide a home for right-wingers unhappy with Romney. Paul could try knocking Romney down a peg or two with one of the clever ads he’s used on Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry before that, but what would it accomplish for the Paul campaign?
From the perspective of the Paul campaign and the average Paul supporter: who is worse Romney, Santorum or Gingrich? They are all just variations of each other. Would a frontal assault on the Massachusetts Man drive his more conservative supporters over to Paul or is it more likely that weaknesses in the Romney cause will enhance his closest rival, right now Rick Santorum? The Ron Paul strategy is clearly to try to knock out, or wait for Mitt to knock out, all the conservative poseurs to set up a one-on-one match-up that might have its ending at the convention.
Yet this theory was compounded last week when Kentucky senator Rand Paul said in an interview with reporters that he would be “honored” to serve as Mitt Romney’s vice president. This caused an uproar among those living in the alternate universe where Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are allies but Senator Paul clarified:
“I still have my first choice in the race and that’s Ron Paul. My first choice would be a Ron Paul presidency and my first choice for a position would be an unofficial adviser to a Ron Paul presidency…
“But when they push and push and push, and say ‘What about Romney? Would you do it?’ I mentioned that it would be an honor, and what I meant by that is sort of like if you were nominated for an academy award, what’s your response? You’d say “It’d be an honor to be nominated’ and so I think it would be silly for me not to say that if anybody considered me that I’d be honored by it, but I think it was somewhat overblown, it sort of fits into this sort of cabal that people write about…”
The idea of a Rand Paul VP candidacy is useful for these latter-day conspiracy theorists but they ignore the fact that he would be a fantastically wasteful choice of a VP.
I will concur that Rand Paul is likely to be somewhere on the VP list – the long list, not the short one. Romney would be foolish not to consider the younger Paul. Rand Paul represents one of the genuine Tea Party elected officials and Romney needs self-identified Tea Partiers. The son of an Outsider’s Outsider with no previous government experience, he has impenetrable Tea Party credentials.
The obvious down-side of a Romney-Rand Paul ticket is that the GOP ticket will have a grand total of less than two years of DC experience. It will be easy pickings for the Democrats to paint the Republican ticket as a pair of amateurs.
It also does Romney no good to nominate anyone from a solidly red state like Kentucky. Romney will carry the Bluegrass State with or without Rand Paul. However, he might assure himself of a state Republicans need to win by selecting Floridian Marco Rubio, who satisfies most of the criteria the Republicans crave anyway.
Rubio entered office as a “Tea Party” candidate even though he only fit into that role by simply not being Charlie Crist. Rubio’s Cuban heritage helps him in a couple of ways too. He will be pushed by the VP search team as a way of appealing to Hispanics, even though the evidence that Hispanics will leave President Obama for the Republicans is slim. Republicans will also be drawn to a Rubio VP nomination because they seem stuck on the idea that if they showcase enough minorities and women in various positions of authority that the Democrats and media will stop calling them racist. Palin, Michael Steele, and Herman Cain should be enough evidence to convince them otherwise, but since Romney never met a constituency he wouldn’t pander to, he can easily agree to an affirmative action VP.
And even before reaching office Rubio fashioned himself as a Hawk’s Hawk, and by gravitating towards the John McCain-Lindsey Graham wing of the party, he assures that there will be no deviation from the foreign policy status quo. Romney and his coterie of neocon advisers will not easily hand the vice presidency over to anyone who has a record of filibustering the indefinite detention of Americans or publicly questioning the constitutionality or wisdom of “small wars” like Libya. But Rubio serves the same purpose for Romney that Sarah Palin served John McCain in 2008.
Nobody is happy with the impending Romney candidacy. With a mixed record at best, Obama is weaker today than he was four years ago, but Republicans are still going to be saddled with an uninspiring candidate. It’s very likely Romney will need to make a splash with his VP in order to generate enthusiasm. Rubio fits this role very well because he talks like a conservative but will govern like the establishment lackey that he is. He is the ideal foil for conservatives pondering whether to stay home.
Romney has no good reason to select Rand Paul except to cut off at the knees any prospect of a Ron Paul third party run. All through 2011 and even into 2012 Ron Paul has been asked whether he will run third party if he doesn’t win the nomination. The elder Paul’s reluctance to provide a definite answer has fueled speculation that he will redo his 1988 run.
People thinking that there is an alliance between Romney and the Pauls have it exactly backwards. If Romney does something as politically foolish as making Rand Paul VP it’s because he feels he has to do it in order to get the Ron Paul faction on board, a move that is not likely to produce many gains anyway. This does not exactly lend credence to the idea that there is a Romney-Paul pact.
Only weeks ago talkers like Mark Levin were screaming that if Ron Paul runs third party this year then son Rand should be targeted for political extinction in 2016. Now he and others are saying that Ron Paul and Romney have worked out a bribe. This probably tells us a little more about the depths of their hatred of Ron Paul than it tells us about Paul and maybe even Romney.
To the mainstream conservatives and regular Republicans imbibing this tale of a Romney-Paul alliance I say this: Welcome to the Conspiracy Club.
Regular Columnist, THL
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