Ron Paul: With So Much Promise, What Went Wrong?

His crowds were among the most energized of any in this presidential election year. Thousands turned out to see him in states all over the country. Many thought he’d be a solid contender this time around.

But disrespect from the lamestream media, an often-inept campaign, poor organization, lackluster debate performances, a lack of serious campaign money and a flawed message have conspired to make Ron Paul little more than an afterthought this election year.

What happened to the Paul campaign? More specifically, what happened to it in Oklahoma, where his coordinator claimed a large body of supporters and a rally drew one of the largest crowds of the year?

Conclusions The Evidence Produces

The McCarville Report has read dozens of national stories about Paul’s campaign, asked dozens of Oklahomans for their opinions. We’ve read almost three dozen not-for-your-eyes emails from inside and outside the Paul campaign in Oklahoma and from all of the data, these conclusions can be drawn:

1 ~ Paul’s message did not resonate beyond a hardcore group.

2 ~ Paul’s shoestring campaign was outspent and outclassed at almost every turn, crowd size and enthusiasm excepted.

3  ~ Paul’s Oklahoma “campaign organization” was a paper tiger, with virtually no ground game and what there was of it directed by a political novice more intent on brow-beating Republicans than putting together a Paul coalition that could produce votes. The novice’s actions resulted in campaign volunteers referring to him as “The Great Offender.”

4 ~ Given the ramifications of the problem just mentioned, there were deep divisions within the Paul campaign as to the strategy and tactics employed; the veterans in politics long ago saw a train wreck coming but no one in Paul’s state, or national, campaign offices seemed to care.

5 ~ Paul doubled his vote from 2008 to 2012; 27,572 this time around. An improvement, but clearly a minor-league one compared to Santorum, Romney and Gingrich.

6 ~ The mixing of the Sooner Tea Party name and questionable reputation with the Paul campaign.

7 ~ Paul’s foreign policy positions seemed bizarre to many.

8 ~ Paul was perceived as a marginal candidate and thoughtful voters didn’t want to waste their votes on a candidate without a chance of winning the nomination.

9 ~ A campaign that lacked charisma, either from the candidate or his Oklahoma surrogates; in fact, his primary surrogate exuded disrespect and hatred. The only bright spot he had on the stump was Senator Ralph Shortey, whose enthusiasm for Paul was contagious.

10 ~ Paul’s selection of a leader in Oklahoma was flawed; instead of turning to tried, tested and respected conservative leaders like Charles Key and Randy Brogdon, he picked an abrasive neophyte who quickly lost the trust and respect of many.

On The National Level

It’s not just in Oklahoma that Paul failed.

James Hohmann, writing for Politico ~ Ron Paul’s top strategists are confused and frustrated that  the wild enthusiasm they see at their campaign rallies and events is not  translating into votes. Thousands turned out to see the Texas congressman at events in Alaska, Idaho  and North Dakota in the days before Super Tuesday. Paul said publicly and  believed privately that he could win all three states outright. When the votes were counted, though, he finished third in Alaska and Idaho and second in North  Dakota. Paul may still emerge with a big chunk of delegates in the GOP  nominating race, but the candidate’s much-hyped focus on caucus states has yet to yield an outright victory in any state. This gap between dreams and reality came to a head during a Wednesday morning  conference call for senior staff when the discussion turned to why the campaign  keeps underperforming its own forecasts. “They count the numbers and then they count the votes,” said Doug Wead, a  Paul senior adviser who was on the call. “Did they get overconfident? … We’re  digesting that.” Despite his lack of success, Paul is unlikely to get out of the race anytime  soon. He often says he is leading a “movement” and his campaign is concentrated  on  amassing delegates rather than winning the nomination. Read more:

Expert Opinions

In Oklahoma, opinions of Paul’s poor showing range from blame for his coordinator, Al Gerhart, to his message to his organizational failures to his lack of charisma.

Here are opinions from experts, observers and analysts:

Al 'The Great Offender' Gerhart

Oklahoma Truth Council Blog ~ Ron Paul could have capitalized on the negative campaigning and produced a freedom loving, Constitution waving race that would have cut through the mudslinging and captured a large block of voters.  Paul had the opportunity to leverage the leadership of Sen. Randy Brogdon, whose 2010 campaign base had captured 45% of the Republican primary voters and join that with the ultraconservative voting record of Rep. Charles Key to build an effective statewide strategy.  But instead of trying to actually win votes, Ron Paul decided to christen the “Great Offender” Al Gerhart to use the Paul campaign as a grenade throwing, insult hurling, vitriol filled campaign that not even die hard Paul supporters could stomach. The Paul campaign seems to have capitalized on the old adage, “Elections are too important to leave up to the voters.”  Rather than campaign for votes, Gerhart has decided to attempt to perform hostile takeovers of county conventions so that he can take over the state convention, subvert the will of the voters and take over the national nominating convention in Florida.  At least Chicago Democrats had the decency to steal elections at the ballot box.

LD Jackson

LD Jackson/Political Realities~ …I have proudly supported him (Paul) throughout this campaign. I publicly endorsed him in October, not that my endorsement means much, and I have tried to write in a way that highlights his good points, while at the same time, trying to be honest about his drawbacks. I have tried to show in my support that not all Ron Paul supporters are crazy fanatics. I hope I have accomplished that. Having said that, there is a time when the writing is on the wall and this is one of those times. When I cast my vote for Ron Paul last evening, I knew it was a lost cause. For months, we have been watching the campaign, and everywhere Paul goes, he seems to attract a large crowd of supporters. In my home state of Oklahoma, the crowds were huge, but the results of the voting were not nearly as grand. According to the final results, Ron Paul finished dead last in every congressional district in Oklahoma. He also finished last in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia. Even though Paul and Romney were the only candidates on the ballot in Virginia, he never came close to winning. He fared the same in Vermont, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Idaho, and Alaska. This leads me to a conclusion that I really don’t like, but one that I can not avoid. Even though Paul has a large group of supporters, people who strongly believe in his fight for liberty and a return to the Constitution, that support does not translate into Republican votes at the ballot box. Because of the convoluted manner in which the delegates are being counted and awarded, I’ll not even get into that, other than to say this. Those of us who are supporting Ron Paul can claim “it’s all about the delegates” all we want, but it will not make a difference in the end. Hopefully, he will have enough support to be a part of the convention, but we need to face the facts. Ron Paul is not going to win the GOP nomination for President. That’s not to say the fight for liberty is over. I am sure Ron Paul will continue to espouse his message past the nomination fight and he may very well be setting the stage for someone else to carry it to the White House in the near future. Could it possibly be his son, Rand Paul? That remains to be seen, but unfortunately, it will not be Ron Paul.

Mike Reynolds

Rep. Mike Reynolds ~  I have never supported Ron Paul. I agree with many of his positions on the constitution, but absolutely disagree with the idea that abortion is a state issue. That is utterly ridiculous. I met Senator Santorum several years ago and was quite impressed. I was glad to see that many of my more conservative colleagues also endorsed Senator Santorum. With regard to the idea that he can’t beat Obama, I believe he is the most capable. The election boils down to a few states in the upper Midwest that I believe he has a far better connection with. In fact one of the issues that Romney attacked him on was his handling of union/right to work issues, which will probably allow him to gain massive amounts of Democrat votes that Romney can not get. He is also in my opinion the best candidate when it comes to an issue of Trust, the most important reason I believe anyone should look at when selecting a person to represent them.

Chris Wilson/Pollster, Pundit, Commentator ~ Simply put, I just don’t think his campaign is taken seriously any longer and Republicans just didn’t want to waste their vote.  At this point he’s nothing more than a spoiler.

Bill Shapard

Bill Shapard/ I think his foreign policy views were a non-starter for conservatives in a big military state.

Steve Dickson, Oklahoma City GOP activist and ardent Paul advocate ~ There are several factors at play. As you know, a certain segment of the “establishment” backs Governor Romney. Another “establishment” group backs Speaker Gingrich. A third “establishment” group backs Senator Santorum. You can look at who endorsed these candidates for a breakdown of the groups, and which political consulting groups those candidates use for the inside baseball fight among them. The non-establishment remainder – made of largely young people and older idealistic types and activists – backed Congressman Paul, with a few exceptions. My contact with the “national campaign” was limited to two events – the Ron Paul OKC Rally, and the Oklahoma County GOP Convention. I can only give you my personal experience, and let you make your own judgement. The Paul campaign is unconventional in that it is primarily driven from below, with almost zero guidance from above. I personally decided – in January – to focus on helping people get to precinct meetings in Oklahoma County, then to the County Convention, then State and District. There were other people leading this process already, and I found them and began offering what little support I could give. This part of the process is confusing for many people, and a little work goes a long way there. We held training meetings so people would know what to expect, and spent a lot of time talking to people about it. Others would put signs out, or do sign waves in high traffic areas, make phone calls, whatever they could do – but it was not really in an organized way. Just people believing in a cause, doing their best. The national campaign – and I speak of the campaign outside of Oklahoma, not it’s presence here – has a focus on gathering delegates. This is poorly understood even by those in the party. Oklahoma was not a good state for Ron Paul in 2008. He tripled his numbers this year, but still didn’t get to 15% to acquire delegates. In other states, this is not an issue because they are unbound from the start, but we have GOP rules and state law governing the delegate allocation here. As a result, he didn’t spend on media here, he did about 4 direct mailings, and he had a large grassroots effort – and he did great. You may ask why I say that, and the reason is because from what I have seen, there is a virtual three way split of the delegates from Oklahoma. If nobody gets a majority in Florida, Ron Paul has a national platform to spread the message of Liberty – and that is our objective. Winning the Presidency would be the best outcome for us, but an open convention and nomination fight gives a minority (our movement) a greater voice. A Movement is different than a campaign, and the GOP makes a mistake if they see this as about Ron Paul, because it is not. We hold Dr. Paul in great esteem for his lengthy career and consistency, but we do not follow “an old man in a poor fitting suit.” Have you ever heard a politician discuss monetary policy in front of thousands? It is his intellectual solutions that the Movement believes in, not the man. The amazing thing about Paul is that he espouses what the GOP claims – in the Platform – to stand for. He has spent decades fighting for it. Those in the Establishment who profit from the status quo – in the GOP Ike would call it the Military – Industrial Complex, for the DEM’s it’s the Welfare State – fear him, and rightly so. He would end their insanity. He is the long shot of long shots, but he is right. In regards to the “controversy” surrounding Al Gerhart, I would say this. I do not know him. I have spoken to him no more than a handful of times, and all of those in the last 30 days. I called for him to step down because I believed his emails to be counter-productive in both the fight for votes on Super Tuesday and the fight for delegates. I think he is someone who is passionate about what he believes, but don’t like his methods. I have since heard from others who both agree and disagree with me. Regardless of that, it appears he put in a lot of time and effort in the campaign, with not much resources to call on. After this is all over with, I will still be a Republican. I have been one for all of my life. There are people in the Party who I will disagree with, and fight with, but I will join them to defeat people like Obama when we get to the General Election. I suspect it is the same for most if not all of us, including Al. I was fortunate to vote FOR someone on election day, not against everyone else. It’s not every day you can say that.

Fount Holland

Fount Holland/Consultant ~ Oklahoma Republicans are true Reagan conservatives. We’re a socially conservative state, and a very pro-military state. Ron Paul lacked a message that connected to those critical voting groups. In addition, Oklahomans want a viable option to President Obama, and Paul was never seen as viable on the leadership question.

Veteran GOP Expert Operative ~ I believe Paul’s expectations were too high going into Super Tuesday.  The truth is, Paul supporters make a lot more noise within the party apparatus than they actually represent in the broad population.  Their activism is well out of proportion to Paul’s actual  support, as evidenced by the results on Tuesday. Voters take the a candidates’ position on the important issues of the day very seriously when casting their ballot for President every four years.  In this case, I believe Oklahomans are  troubled about Paul’s positions on Iran.  Anyone who doesn’t believe that a nuclear Iran would not represent a very real threat to our security is out of touch with reality. Paul’s position on spending is very much in the mainstream of Republican orthodoxy today, as all of the candidates agree we can’t sustain the spending spree we’ve been on for decades.  The truth is, there is little or no difference between the four remaining candidates when it comes to fiscal issues.  Given that, their positions on foreign policy are difference makers, and a vast majority of patriotic Oklahoma Republicans noted Paul’s apostasy on Iran and Israel, and voted accordingly.  Oklahoma is a very pro-military state.  The thought of Ron Paul as the nation’s Commander in Chief leaves most in a cold sweat. Next, I believe Paul’s characterization of Santorum as a “fake” was off-putting to many.  This guy (Santorum) has been fighting the conservative fight for years, and has the scars to show for it.  When people make a value judgment on someone, then hear him attacked as a fake, they feel they are being attacked themselves.  To question an opponent’s bona fides as a fiscal conservative or any other position is fair game in politics. But you have to have substance to your charges.  Simply calling someone a “fake” is making it way too personal, and I think people rejected that approach.  Ron Paul reminds people of the angry old man who told them to keep off his lawn when they were kids. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — Republicans want to BEAT OBAMA in November, and any rational observer knows that Paul has no more chance of beating Obama than their crazy uncle does.  While there is room for principled debate as to if Romney, Santorum or Gingrich are best positioned to defeat Obama, no one truly believes Paul would prevail in November, so why waste your vote?

Pat McGuigan

Pat McGuigan/CapitolBeatOK ~ Rep. Paul had 26,686 votes, only 9,65 percent of the statewide Republican vote and well out of the running for delegates. In the campaign’s closing weeks, controversy dogged his state organizer, Al Gerhart, whose attacks on other Republicans and on presumed allies infuriated many of Rep. Paul’s best-known supporters, including several elected officials.

Respected Political Expert ~  1) No polling of which I am aware ever showed Paul getting much higher than he got, so while the controversy of the final days with Gerhart certainly was not helpful, it really was not why Paul did not catch on. 2) Our Republican Party has grown and we have many voters who were not reached by the Paul grassroots.  They became a movement unto themselves, not one that reached out to established voters to deliver any message.  They did bring new people, but because our party is so much larger now than when the Pat Roberts movement changed our make-up, it is not enough. 3) Too many of Ron Paul’s stands do not mirror those of Oklahomans. Extreme isolationism, legalization of drugs, anti-Israel etc. 4) No charisma – from the candidate or from any leaders in the state.  When you don’t have enough of the issues with voters, you have to create a likability.  Nothing like this from the Paul camp. 5) – this may be the most important – a vote for Paul was viewed as a wasted vote to many.  Had the nomination already been secured for Romney (or Santorum or Newt or Perry or anyone….) then you would have seen more votes for Paul. As it was, a vote for Santorum, Romney or even Gingrich still mattered Tuesday.  Even for those wanting a Paul presidential nomination, one could argue a vote for Santorum and keeping the fight going to convention would be the best way to make that happen.

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  1. LD Jackson, 09 March, 2012

    I don’t necessarily count myself as one of the experts, but I do appreciate you including my post in assessing Paul’s campaign failures. As much as I would like to disagree with you, to prove that you are wrong, I can not. I believe you are right on target with your comments.

  2. CinBin, 09 March, 2012

    Very good analylsis. Thanks for including everyone – even those who don’t want their names published for whatever reason.

  3. Pat McGuigan, 09 March, 2012

    Mike: Thank you for both your own reporting/analysis and for quickly compiling the views of people in a position to know how and why the Paul campaign faded in Oklahoma. Thank you for including some views, as well.

  4. James, 10 March, 2012

    The Ron Paul team was purposely running a non-binding caucus strategy in a binding primary state. Wrong strategy in the wrong state gives you a 10% result at the polls. Why was this done? Because it’s not about getting the Ron Paul vote at the ballot box. It’s about arousing the Ron Paul base to create lists for their own political power. There was more concern for who gets power and credit than working to get voters. And anyone who has any history in elections knows that is a recipe for disaster.

  5. Patty Hankins, 12 March, 2012

    Actually, the Paul campaign has not faded in Oklahoma. Even media blackouts and massive voter fraud throughout the whole country cannot derail the Ron Paul campaign. The groundswell is not going away, it is growing and the cause of Liberty is too big to fail. You are on the wrong side of history.

    As for Ron Paul supporters “disrupting” the conventions, this is simply revisionist history. The reality is that the GOP Central Committee actually did remove about 50 elected delegates from the list in OK countand then refused to post the list of delegates 10 days prior to the convention as the GOP rules require. The Ron Paul supporteres simply stood up for the rule of law at the convention and refused to be disenfranchised.

  6. Porter Davis, 16 March, 2012

    The problems nationally, that reflected locally are these:

    1. From the beginning, the Old Media either pretended Ron Paul was invisible, or when they did recognize him, they always hung the “unelectable” meme on him. Given their ability to create temporary sensations out of all the other candidates, there is no doubt that their negative efforts played a huge role in Ron Paul’s poor performance.

    2. The debates were run mainly by the Old Media. The favored candidates got a lot more exposure. And Ron seldom had time to explain complex issues in that format. He does exceptionally well in a relaxed interview format, strangely enough best shown by comedians Jay Leno and Jon Stewart.

    3. Prior to Super Tuesday, hardly a caucus vote or primary was not rife with numerous anecdotal stories of outright election fraud or malfeasance by party officials. Whoever was behind this strategy (my vote goes to Herr Karl Rove), it was important to NEVER let Ron Paul actually win a popular vote of any kind.

    4. The Paul campaign made at least two critical mistakes. First, they should have produced some simple videos showing conversations with Ron Paul and respected advisers on all the tough topics. His foreign policy and national defense is not only the most Constitutional, but it squares quite well with those of Reagan, Goldwater and Robert Taft. The Old Media and the establishment candidates never should have been able to get so much traction out of the lie that Paul is somehow “anti-military” or for a weak defense. It is simply not true.

    5. The other major error has to to with his campaign staff’s not understanding and capitalizing on the fact that Ron Paul started a movement in 2008. In Oklahoma we have a great number of indigenous leaders and volunteers. Yet we heard reports from a great many states that the national campaign was an actual hindrance, instead of a help, in the organizing process. What we saw in Oklahoma was but an example. The campaign should have chosen leadership in each state from existing leadership, and supported them in any way possible. We had requests through two channels last August asking for a designated contact, with recommendations. Yet, nothing was ever heard until Gerhart was imposed on us in January.

    What puzzles me is that the terrible relations with national could hardly have been worse if intentional sabotage was happening. Maybe it was just sheer incompetence, as old-line operatives didn’t have a clue how to deal with a movement. Maybe other agendas are at work than maximizing Paul’s election outcome.

    Special recognition, though, must go to Oklahoman Kirk Shelley. Shelley was the national coordinator in 2008 and knew all the existing grassroots leaders. Yet, when his buddies in the national campaign asked him at the first of the year who should lead the Oklahoma operation, he went to Al Gerhart for “advice.” When Gerhart chose himself, Shelley went along with it. NONE of the grassroots leaders from the previous effort were even interviewed. Then when the grassroots went bonkers with the selection of Gerhart, we never heard a peep from Shelley.

    Both Shelley and Gerhart have been on and off staff with the Campaign for Liberty, where they have access to Ron Paul’s valuable donor lists. When the campaign is over, they will still have lists freshly updated by campaign efforts.

    Shelley is a professional political consultant. He should have known better. A consultant lives on his reputation. So it is imperative to make sure that Kirk Shelley gets full credit for his protege Gerhart’s disastrous effect on the Oklahoma Ron Paul campaign.

    In spite of all these challenges, our volunteers did quite well. I’m certain we could have gotten at least our 15% if the national campaign had started working WITH us last August. Ron Paul is by far the most-qualified candidate, a man who understands the crises we are in and what we need to do to solve them. He always polls at least as good as Romney against Obama, and brings in votes the other three can’t hope to get. Unfortunately, it appears that whoever is anointed by the Establishment this time will just be another Designated Loser.

  7. Porter Davis, 16 March, 2012

    I might add that Al Gerhart NEVER associated himself with the Ron Paul grassroots prior to his appointment as State Coordinator. He even made it clear in a meeting with some of them in the last year that he was NOT a Ron Paul supporter, at least at that time.

    We had a big meeting with him shortly after he was appointed. He assured us that his job was just to be a “good quartermaster, ” defined as helping us get the materials we needed and other services. We were OK with that. He never said that he would run roughshod over everyone else with his scorched earth, autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway style of “leadership.” He proceeded to bypass most all existing grassroots leaders, setting up in effect a parallel organization headed by himself.

    While Al does a good job at his revealing inconvenient facts legislators would rather not be known, he tried to transplant that same combative attitude into the Ron Paul campaign, an attitude that surely would have been vetoed by Dr. Paul if he had known about it. How ironic for a carpenter-turned-political operative to see every situation as a nail in need of his hammer.

  8. Bob, 16 March, 2012

    I made a valid point about the RP campaign. It has now gone missing. Typical strong arm tactics. You can remove me immediately from the list of subscribers to your inadequate (at best) commentary.


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