In the wake of Ron Paul’s humiliating loss to “none of the above” in North Carolina and Indiana, it seems an apt time to evaluate his most recent futile effort to win higher office. During the 2012 primary season, Ron Paul has failed in every way possible. He has failed to win a single state, failed to acquire even 7% of the total delegates, failed to ever take the lead in the polls, and failed to influence the issues. It's a fitting end to a career where he failed to influence his party or accomplish anything meaningful.
Most GOP strategists will privately admit that — aside from Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — this year's crop of candidates and almost-candidates was a collection of clowns, retreads, and vanity candidates. How else can you explain the fact that Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump all took the lead in the national polls for a significant period of time? These politicians were running for president because — like Richard Gere and Chris Farley — they “had no place else to go.” The Onion joked that a random guy, man in a coma, and "NOBAMA" sign all took turns as the new GOP frontrunner. And yet, despite the weak field of candidates, Ron Paul failed to ever take the lead.
Many will argue that Ron Paul fell victim to an increasingly militant and socially conservative GOP, but this argument rings hollow. Since there was no Democratic presidential primary this year to split the independent vote in open primary states, the GOP field had the undivided attention of independent voters. Ron Paul's supposed appeal lies in the way he connects with apathetic voters who have been ill-served by the two parties, along with libertarian-leaning Republicans (many of whom voted for Obama in 2008 and are disappointed). The Ron Paul campaign failed spectacularly in its efforts to capitalize on this disappointment.
As a numbers-obsessed person, I find that the best way to evaluate success or failure is with concrete metrics. Ron Paul's total share of the popular vote during the primaries is a little over 20%, but this pitiful number overstates his performance. By pointlessly staying in the race after it was clearly over, Paul padded his meager vote total. It also helps that his clownish opposition failed to make the ballot in several states, including populous Virginia an early state where Ron Paul faced Mitt Romney by himself. In Virginia many GOP voters supported Paul as a repudiation of Romney rather than a validation of Paul.
While the popular vote picture is cloudy, the delegate race is crystal clear. Despite gaming the rules late in the process and aggressively focusing on caucuses early in the process, Ron Paul has only acquired 100 of the 2286 total delegates. His delegate-obsessed campaign will likely end up with less than 10% of the total delegates. This will be enough to extract a concession from Mitt Romney. The Romney campaign wisely fears the fanatical and conspiratorial nature of many Ron Paul supporters, (many, if not most, believe that this election was stolen from him) along with the possibility that they will throw a temper tantrum on the convention floor, or attempt to insert anti-Israel planks into the party's platform.
When you don't win many votes it's tough to shape the debate, and Ron Paul failed in this regard as well. Exhibit A is the fact that the GOP nominated a big government warmonger who designed Obamacare — which I'm told is the end of freedom. While it is indeed true that Austrian economics has moved up from "not even worth dignifying with a response," to "the beliefs of many GOP office-holders in the House of Representatives"; this is temporary.
I submit the idea that many of these supposed Fed-hawks and stimulus rejecters are simply reacting hysterically to Barack Obama. If Mitt Romney wins the presidency and the economy takes a dip, he will most certainly encourage the Federal Reserve to loosen the money supply and pass a Keynesian stimulus plan, which Congress will rubber stamp with Democratic support (since Democrats' economic beliefs are based on mainstream economics and generally don't shift in response to the opposition party).
The worst failure of Ron Paul's 2012 effort was the failure to protect his reputation and ride off into the sunset as an influential and respected statesman. Paul's public persona morphed from a nice guy into a creepy uncle, thanks to the release of his highly profitable racist and conspiratorial newsletters from the late '80s and '90s. These were never covered by the main stream media before because Paul's candidacy never reached a level of viability where it was worth the effort. This year, there was a brief moment where he was considered a top-tier candidate, and the main stream media dutifully asked him about things that he had written in the past.
Paul's historic popularity (and solid performance in general election hypotheticals) owed itself to the left's tendency to think of him as a useful idiot who pushed the GOP to adopt anti-war positions and ease up on social issues. Once he was unmasked as a bit of a nut, his superficial popularity with the left nearly disappeared. Not only that, but Ron Paul damaged the libertarian brand by exposing its dark political (not ideological) origins and ties to the white supremacist movement.
Having sullied libertarianism, failed in three presidential runs, and failed to pass any meaningful legislation during a long career, Ron Paul will now retreat into the sunset wondering what could have been. History will remember him as a quirky guy who commanded intense loyalty from a small Internet contingent but whose influence was nearly nonexistent. If you really want to know the extent of Paul's impact, look no further than the increasingly hawkish foreign policy positions of both Democrats and Republicans over the last 12 years. We will not remember Ron Paul as "President Paul." Instead, we will remember Paul with two simple words, "nice try."