On Friday, Megan McCardle at the Bloomberg View argued that Donald Trump is the new Ron Paul.
She made the case that both figures represent seemingly fresh alternatives to conventional insiders like Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush. McCardle foreshadowed Trump’s ultimate failure, because she thought that like Paul, Trump wouldn’t be able to expand his appeal beyond a small base.
McCardle’s right that Donald Trump is bound to failure. But that’s the only bulls-eye she was even close on.
Let’s go through them.
Recent polling of Trump supporters suggests his cadre is overwhelmingly old, white, and male. That might be okay for a Republican primary, but that’s not going to win you a general election, let alone keep your party nationally viable for another 10 years.
Unlike Trump, Ron Paul’s campaign made massive gains among Millennials, winning nearly half the under-30 vote in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2012.
Trump’s past leaves us guessing what he really believes about anything. His speeches are full of vague, technocratic appeals to competency, as if we only need better bureaucrats running an inherently flawed system.
Ron Paul had a platform and a record of principled dedication to freedom. It’s no surprise that younger voters appreciated his consistency.
Paul saw people as individuals and brought them together in a common struggle for liberty. At the same time, he realized how government policies can disproportionately impact our most vulnerable. That’s why he got rave applause talking about our criminal justice system and war on drugs at a PBS debate focused on people of color. And why he polled strongest of the other candidates among independents and Millennials, the two groups Mitt Romney needed to beat Obama.
I know this from my own life. As a Paul volunteer in Los Angeles, our gatherings were consistently the youngest and most diverse of any Republican events I attended. We registered tattooed hipsters every week in Venice Beach to vote for Paul in the primary. We even packed a stadium full of nearly 7,000 supporters at UCLA.
We couldn’t have done the same with any other Republican candidate in that race.
Donald Trump is no favorite among the tea party. Ron Paul’s supporters literally threw the first in the nation as early as 2007. During the bailouts that galvanized the larger movement, Ron Paul was a strong voice against corporate welfare. The very kind Trump brags about getting.
Trump’s been lavished with publicity and spoke twice as long as the average candidate in the first debate.
Ron Paul had to fight for any coverage at all, as Jon Stewart noticed.
But the most important difference is what both men can build.
The biggest legacy Trump can hope to leave might be a TV spin-off where he pits fellow vanquished primary opponents against each other for a chance to work for him. I’d probably watch as a guilty pleasure.
Ron Paul’s legacy, on the other hand, is still continuing.
His 2008 campaign’s youth wing became Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), the fastest-growing pro-liberty student activist organization in America. YAL has over 600 chapters and nearly 204,000 members to its name. Its education-focused sister organization Students for Liberty has nearly 1,350 affiliated students groups across six continents. Both organizations were able to start and grow as quickly as they did because of the young people Ron Paul got excited about freedom.
It certainly was true for me.
Ron Paul’s presidnential campaigns re-energized the libertarian and constitutional conservative movement across the country—now the momentum is larger than him. A fifth of millennials now identify with the l-word, the largest-ever generational percentage. The New York Times last summer even heralded “the libertarian moment.”
Donald Trump divides people in the pursuit of publicity. Ron Paul brought people together with a vision of a better future.
That’s what real leaders do. Stop confusing the two.