The first act of the Republican primary ended last Thursday not with a bang but with a Tim Tebow reference. The most influential pre-primary debates ever concluded in Sioux City to boffo ratings on TV but negative ratings for the candidates, leaving Iowa Republicans with the possibility of a Christmas miracle: These guys might actually let Ron Paul win.
Iowa is all about momentum, and right now Ron Paul has it. He's surging in the polls, trending on Twitter, and inviting scores of Young Americans for Liberty to spend "Christmas with Ron Paul" and get out the vote in Iowa. It's the right time and the right place. With successive frontrunners falling from grace and Mitt Romney failing to close the deal, Ron Paul could be the right man.
Public Policy Polling has Paul effectively tied with Newt Gingrich in Iowa, 22 percent to 21 percent, and the New York Times' Five Thirty Eight blog took all the polls into account and gave Paul a stunning 27 percent chance of winning the Iowa caucus. This means Paul, a political pariah with the powers-that-be in his own party, is likelier to win the Iowa caucus than he is to pass a single bill in Congress. The Texas Republican is so hated by Republican leadership that the Texas legislature make his congressional district more Democratic in the latest round of redistricting, all but demanding his resignation, as if he were an old college football coach who overstayed his welcome.
Ron Paul might be the Dennis Kucinich of the Republican Party, but in Iowa he's winning on the strength of the Obama coalition: new voters, young voters and non-Republican voters. With nothing happening on the Democratic Party side, Paul is leading among Iowa caucus-goers, who say they are Democrats and independents, leading Gingrich 34 percent to 14 percent, with Romney at 17 percent.
Meanwhile, Paul's new professionalism has impressed the cognoscenti. His debate performances have turned heads, and his attack ads show a polish and tactical smarts missing from his previous presidential campaigns.
But none of this can protect Ron Paul from himself.
The most exciting part of the debate, other than Rick Perry's attempt to fit Tim Tebow's jersey over his business suit, was Paul's exchange with Michele Bachmann that revealed why Paul can't win the nomination. Paul genially lectured the crowd that a president can't "overreact" to reports that Iran was seeking technology to build a nuclear bomb, which he termed "war propaganda."
Paul's ingrained opposition to military adventurism is why his acolytes adore him -- and why he's the Republican so many Democrats secretly love -- but it's also what makes Republicans such as Bachmann consider him an enemy of the party if not the state.
"I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard for Ron Paul," said Bachmann.
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, "Ron Paul's opposition to U.S. military interventions overseas" was more unpopular than Romneycare among Iowa Republicans, almost half of whom rated it a "major reason to oppose" Paul. And the more likely someone is to attend the Iowa Republican caucus, the more they hate Paul's foreign policy.
Whether it happens in Iowa or later in the primary, Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy will be his undoing. His unwillingness to draw a hard line against a nuclear Iran disqualifies him from leading his own party.
This is Ron Paul's paradox: The reason he might win the Iowa caucus is exactly the reason he can't win the Republican nomination. You're just not going to get very far with Republicans if Democrats, independents, younger voters and newer voters make up the core of your support.
And what of Rick Perry's Hail Mary attempt to call himself "the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses"? According to PPP, Tebow enjoys a 48 percent favorable rating among Iowa Republicans. Turns out for all the controversy, Tebow is more popular in Iowa than any of the Republican candidates, but don't look for Tebow to jump in this race. Tebow was born in the Philippines and can't be president. And because he wants to limit our country's foreign involvement, neither can Ron Paul.