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Ron Paul's ascension: Why are conservative voters supporting a man who will never be president?

Last week when it was announced that Newt Gingrich was the latest front-runner in the GOP primary, White House senior strategist David Axelrod commented on the former Speaker of the House’s surge in popularity:

“I told my colleagues yesterday a bit of homespun wisdom I got from an alderman in Chicago some years ago when one of his colleagues wanted to run for higher office and he was really dubious. He said, ‘Just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt.’ So, you know, the Speaker is very high on the pole right now, and we’ll see how people like the view.”

It seems like the Republican electorate has not enjoyed the view over the past week. Gingrich was attacked from all sides by his opponents and decided to play the reserved elder statesman, rising above the fray and refusing to go negative. That strategy led voters to seize on the next semi-electable non-Mormon candidate — Ron Paul.

As a Democrat, I’m pleased that the opposing party is wasting so much time scraping the inside of the clown car to see if they can find someone else to lose to President Obama, but as an American, I’m mortified that these candidates are talked about as if they might be qualified to run the country.

Last month New York Times Economist Paul Krugman described Newt Gingrich asa stupid man's idea of what a smart man sounds like,” and in this respect, Ron Paul is a natural successor. Ron Paul is often framed as a big thinker with big ideas, ideas far too big for the corrupt and inept ruling establishment, and no doubt many see his ascension as the natural promotion of the best candidate.

Bachmann, Perry and Santorum will each siphon up their own segment of the fundamentalist/tea party vote, leaving the conservative centrists — who should be voting for Romney — because he is the most electable. But instead, they are letting Romney’s religion distract them and supporting a man who will never be president.

Below are three reasons why:

He’s lost the Fox News primary

A large segment of conservative voters tend to vote for the person getting the most airtime and amplification on Fox News and their coverage of the Paul surge has been uniformly negative. They don’t take him seriously as a candidate, and they can’t predict what he’ll do if he’s elected.

As much as both parties like to pretend that Obama is anti-business, his administration’s handling of the fallout from the 2008 financial meltdown and the complete lack of reform or prosecution of Wall Street since tells you he’s got his own corporate sponsors. People who wouldn’t welcome a return to the gold standard or the abolition of the Federal Reserve and don’t want to take the chance that Paul is serious about enacting these and other tectonic economic reforms.

He can’t shake the newsletters

In 1992 Ron Paul wrote or approved a series of newsletters filled with racist tirades. He has denied writing or publishing them, but his lead is going to shrivel fast once his opponents get this information in front of the voters. Possibly while reminding them that Paul was the only member of congress to vote against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to Rosa Parks.

Conservative voters hate President Obama enough to nominate whoever actually has a chance at beating him, and Ron Paul is not a slam dunk. For those of you who think this issue can’t hurt him because you don’t think he’s racist and you take him at his word that he didn’t write the newsletters, I’d like to remind you that President Obama just spent four years talking about whether or not he had faked his own birth certificate.

He doesn’t project empathy

Ron Paul’s personal brand of libertarianism is heavily ideological; he has a hard time explaining how his policies impact voters directly and convincing them he cares about them. He is good at spitting out libertarian dogma, he is good at energizing his base, but he can’t make a connection with the voters who don’t already love him. President Obama would eat him alive in a national debate, and he’d do it by showing the voters how much Paul prioritizes intellectual arguments over human beings.

Perfect example: the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A law that has been on the books for close to fifty years, universally acknowledged to be a positive step in the course of progress and human rights. In May, Ron Paul told Chris Matthews he wouldn’t have voted for the law because the rights of property owners trump human rights. He went on to theorize that the free market would take care of the racists and the bigots who refused to serve minorities as people voted with their dollars, which makes me think Ron Paul’s been drinking snow globe water.

It is this willingness to sacrifice decency, common sense and compassion for ideological purity that would be his undoing as the Republican nominee.

So far the GOP voters have been spoiled with a buffet of options, being allowed to get excited by each new flavor of the month with no thought to electability. Now with the Iowa primary looming on Jan. 3, voters have to sit down and eat their vegetables. They may not like it, but after they’re done whining and sobbing and debating whether or not it is time to dig up Ronald Reagan for one more term, they will won't choose Paul — because they want to win.

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