Ignoreland is an occasional series looking at unusual aspects of the US political scene. This first column looks at the curious coincidences that have dogged the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
You might have noticed that Herman Cain has suddenly gained a lot of attention in recent weeks, with certain quarters of the media building him up as a real rival to Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. What you might not have noticed is that Cain inexplicably became a media sensation out of nowhere just as Ron Paul was starting to gain some real momentum. Is the Cain campaign being used to steamroller Paul’s chances?
Think back to late summer. Mitt Romney needed a big rival. He had been expected to face a real threat in the form of Rick Perry, yet Perry’s implosion surprised even his fiercest critics. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann‘s campaign was starting to wilt. The campaign desperately needs two strong candidates. In late summer, Romney was definitely a strong candidate, and it was looking increasingly likely that Ron Paul was becoming the other. The prospect of Romney vs. Paul for the nomination seemed very real.
Then, quite suddenly, positive stories about Herman Cain appeared. Across the conservative media, Cain was touted as the comeback kid whose campaign was blossoming. This became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the media attention spurred Cain to rouse himself. He delivered his 999 tax plan, which gained him lots of attention before falling apart. But the point is: the media fanfare over Cain’s resurgence came before the resurgence. It seemed like someone was desperately pushing the story before it was a reality.
Here’s a concrete example. In September, Ron Paul won the California straw poll, and last week he won in Ohio. Neither story received much attention in the mainstream media. Fine. On the other hand, Herman Cain’s recent victory in a South Carolina straw poll seemed to get a lot more media attention, despite being no more notable. The Cain victory fits the media narrative, while the Paul victories do not.
I’m not saying that Herman Cain was responsible for this change in fortunes. In fact, that’s kind of my point: Cain seemed to be doing nothing new, yet suddenly he was being touted as a major force in the narrative. If he had scored some big successes and then been touted as a ‘comeback kid’, that would be one thing; what actually happened seems to be that he was touted as a ‘comeback kid’ before he had actually come back. Then he enjoyed a big surge that seems to be dying down of late.
For some of Ron Paul’s supporters, this is suspicious timing. Just as their man was coming on strong, certain sections of the media seemed to suddenly decide that Herman Cain was pushing through into second place, knocking Ron Paul out of the spotlight. Since then, Ron Paul has arguably struggled to regain attention. Sure, he’s raised a lot of money, and his fanbase is as supportive as ever. But in terms of mainstream media coverage, he has undoubtedly suffered.
I’m not a big fan of Ron Paul, but I do think he’s more honest than most of his rivals in the GOP campaign and I also think some (not all) of his ideas are good. And I’m fascinated by the treatment he has been receiving from his own party, because he just seems to have been swatted out of the way thanks to a Herman Cain revival that came out of nowhere. And while I’m not sure that Ron Paul would win a straight fight with Mitt Romney, I feel like he’s being denied the chance to try.