Posted by: Joshua Green on November 30, 2011
UPDATED: Ron Paul has just released a brutal ad (above) attacking Newt Gingrich. It makes the shots Mitt Romney took yesterday seem blase by comparison, which may be a bit surprising since Romney would appear to be the one most directly threatened by Newt’s sudden rise. But Paul and Gingrich actually have a history that goes back many years, and the animosity stems from an incident in 1994 that I touched on in this profile of Paul from last year (it’s mostly about Austrian economics, if that’s your thing). Here’s the relevant part:
Paul made a quixotic return to politics in 1988 as the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate, placing a distant third. And then, after the Republican congressional landslide in 1994, he got the bug again. Through [Tom] DeLay, he appealed for his old party’s support to unseat the Democratic incumbent in the [Texas] district next door to his old one. Instead, Republican leaders got the Democrat, Greg Laughlin, to switch parties. Paul ran anyway [in the Republican primary]. He drew on a national network of newsletter subscribers, libertarian activists, gold bugs, and other believers to vastly outspend Laughlin, despite Laughlin’s access to the GOP’s national donor base. Paul’s campaign, fueled as it was by an army of small donors, prefigured the Internet campaigns that would come later. He shocked everyone by winning.
I seem to recall writing a lot more about this episode than appears here — some horrible editor must have cut it. But the relevant point is that Paul, a conservative’s conservative, reached out to the Republican leadership team of Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich and was rebuffed for reasons of political expediency. They thought the (ex-) Democrat, Laughlin, had a better shot at carrying the seat — and were proved wrong. So it’s no surprise that Paul, once again flush with cash and fueled by hyper-committed small donors, would launch a roundhouse like the ad above. It occurs to me that the Laughlin race is yet another example of Gingrich supporting the more moderate candidate at the expense of a conservative: in the 2009 special election in NY-23 he was the rare national figure to support Dede Scozzafava in her race against the conservative activist Doug Hoffman, whose insurgent campaign became a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre for the then-ascendant Tea Party. That’s one of a long list of reasons why I’m baffled that the Tea Party wing of the Republican electorate has suddenly embraced Newt Gingrich — a subject I’ll take up tomorrow.
CHAGRINED UPDATE: A source familiar with the editing of my Ron Paul profile has informed me that the “horrible editor” mentioned above was **cough**cough**…me. But he thoughtfully included the excised first-hand account supplied by Laughlin pollster Mike Baselice, presently toiling in a similar capacity for Rick Perry:
Laughlin was a plausible Republican, who had co-authored the Balanced Budget Act and foresaw no problem getting reelected. “The first survey I did had us up 51 percent to 13 percent,” Mike Baselice, Laughlin’s pollster, told me. “Fast forward two months and I do another. Now it’s 41 percent for Laughlin and 30 percent for Paul. I’m like, ‘Wow. what the hell happened there?’ And I’m reading through the open ends — ‘What have you seen or heard about the candidates?’ Laughlin’s not known for anything. But I keep reading that ‘Ron Paul is the taxpayer’s best friend’ and ‘watches over the Treasury.’ So I call our consultant and say, ‘How’s he doing this, it’s only been two months?’ I find out he’s flooded the district with mail pieces. Three weeks later we’re dead even. We pushed back into the lead by attacking some of his libertarian beliefs, but we couldn’t sustain it.”
So there you have it. More on this from Ben Smith at Politico.