Ron Paul Will Find a Job in the Romney Administration
Ron Paul, secretary of the Treasury, bringing his libertarian ethos to the highest echelons of executive power?
Or Ron Paul ... somewhere else in the executive branch, perhaps a Cabinet-level post, where he can evolve from annoying crank to full-fledged, power-wielding menace?
I know, at first blush it sounds unlikely, maybe even goofy, to contemplate the libertarian standard-bearer and serial presidential candidate landing in any kind of higher office. But let's face it: The actuarial tables are not on his side. Yes, his father lived to be 97, and I'm sure Paul will be with us for many years to come. But this may be his last run for president. He's turning 77 on Aug. 20, and he'd be 81 four years hence, making another presidential run even less credible than his latest one is.
So the question has to be asked, not just by his Kool-Aid-swilling admirers, but by people dismayed by his hate-government rants: What does the future hold for Ron Paul?
Most likely he'll continue pretty much as he has, railing against the Fed and slowly fading into obscurity. There's a reasonable chance that President Obama will squeak through to another term, thereby sparing the nation the possibility of bringing the GOP's soak-the-poor, reward-the-wealthy philosophy to the White House, with or without Ron Paul as part of the mix. But if that doesn't happen, a case can be made for Paul getting a job in a future Mitt Romney administration.
The rationale runs something like this:
* Paul is a politician, not Mahatma Gandhi. His supporters say his sole aim is to head a "movement," sacrificing his ambition for the "cause." I don't doubt his sincerity. But I wonder: Isn't this man even the slightest bit tired of being an outsider? Does he want to end his life as a kind of far-right Harold Stassen? He's already written pretty much the same book over and over again. Doesn't it get tiresome? Wouldn't he like to exercise some real power for a change? Assuming that the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, then a future Mitt Romney administration could offer the last chance he'll have to come in from the cold. It all depends on Romney, and whether he'll give Paul a position in the administration.
*Paul has leverage. And he's using it too. He made it clear April 30, during a debate with Paul Krugman, that he is staying in the race "until all the votes are counted," and pointedly indicated that his support for Romney would depend upon his platform. "If I disagree with every single thing in his platform, it's going to be tough," he said.
With Paul declining to endorse Romney and staying tenaciously in the race, and even doing well in the Louisiana caucuses, he will remain an irritation to Romney up to and including the Republican convention. That creates the opportunity for a classic squeeze play, with Paul as the squeezer.
It helps a lot that Paul's supporters are just as aggressive and cult-like as they were earlier in the primary season, as was illustrated during the little-noticed Alaska state convention over the weekend. Paul people dominated the proceedings despite their third-place position in that state's presidential primary and a slightly-less-than-zero chance of winning the nomination. "In a tense and at times openly confrontational convention, Paul's supporters came out in force to express their distaste with what they call 'establishment Republicans' and successfully took control of much of the party," the Fairbanks Daily News reported.
* Romney needs to get Paul on the team. So put yourself in Mitt Romney's place. Paul and his supporters aren't going away. Romney wants a smooth, conflict-free, Nixonesque, scripted convention. He wants the support of Paul and the acquiescence of his followers. The last thing he wants is Ron Paul running on a third-party ticket, or stomping off in a huff, as Eugene McCarthy did to Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and only tepidly supporting the nominee.
That's where Romney the cynical, unprincipled flip-flopper comes into play. Given his craven record of changing positions to appease the right, it's easy to envision Romney getting Paul on his side by modifying his positions to make them more palatable to Paul, while at the same time dangling a job in front of him.
It's true that unlike Newt Gingrich, Romney has been loath to support Ron Paul's pet projects and obsessions, such as "ending the Fed" and reinstating the gold standard. But this is the man who repudiated the health-care plan that he engineered in Massachusetts and pulled a 180-degree turn on abortion rights. I can't see a flip-flop on the Fed or the gold standard keeping Romney up at night (assuming that anything would keep him up at night). It helps a lot that the two men are personally on friendly terms, with Paul not joining in the chorus of condemnation of Romney's job-killing record at Bain Capital.
That leaves only one remaining question, which is what kind of job Romney could offer to ensure Paul's loyalty at the convention. Asking Bernanke to step down and replacing him with Paul would be a surefire way of guaranteeing a market crash, so I can't see that happening, though I wouldn't rule it out totally. Ditto for the top Treasury post.
More likely, Romney would try to walk a fine line between destabilizing the financial markets completely and keeping Paul reasonably busy. Some kind of new Cabinet-level post, perhaps? Certainly a position as head of a federal "task force," perhaps to study the future of the Fed or the structure of the federal government, might keep Paul happy and get his followers to go away.
There's certainly one advantage that would accrue to Romney from naming Paul to a government job. Right now the image that haunts Romney more than anything else is the Romney family dog penned to the roof of the family car on a trip to Canada. If Romney names Paul to any kind of position of responsibility, that image would be supplanted by a far more menacing one: Ron Paul exercising power.
Gary Weiss's most recent book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press.