THE STUDY DECEMBER 15, 2011
As GOP chaos continues in Iowa, talk of an upset is increasingly focused on one very unlikely candidate: Ron Paul, the libertarian Congressman with a devoted (and notoriously weird) Internet following. Paul’s positions on any number of issues are well outside the Republican mainstream, so even if he does manage to shake up the Iowa caucuses, he still has virtually no chance of winning the GOP nomination. But how helpful could this Internet following be?
According to a 2008 article in Technology Review by David Talbot, Paul’s Internet fan club is a potent but somewhat unfocused force. The Congressman’s Internet presence during the 2008 campaign season was matched only by Barack Obama’s, but the two candidates were crucially different in their level of organization. The Obama campaign developed the “MyBarackObama” social-networking page, but Paul’s fans lacked a similarly coordinated gathering place (Talbot calls the campaign’s approach “Internet anarchy.”) The result: While the Paul campaign was sometimes boosted by supporters’ coordinated efforts—including daylong “fund-raising frenzies” that brought in millions—its supporters’ money and energy were often “wasted.” That’s according to a former Paul campaign staffer, who learned about one effort by supporters to fund a blimp that would fly up and down the East Coast with a message encouraging people to “Google Ron Paul.” While creative, the idea exposed the limits of undirected Internet followings. “We saw all this money funding a blimp,” the aide said, “and thought, ‘We really need this money for commercials.’”