Political Capital with John Harwood

Ron Paul: Where I Have Some Disagreements

Ron Paul

We've had a robust conversation over the past week between CNBC and followers of Ron Paul's presidential campaign. Sometimes I've agreed with Team Paul and disagreed with CNBC. This morning I want to talk about where Team Paul and I disagree.

In mypost on Friday criticizingCNBC's decision to pull down an online poll following our debate of Republican presidential candidates, I commended the motivation of Paul's backers while adding that I see his chances of winning the presidency as zero. Some email correspondents wrote to complain that my assessment reflected arrogance. Other focused on a larger complaint: that such assessments lead people like me to hamstring candidates we judge not to have much chance at winning the White House.

A few points:

--I consider my assessment candid, not arrogant. I respect Rep. Paul's sincerity, intelligence, skill at articulation, worldview, and the followers he has inspired. But I think I owe them and other readers of Political Capital my straightforward analysis.

--Could I be wrong? Duh! I'm often wrong; in 1988, I once wrote a newspaper column headlined, "Ten Reasons Why Dukakis Will Beat Bush." But I call 'em as I see 'em at the time.

--Do we cover Ron Paul less than Rudy Giuliani, just as we cover Dennis Kucinich less than Hillary Clinton? Obviously we do. Do we have good reasons for doing so? I think so.

--What are the reasons? The same reasons that drive news coverage of all kinds. Some things are covered purely because they are novel and interesting. But most news coverage is driven by what editors consider most important. Candidates who have a strong chance of becoming president are more important than those who don't.

--How do we assess candidates' chances? Polls measure breadth of support (Giuliani has a lot, Paul only a little). The candidates' bank accounts (personal money or money raised) offer another clue to their eventual viability. So do their electoral track records. No House member in my lifetime has been elected president. If Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich were the governors of Texas and Ohio, respectively, they'd get a lot more coverage.

--Do our coverage decisions forestall the emergence of candidates who could otherwise draw enough backing to win a major party nomination or the presidency? Perhaps a little. But I doubt very much. Plenty of candidates have overcome bad press or dismissive press, made their own breaks, and moved into full contention--think Jimmy Carter in 1976, Gary Hart in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1992, John McCain in 2000, John Kerry in 2004.

--Could Ron Paul's $5-million third quarter be the start of something? Sure. And it's important to remember that "something" need not be winning the election. To the extent that progress by a candidate with Paul's views--on Iraq, monetary policy and other issues--reflects a churn within a Republican Party better known for orthodoxy, that counts, too. The end point of a successful presidential campaign need not be 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Questions?  Comments?  Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.