By Byron York - 05/17/07 07:14 PM EDT
On Tuesday, I went to Columbia, S.C., to cover the Republican presidential debate.
At the debate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani got a huge ovation for stepping in to knock down fellow candidate Paul’s analysis of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?” Paul said, referring to al Qaeda. “They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years …”
One of the debate moderators, Wendell Goler of Fox News, asked Paul, “Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?”
“I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it,” Paul answered. “They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there.”
At that point, Giuliani stepped in, saying, “That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.” Giuliani suggested that Paul withdraw the comment.
Paul refused, and later, after the debate, told me that he didn’t blame America for the al Qaeda attacks. “No, I blamed bad policy over 50 years that leads to anti-Americanism,” Paul said.
I thought Giuliani was clearly right. Paul’s view of things not only didn’t account for Islamic radicals’ attacks against non-American targets, it also — much more importantly — seemed to suggest that the United States should follow a foreign policy aimed mostly at not making anybody mad.
Now, America has a lot of interests in the world. We have to defend them. Sometimes that makes people mad. And sometimes people attack us for their own reasons — say, because they’re religious maniacs determined to bomb us back to
the 7th century — not because we’ve done anything wrong.
That seems reasonable to me. But when I wrote a story in National Review Online criticizing Paul’s position, I heard from Paul’s supporters.
They love their man. They’re very agitated. And they’re sitting at their computers, voting in Internet “polls” and writing e-mails telling off anyone who criticizes Ron Paul.
Many of them point out that Paul scored very high in the counts in which Fox News and MSNBC invited viewers to register who they thought won the Republican debates in South Carolina and, earlier, in California.
What does that show? It shows Paul’s fans are more energetic than others in clicking his name. In the real polls, however, he is nowhere to be found.
For example, in a recent Gallup survey, taken just after the first Republican debate in early May, Paul’s support was somewhere below one percent — not large enough to measure.
That’s not exactly a groundswell. But I cannot deny that I received a groundswell of e-mails after criticizing Paul. Some examples:
“You’re a shill. Get some f–ing integrity.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Are you a fascist?”
“Are you blind?”
“What are you smoking?”
“Idiotic crap like you write here is the reason I no longer am a conservative …”
Paul may not have a lot of supporters out there, but the ones he has are intense.
After the debate, one adviser to a rival Republican campaign said of Paul, “I haven’t heard anything like that this side of Rosie O’Donnell.”
It’s true. But remember, Rosie had fans, too.
York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: email@example.com.