WASHINGTON – Ron Paul is the Rodney Dangerfield of Republican presidential candidates. The 12-term Texas congressman ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988 and was widely seen as a sideshow in 2008, despite finishing third in the GOP field behind John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Why, despite a small but devoted set of supporters, does this 76-year-old obstetrician turned politician routinely get no respect from the media and GOP operatives? Let’s take a look at what “Dr. No” — a nickname grounded in his medical career and his penchant for voting against any bill increasing the size of government — really stands for.
1. Ron Paul is not a “top-tier” candidate.
At some point in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the mainstream media became more obsessed than usual with designating GOP hopefuls as “top-tier” candidates, meaning “people we want to talk about because we find them interesting or funny or scary.” Or more plainly: “anybody but Ron Paul.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been accorded top-tier status from the start, but otherwise it’s been a rogues’ gallery. As their numbers soared, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and pizza magnate Herman Cain enjoyed stints in the top tier, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich is now ensconced in that blessed circle.
Back in August, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) was designated “top tier” after winning Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll. Paul was not, despite losing to her by only about 150 votes. And when Paul won the presidential straw poll of about 2,000 attendees at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington in October, the contest’s organizer pronounced him “an outlier in this poll.”
Yet Paul is doing increasingly well in national and state-level polls. He’s running in second place in Iowa ahead of the Jan. 3 caucuses and third in the New Hampshire primary — the first two contests for the GOP nomination. And now that Cain has dropped out, Paul’s stock is likely to keep climbing. The congressman is no less a top-tier candidate than anyone else in the race.
2. Ron Paul is a doctrinaire libertarian.
Yes, he once ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket and was accurately described by New York Times columnist Gail Collins last month as against “gun control, the death penalty, the C.I.A., the Civil Rights Act, prosecuting flag-burners, hate crime legislation, foreign aid, the military draft under any circumstances, campaign finance reform, the war on drugs, the war on terror and the war on porn.” But Paul parts company with many libertarians on many issues.
These include immigration, where he favors ending birthright citizenship and reducing the number of newcomers until the welfare state is dismantled. Paul says abortion law should be settled at the state level, but in Congress in 2005, 2007, 2009 and this year he introduced the Sanctity of Life Act, which would define life as beginning at conception.
In theory he supports free-trade agreements, but he votes against them, dismissing them as “managed trade.” He’s known for adding earmarks to spending bills he votes against, thus bringing home pork while maintaining his “Dr. No” credentials. As a result, says David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute, Paul is “an imperfect messenger” for libertarians’ small-government gospel.
3. Ron Paul’s call to “end the Fed” is crazy.
Paul’s 2009 “End the Fed” manifesto pretty much gives away the plot in the title. But the book sold well and drew respectful notices not just from folk singer Arlo Guthrie and actor Vince Vaughn, but also from the likes of media magnate and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes. “History,” Forbes wrote in a review of Paul’s book, “will judge that Paul had it right when it came to the Fed and its often misbegotten monetary policies.” David Stockman, the former Republican congressman and Reagan budget director, has said that “our monetary system is out of control” and that Paul is the “one guy who understands it.”
Far more important is Paul’s bill to audit the Fed, which has been introduced three years in a row and hasn’t passed, but had more than 300 cosponsors in the House in 2009. Paul introduced a new version in January that has 195 cosponsors drawn from both parties. That sustained interest and the ongoing controversy over the Fed’s role in bank bailouts — and the fact that both the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street movement have cast a gimlet eye on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke — strongly suggest that auditing the nation’s central bank is an idea whose time has come.
4. Ron Paul is anti-military.
Unlike his fellow, er, top-tier candidates Gingrich and Romney, Paul served his country in uniform, as a U.S. Air Force captain. However, his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his insistence that military spending can be cut without endangering U.S. lives, have led some to conclude that his foreign policy non-interventionism equals unilateral disarmament.
While Pentagon brass might oppose his defense cuts, troops seem to like what he is saying. According to his campaign’s analysis of Federal Election Commission reports from the third quarter of this year, Paul has raised more money from active military personnel than all other GOP competitors combined, and even more than President Barack Obama.
Paul, who has said that “we can defend ourselves with submarines and all our troops back at home,” wants to radically change defense policy and withdraw troops from war zones and bases around the world. He is clearly against the military-industrial complex, but if soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are opening their wallets to support his White House bid, he can’t accurately be branded “anti-military.”
5. Ron Paul has strong youth support because he wants to legalize drugs.
A medical doctor by training and a grandfather, Paul leaves no doubt as to whether drugs — and cigarettes and trans fat, for that matter — should be legal. “Why shouldn’t you have free decisions on what you eat, drink, smoke and put into your own body?” he told an audience of 1,000 University of Iowa students in October. Yet the devout Christian is no libertine, telling the same crowd, “You also have to assume responsibility for any bad choices you make, and you can’t go to your neighbor or to your government to bail yourselves out.”
Paul’s popularity among younger voters — he’s called a “rock star” on the college circuit — stems from the idealism of his politics. Kids rally behind his faith in the future, belief in the individual and confidence in bottom-up decision-making. He may look like Timothy Leary, the countercultural guru who famously held a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Paul’s 1988 presidential bid, but he’s not talking about turning on, tuning in and dropping out.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.