Excitement spread like wildfire last week across the libertarian web: Ron Paul has entered the presidential race! Even the mainstream press took notice. As we’ll see in the interview with Rep. Paul (R-Texas) below, the excitement may have been premature.
The reason for the excitement is understandable: Ron Paul has been the most consistent successful politician advocating the limited-government principles that he sees embedded in the Constitution. Part of his appeal, to a voting base that we can safely presume isn’t as libertarian as Paul is himself, is that of the very rare politician following his own conscience and mind with steadfast integrity. Indeed, Paul is not afraid of aggravating even parts of his libertarian constituency when he thinks it’s the right thing to do, as on immigration (where he’s against amnesty and birthright citizenship, and for increased border control) and his vote this month in favor of prescription drug negotiation.
I first wrote at length about Paul in a 1999 American Spectator profile. Its discussion of Paul's nature and appeal is worth revisiting, even with some old details. Just remember, he’s continued to win his reelection since 1999. In 2004, the Democrats didn’t even bother running anyone against him. And in 2006 he won with 60 percent of the vote.
Though his name rarely appears in the national press, his face almost never on Sunday morning news shows, in 1996 he was third only to Gingrich and Bob Dornan in individual contributions to Republican House members. Though he hasn’t managed to get any of his own bills out of committee since re-entering the House in January 1997, he’s considered a vital asset by a large national constituency of libertarians, goldbugs, and constitutionalists. He’s defied one of the holy shibboleths of electoral politics—Thou Must Bring Home the Bacon—by being a consistent opponent of agricultural subsidies in a largely agricultural district…..
Ron Paul has been defying standard political rules since he first won an off-term House election in 1976--a post-Watergate year when new Republicans weren’t widely embraced. He lost the regular election in ‘76, but came back to win in ‘78, ‘80, and ‘82, then left the House for an ill-fated go at the Senate seat won by Phil Gramm.
....He ran for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988. He was a hero to a national constituency of hard-core skeptics about the State—the one successful politician who was always steadfast even on the less-popular aspects of the live-free-or-die libertarian philosophy. He’d talk about ending the federal drug war when speaking to high school students. In 1985, he spent his own money to fly and testify on behalf of one of the first draft-registration defiers to go to trial, not blanching when confronted with the hot-blooded youngster’s use of the phrase “Smash the State.” He might not use that verb, the sober obstetrician, Air Force veteran, and family man said, but from his first-hand experience with how the U.S. government disrespects its citizens’ natural liberties, he could understand the sentiments.
I talked to Paul Thursday afternoon by phone about presidential and congressional politics. Here is an edited transcript of our talk.
Reason: Does launching an official exploratory committee necessarily mean you will end up launching an official campaign?
Ron Paul: Last week it leaked that we were getting ready to organize an exploratory committee—I haven’t even officially announced that yet. If I find with the exploratory committee that there is some support out there, that we can raise the money you need, then [I’d] declare that [I’m] running.
Reason: Now that it has leaked, what have you thought of the response so far?
Paul: I think it’s been impressive. I’ve been pleased and surprised.
Reason: Who are some of the staff and supporters behind the committee?
Paul: I’m not going into any of that now--we haven’t even officially made the announcement! It was leaked info and I’m still in the process of organizing a team. [In an AP story, Kent Snyder is identified as chairman for the exploratory committee.]
Reason: What would you anticipate the major issues you’d emphasize in a presidential run, if it comes to that?
Paul: Everything I’ve talked about for 20 years! I think the biggest thing for Republican primary voters is that most Republicans are turned off right now. They’ve had a beating and are reassessing their values. They have to decide what they believe in. The Republican Party has become about big government conservatism, and Republicans need to hear the message they used to hear: that conservatives are supposed to be for small government.
Paul: Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has a resolution he’s introducing, sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, saying that the president can’t go into Iran and spread this war without permission of Congress. I don’t know the total number of supporters, but we had a real nice bipartisan group, seven or eight members of Congress, split between Republicans and Democrats. I thought it went well. [The resolution has 12 co-sponsors.]
I think the feeling [on the Hill] is getting more against the war every day. Republicans have generally benefited from being on the other side of war issues, and lately we’ve been pressured into supporting pre-emptive war, and it has hurt us politically. The Old Right position was [antiwar] and through the 20th century conservatives in the Republican Party have generally been trying to keep us out of war, and we’ve generally benefited by this. Eisenhower was elected to end the Korean War. Nixon was supposed to end the Vietnam War and in 2000 Bush ran on a policy of “no nation building” and not being the policeman of the world. He criticized Clinton on Somalia. It’s a strong tradition for Republicans to be on the side of avoiding military conflicts. Democrats have generally been the international instigators.