Candidate Profile: Ron Paul — A Constitutionalist Whose Time Has Come?
Will the third time be the charm? Texas Rep. Ron Paul has run for President twice before, this time he's polling higher than ever, but many in the Republican establishment and the media refuse to take him seriously.
The Tea Party fueled the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010, in part based on calls to make government adhere to the Constitution.
In fact the Republican majority spent the opening minutes of its first House session reading the Constitution aloud and passed a rule requiring all bills cite the specific part of the Constitution that authorizes the legislation.
For a guy who has been harping on the unconstitutionality of various government programs and laws for the better part of 40 years, you'd think such a scene would be gratifying, but Texas Rep. Ron Paul instead took his colleagues to task for both past transgressions and the emptiness of the gesture.
"Will there be no more wars without an actual congressional declaration?" Paul asked. "Will the Federal Reserve Act be repealed? Will only gold and silver be called legal tender? Will we end all the unconstitutional federal departments, including the Departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor? Will the Patriot Act be repealed and all the warrantless searches stopped?"
Ron Paul is never one to hold back or retreat from an unpopular position, and he frequently breaks rank with other Republicans.
He opposed the Iraq war, he supports ending the War on Drugs, he opposed the USA Patriot Act, he advocates for cutting the military budget and closing overseas bases. He was also the only member of Congress to vote against a bill marking the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because in his words the landmark legislation "increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty."
Now the Republican Party, which has never really taken Paul seriously, has adopted many of the positions held by Paul for years.
H.R. 459, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act, a bill written by Paul that would require an annual audit of the Federal Reserve, has 196 cosponsors. Last year a similar bill passed the House, but went no further.
With smaller government being the primary focus of the Tea Party, the group's obvious influence in the Republican Party, and indeed with Paul's legitimate claim to the title of the original Tea Partier, it seems odd that until he did so well in Iowa, finishing just 3 percent behind the winner, Paul has been dismissed as a non-entity in the race for the GOP nomination.
But Paul is one of only two candidates in a crowded GOP field this year that never held front-runner status as approximately two thirds of Republican voters have sought a candidate not named Mitt Romney.
"I don't know why he's not taken seriously," CharlestonForRonPaul.com Director James Trementozzi said. "Especially with his strict stand on the Constitution, looking at his policies and the way he has voted."
Paul is doing far better this year than in 2008. In Iowa he came in a close third behind Romney and former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, who virtually tied for the win. Then in New Hampshire he placed second behind Romney.
Paul's strength has come from his supporters who are every bit as enthusiastic about their candidate as President Barack Obama's supporters were about him in 2008.
Paul's strict adherence to his understanding of the Constitution and his frank manner when answering questions and speaking publicy connect with many on a visceral level. They believe that he is being genuine and sincere, a rarity in politics, and that resonates with the people like Trementozzi — who is not a paid staffer with the campaign, but still works more than 40 hours a week running the CharlestonForRonPaul office.
"I think this is a case of the people picking the candidate instead of the establishment," he said.
Seth Miller was a Democratic Party Field Manager in 2008 and a Field Organizer for the party in 2010, but this year he is supporting Paul.
"Ending the Police State is my most important issue. We are running all over the world, telling people what they can and can't do, giving them money to prop up their government and then bombing them. It makes absolutely no sense. We are doing the same thing in the US with this failure that has been the War on Drugs," Miller wrote in an email.
"There is absolutely not one single metric that supports continuing this war, and yet no politician has the backbone to risk their job to speak out against the War, except Ron Paul."
Miller, a 20-year-old college student in Columbia, found himself caught up in the criminal justice system after being caught in a roadblock with a small amount of marijuana with two friends.
Paul's call to end the War on Drugs is a major factor in his support for the candidate.
"You see, college students are easy targets," Miller wrote. "They usually don't carry weapons, often don't know their rights, and their parents want to see them be successful — a perfect combination for easy arrest and $$$ conversion."
"So there we were, 20 years old, collectively facing 6 felony charges," Miller continued. "We were college students, not Enemies of the State or some type of violent criminals. We were literally about to pull into the parking lot of the bowling alley when this happened. It cost my family $5,000 to hire an attorney, and my two friends also hired attorneys. They have no need to make marijuana legal because it's already getting "taxed" - through the buddy system: arrest -> lawyer/court -> campaign contribution/job security... rinse and repeat."
While he supports Paul for president, Miller writes that he doesn't agree with him on every position, but he thinks Paul is the best candidate for the job this year.
Miller laments that people don't seem to get Paul's foreign policy stance.
"People don't seem to understand his foreign policy," Miller wrote. "Using the terminology of the 'Golden Rule'" in bloodthirsty South Carolina was not a good move. He would have been better off to say 'Leave us alone and we'll do the same to you, if you act on us it will be met with a strong, multi-lateral resistance.'"
For John Dougherty, a Paul supporter and student at College of Charleston, Paul's candidacy is about more than just Paul. It speaks to an entire philosophy about government.
"Everything the man says resonates deeply in my soul," Dougherty said. "I follow this religiously. I think this is the best chance we have to turn things around."
And it is that fervent support from young voters that drives the vitality of Paul's campaign. The YouTube Generation spend hours making and sharing videos of and about Ron Paul and his Libertarian positions and rush to defend their candidate any time a negative story about him is published anywhere on the web.
Paul is attractive to many young people largely because of his positions on social issues, such as ending the War on Drugs, and he also gains supporters for his foreign policy ideas from a generation that has grown up seeing their nation going to war over dubious reasons.
"The biggest thing about Ron Paul that I love is what people hate about him, his foreign policy," Dougherty said.
To Dougherty, removing American troops from foreign soil would bring huge savings from a bloated military budget, a position that brings out Paul's detractors in droves in a party that has built a reputation as being "strong on defense." But as Paul tries to explain he sees a vast difference between spending on defense of the homeland and military spending for foreign occupations.
While Deomcrat Josh Weser, another member of the Millenial Generation, said he likes Paul's stance on social issues, he disagrees with him on some of his foreign policy stances.
For instance, Weser said taking troops out of South Korea would leave one of the country's allys vulnerable to North Korea which has built and tested nuclear weapons. But there are places where Weser said troops are no longer needed.
But will Paul's youth vote be enough to win the GOP nomination, and if so, how will it compare with the level of support Obama receives from the same generation?
That remains to be seen as the rest of the primary season unfolds, but Paul has many obstacles to overcome before he faces Obama.
"A lot of what he says is refreshing, but I will still probably vote for Obama," Weser concludes.
The most-recent CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Wednesday shows Paul a distant fourth in South Carolina with approximately 13 percent of the vote.
Paul has his detractors, many of his rivals say his foreign policy would be dangerous, and newsletters published under his name in the 1980s and 1990s keep coming back to haunt his campaigns.
Perhaps Paul's candidacy is a tough sell in South Carolina because he calls for bringing all of America's armed forces back home, ending the wars the country is engaged in and following a hands off, "Golden Rule" approach to the affairs of other nations.
Paul was booed during Tuesday night's debate in Myrtle Beach, when he tried to make the point that actions like dropping bombs in another country have consequences, and that Americans would not like it if Pakistan or China were to attack and kill people on American soil.
South Carolina is home to six military bases, thousands of retired military live here and most conservatives in the state wholeheartedly supported the decision to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Paul can point to the fact that more active duty members of the military donate to his campaign than to any of the other presidential candidates. The only one who even comes close to matching Paul's level of campaign contributions from active duty service members is Pres. Obama.
The newsletters published under Paul's name included a number of racist, homophobic and anti-semetic statements and conspiracy theories, as well as race neutral conspiracy theories.
Paul has denied writing or editing the newsletter, except for some of the pieces about financial matters and fiscal policy, and has admitted it was a mistake not to have monitored it more closely.
The New Republic has been digging into the newsletters and numerous other media outlets have devoted coverage to the issue.
Paul's supporters see that as the mainstream media desperate for anything to discredit Paul now that he has a shot of winning the nomination. They take Paul at his word on the newsletters, but not everyone agrees with them and it doesn't look like the issue will go away in the general election if Paul wins the Republican nomination.