One assumes that Ron Paul knows he is not going to be the next president of the United States -- or even the next Republican nominee. Yet the Texas congressman is campaigning hard, aiming particular ire and fire at Rudy Giuliani.
Paul is commonly regarded -- by those who have heard of him -- as more of a Libertarian than a Republican. That is, he believes in minimal regulation at home and minimal intervention abroad. Indeed, Paul took a detour out of the Grand Old Party back in 1988, when he ran on the Libertarian Party ticket for president; he received less than half of 1 percent of the nationwide vote.
So it’s little wonder, then, that Paul is viewed dimly by top Republicans -- the party loyalists, social-issue-regulators and neoconservative militarists who have come to dominate the GOP.
And while his campaign staff finds imaginative ways to measure his momentum -- one recent release reported that Paul had become "the third most-mentioned person in the blogosphere, beating out Paris Hilton" -- more conventional measures show him way back in the pack. He stands at 1 percent, or less, in polls of Republican presidential preference.
But there’s something liberating, for Paul, about being at asterisk-levels of support. There’s also something inspiring in Paul’s long-shot candidacy -- to Republicans who think their party has lost its way during the White House tenure of George W. Bush. At a recent press breakfast organized by The American Spectator, Paul got right to the point: He wants to take the party back from those who would "spend more money, run bigger deficits and police the world."
Indeed, the Texan is blunt about his own party’s electoral prospects: "The Republicans cannot win next year with a pro-war position." He cites, as proof-parallels, the 1952 and 1968 presidential elections, in which the voters tossed out the party presiding over unpopular foreign wars -- Korea and Vietnam, respectively.
But, of course, before the general election comes the nomination. And for now all the other Republican presidential hopefuls -- those who yearn to bask in honored glory at next year’s national convention in Minneapolis -- are mostly keeping faith with the Bush administration’s Iraq war policies, still popular with the nominating cadres inside the party.
And central to the Bush-centric worldview, of course, is the idea that our enemies in the Middle East are motivated by hatred -- hatred of freedom. Paul has a different view, which he expressed at the May 15 South Carolina Republican debate: They don’t hate us for who we are; they hate us for what we do, politically and militarily, around the Middle East. "Blowback," as it’s called, is a controversial thesis, but it does explain why Osama bin Laden goes after America and not, say, Switzerland.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reacted energetically to Paul in that South Carolina debate, scoring pro-Bush-brownie points on national TV. But Paul is unbowed; he cites, as supporting evidence, the 9/11 Commission report, and calls upon the expertise of friendly foreign policy experts, including former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, author of the 2004 book, Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.
Yet, for all his antipathy to Bush and the neoconservatives, Paul is no fan of the Democrats -- regarding them as slaves to the same interventionist ideology. But he does cite one exception to the rule: Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio -- the hard-core "peace" candidate who opposed not only the Iraq war but the Clinton administration’s military campaigns in the Balkans. Like Paul the Republican, Kucinich the Democrat is at the bottom of his party’s presidential rankings.
And that’s why, Paul says, the wars are likely to continue, no matter who next wins the White House. But in the meantime Paul campaigns on with his idiosyncratic message, inspired by motives that look a lot like altruism and genuine belief.