The Republican field in 2012 is a difficult one to navigate, especially for libertarians enamored with the Pauls.
The 2012 primary elections kick off in Iowa in a little under a year, yet the race for the Oval Office has yet to officially commence for Republican hopefuls. Will it be Trump, Romney, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Santorum, Bachmann, Palin, or <insert rumored name here>? The list is seemingly interminable. However, unlike 2008, libertarian figures are sure to have a much more prominent voice in shaping the debate in light of mounting concerns among the American people about the state of the economy, healthcare, the budget crisis, and foreign entanglements.
Perhaps most telling of this recent trend is a simple comparison of exit poll data in the 2008 presidential election and 2010 midterm elections. Before President Obama took office, 44% of those who found the economy to be the most important issue facing the country voted Republican, whereas by the midpoint of Obama’s presidency, the number has risen to 54%. Furthermore, 68% of those “very worried” with economic conditions trended Republican and 65% of those who wanted Congress to take on a greater role in trimming the debt turned to the GOP, perhaps indicative of the message of fiscally conservative Tea Party movements throughout the country. This should be taken with a grain of salt. Republicans under George W. Bush were no better than Democrats under Barack Obama in correcting our budget malaise. Republicans need to be held to a higher standard and must practice what they preach.
Nonetheless, no one has been more vocal about reining in government spending and a smaller government approach to rectifying our economic woes for years than the father and son tandem of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Both have been lightning rods for national attention over the years, running for the Republican nomination in 2008 and capturing the Kentucky Senate seat as the darling of the Tea Party, respectively.
However close family bonds and living spaces may be, there are some nuances that differentiate the two statesmen from each other.
The elder Paul has been a purist libertarian ideologue for decades in the House now, urging for policy positions that do not always resonate with the majority of Americans. Ideas such as returning to the gold standard and abolishing the Federal Reserve come to mind, which are courageous ideas for an intellectual to ponder, but nonetheless opaque issues for either the media and American people to digest. However, measures like the “Audit the Fed” movement last year showed the type of bipartisan support that could be garnered by a refined version of his message, one that appeals to the skepticism toward the central bank after the never-ending bailouts and quantitative easing. By the same token, Dr. Paul should avoid the association with radicals and conspiracy theorists when defending his views of the Federal Reserve; pursuing theories that the Federal Reserve has attempted to maintain its autonomy by indirectly involving itself in the assassination of John F. Kennedy is not a wise move politically or morally – it is nothing more than pure speculation, is antithetical to Paul’s generally logical approach to politics, and alienates loyal supporters. If the good ol’ doctor stays clear of unfounded assertions, the political climate may be ripe for legitimate change.
By contrast, the younger Paul has assumed a slightly more mainstream view in the Senate Chambers. Though he is a deficit hawk and joined Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) in outlining a five-year plan to balance the federal budget that has drawn the ire of party apparatchiks on both sides, Rand caters to the bulk of the Tea Party movement and quite a few Republicans with his aggressive stance on deficit slashing. In all the interviews I have watched of Rand, I have yet to see one in which he forcefully calls for bringing all of the troops home or ending the faith-based money system in the U.S. Sure, the intent is implicit, but the means are less overt and emphatic, which leaves the door open for the American voter who becomes interested and wants to learn more.
Which of the two Paul’s would make the better candidate? Ron Paul has incredible fundraising abilities, which he demonstrated during the 2008 primaries and more recently with “money bombs” through his Campaign for Liberty non-profit organization and Liberty PAC, which brought in $3 million or so before the campaign has launched. He has a huge following among the youth, veterans, and online. Problem? He has never won a primary and as with John McCain in 2008, age can be an issue with voters (he would be the oldest president in history at 77 by inauguration in 2012). On the other hand, Rand has won a statewide contest and has considerable backing from the national Tea Party movement. He is co-founder of the Tea Party Caucus in the Senate, yet has not developed a substantial national face by being in office for several months.
Jesse Benton, political director for Ron Paul, recently stated that, “Rand would not run if his dad’s running,” and that chances of Ron running are “better than 50-50.” An announcement of his candidacy will reportedly be made in May, and in the words of Jonathan Martin of POLITICO at the Institute of Politics Forum this past week, it would appear that Ron will get the ball one last time and head to the mound for a last hurrah in 2012. Come 2016, the younger Paul will almost certainly take up the mantle if the country is still in doldrums (which it almost certainly will be if history vindicates my cynical “Republicrat” view of the two-party system). Nonetheless, with the potential backing of his son Rand in 2012, his traditional support base, and newfound allies won over to his side by virtue of the receptive political climate, the tides may be shifting for Ron Paul and the r3VOLution. It should be an exciting couple of months.
I would be remiss to ignore the Gary Johnson factor, former governor of New Mexico who now identifies with the libertarian school of thought. He has attempted to distance himself from Ron Paul by emphasizing his executive experience and his ability to justify tough decisions by more than just ideology. Though good friends, Johnson has stated that he would not back down as Rand would if Ron opted to run. How much would Johnson’s entry affect Ron Paul’s chances? No one seems to have a clue. Paul has a devoted group of online followers who will stick with him through thick and thin, but so does Johnson (especially for his ardent backing of marijuana legalization).
Photo Credit: The Washington Post