In the interest of providing a one-stop introduction to Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy, I offer the following list of Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Who’s this Ron Paul guy I keep hearing about?
A: Ron Paul is a 10th term U.S. Congressman from Texas. He held office from 1976—1977, then from 1979—1985, and then again from 1997 until the present. He ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988. In his private life he was an ob-gyn, who received his medical degree from Duke University School of Medicine.
Q: What are Ron Paul’s political views?
A: Ron Paul is a strict constructionist of the U.S. Constitution. Because he votes against any Congressional bill that is not authorized under a commonsense reading of the Constitution, people call him "Dr. No." Lobbyists learned long ago not to bother taking Ron Paul out to dinner or a baseball game.
Dr. Paul is dedicated to liberty and limited government, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. As such he opposes the welfare state, but he also opposes the warfare state. To him, this is not an eclectic blend of "conservative" and "liberal," but rather the only consistent position that is very distrustful of the central government in D.C. After all, conservative Republicans know only too well that efforts to fix the economy and help the poor — through taxes and regulations — always backfire and end up hurting the very groups whom the compassionate Democrats want to help. But by the very same token, why should we trust the same government to send bombers and tanks across the ocean in order to liberate entire countries and give them peace and democratic government?
If elected, Ron Paul pledges to bring the troops home immediately, abolish the IRS, and end the failed War on Drugs. He is personally pro-life (having delivered many babies) but believes abortion is a matter left to the states — this is again a reflection of his principled belief in the federalist design of our government. (It’s not the federal government’s job to punish adult homicide, either.)
Q: I personally agree with most of these positions, but c’mon, isn’t Ron Paul just a fringe candidate? Doesn’t his support basically consist of about 3,000 people on the Internet?
A: This was actually my opinion, about six months ago. I thought Ron Paul was great but that nobody outside of small libertarian circles would even hear about him. But then I was shocked to see him on Bill Maher’s show, where he was received as a rock star. (Look at this clip about 7:00 into it, to see fellow guest Ben Affleck clapping along with the crowd at Paul’s statement.)
There are plenty of other indicators that Ron Paul has widespread — and exponentially growing — support. As is well known, he either wins or places in all of the televised debates. (Watch this hilarious clip to see the disbelief and goofy excuses from people at Fox News over this.) In the third quarter, he raised over $5 million, and in fact got $1.2 million of it in one week alone. (See this short but very flattering ABC story about this impressive fundraising feat.)
Ron Paul is also a star among college students and young people generally. Have you seen Ron Paul signs hanging on overpasses while on a road trip? I sure have. (And I haven’t seen any signs from other candidates.) On a recent trip to New York City, my wife and I were approached by his supporters in Union Square, who said, "Have you heard about the antiwar candidate Ron Paul?" I didn’t see anybody trying to convince the cool West Village passersby about the "anti-terrorist candidate Rudy Giuliani."
Another fact that might surprise you: Among the GOP candidates, Ron Paul has raised the most money from military personnel. Isn’t that odd, since he is supposedly the cut-and-run traitor? The people who are actually over there in Iraq winning hearts and minds apparently support his pledge to bring the troops home and to stop meddling in foreign affairs.
Finally, just look at how Ron Paul is making mincemeat of everyone else at the various straw polls so far. (If you don’t really know what a straw poll is, you might want to consult this Wikipedia explanation.) To summarize the results as of this writing: Of the 31 straw polls, Ron Paul placed first in 14 of them, he placed second in 6 of them, and he placed third in 5 of them. In each of his three most overwhelming victories, he received more than seventy percent of the total votes cast! (His best performance was in the West Alabama straw poll on August 18, where he garnered an amazing 81.2 percent of the votes.) Incidentally, these straw polls are from various regions of the country, too — it’s not that Ron Paul does well in the Deep South but nowhere else.
Q: OK you’ve made a good case that there are certain pockets of American society that heavily favor Ron Paul. But he’s still only getting a few percentage points in general surveys, right?
A: It’s true that Ron Paul still polls in the single digits in scientifically conducted random surveys. However, that’s not necessarily the best gauge of how someone will do in the primaries. After all, the Republican Party isn’t going to pick its nominee by calling random telephone numbers. Supporters have to care enough to register and vote for their preferred candidate. So if I’m telling you that Ron Paul is absolutely blowing people away — sometimes receiving over 80 percent of the votes cast — amongst people who watch the Republican debates and care enough to cast a cell phone vote, or who care enough to drive out to a Republican straw poll and plunk down the $35 to cast a vote, while people who receive random phone calls might not have heard about Ron Paul… Which bit of information is more relevant to how the primary votes will go?
But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an interesting analysis of why Ron Paul could conceivably win the Iowa caucuses, and note that this analyst isn’t saying, "Oh Ron just has to win for the future of this country!" No, this writer is bringing up the fact that evangelicals can’t unite behind Rudy, Ron Paul has a great organization, etc.
Q: Fair enough, Ron Paul has a lot of good ideas and a lot more support than I had realized. But still, I’m a conservative Republican who is practical. Isn’t a vote for Ron Paul basically a vote for Hillary Clinton?
A: There are two levels to this question. First, if we’re talking about voting in the primaries, then no, a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for Ron Paul. If you think (say) Rudy Giuliani is the best person to face off against Hillary Clinton, then you don’t need to worry about "wasting" your primary vote. You can go ahead and vote your conscience for Ron Paul in the primary. If (as you suspect) he only gets 5 percent, then no harm; Rudy or Mitt or Fred wins the GOP nomination, and then you can go vote for him against Hillary Clinton (assuming that is how you rank things).
But let me push the question deeper. I challenge the premise that Rudy or Mitt or Fred is a stronger GOP candidate in the general election against Hillary Clinton. Like it or not, the general public is fed up with George Bush and his war. Even though she won’t pull the troops out, Hillary Clinton will have a huge edge just on that ground alone. But she loses this edge completely against Ron Paul. Ron Paul actually voted against the Iraq invasion (and against the Patriot Act). He is the one GOP candidate who can neutralize the baggage of the war for the Republicans. On top of that, he can beat Hillary on socialized medicine because he is an actual medical doctor, and so he can credibly talk about the dangers of bringing more government into the equation.
In conclusion, if you will vote in the Republican primaries and the only thing holding you back from voting for Ron Paul is the fear of President Clinton, then I think you need to carefully reevaluate that strategy. Ron Paul is the one GOP candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton in the general election. And on top of that pragmatic edge, Ron Paul is also the only true conservative running.