Fielding questions from reporters Wednesday at a press breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul talked at length about his favorite subjects: economic freedom, the failure of the Federal Reserve and the follies of foreign intervention.
It was a familiar spiel to everyone in the room that morning — journalists whose e-mail inboxes are no strangers to Paul’s devoted supporters. But that itself is perhaps a measure of the success of Paul’s decades-long campaign against big government.
Over the course of his career, Paul and his special brand of small-government activism have moved from the political hinterlands into the mainstream discussion. The man who was once the 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate is now a visible presence in the Republican presidential field.
The U.S. representative from Texas has only picked up steam following his 2008 campaign for president. He performs well in straw polls. In fact, he won a California GOP straw poll with 44.9 percent of the votes on Sep. 17. And his fundraising, although far behind the well-connected likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, is still formidable.
Last week the Paul campaign netted more than $1 million in donations in a weekend “money bomb.” It’s the fifth time in the 2012 campaign that Paul has passed the million dollar mark in a single fundraising event.
The Paul campaign also recently opened a state office in Michigan, another in Louisiana and announced the hiring of a state director for Nevada. Paul also picked up the endorsement of Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a freshman Congressman and the second youngest member of Congress at age 31.
“No person in public office has done more to secure the liberty of the American people than Dr. Ron Paul,” Amash said in a statement.
“Time and again, Dr. Paul has been right, and the conventional wisdom has been wrong,” Amash continued. “For decades, he has warned about the dangers of deficit spending and government’s reckless expansion of the money supply. He has warned about the unforeseen consequences of sending our troops into unnecessary wars. He has warned about sacrificing our freedoms for empty promises that government will protect us from harm.”
But for being a member of Congress, Amash would fit the profile of a typical Paul supporter. They tend to be in their 20s and 30s, both disillusioned with government and idealistic about the way it should work — “the young people who have not had their minds clouded with a lot of other clichés into thinking of what the government should do and shouldn’t do,” as Paul described them.
What Paul gives them is a tidy system of thought to explain what he called “the total failure of what we’re doing now.”
“What we’re offering is a solution to the problem and an explanation of how we got here,” Paul said.
“In medicine, I always had to ask, ‘You’re sick, what caused your disease?’ And then I know how to treat it,” said Paul, a former doctor. “But in politics, they never ask — whether it’s a foreign policy problem or an economic problem — they never say, ‘What caused this?’ They just say, ‘Well, our theory is that we need to spend more money to get us out of recession.'”
Paul’s political worldview is a nearly complete and closed system, and its prime mover is economic freedom, or a lack thereof. Most of our national problems, Paul will tell you, can be traced back to government intervention in markets — specifically the Fed — and a lack of fiscal restraint.
Runaway government debt and spending? Enabled by the Fed’s printing press. Health care system woes? Corporate cronyism enabled by government regulations. Costly attempts at nation-building? Again, the Fed’s printing press.
The voters who get Ron Paul’s message, they get it. And they give Paul money and flood straw polls to vote for him.
But his policy prescriptions, with their focus on monetary policy, tend to leave the rest of the GOP base cold. Despite a dedicated legion of supporters, Paul hasn’t broken out from the second tier of GOP candidates.
“I think people flat out don’t understand what I’m talking about,” Paul said of his economic policy. “That’s partially my fault,” he said, “That’s what I work on the most, is trying to refine my message.”
Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy also doesn’t play well to much of the Republican base. He took flak for not condemning Iran’s nuclear program at a recent GOP debate.
Most polls place Paul third or fourth in the Republican field, but the spread between the two current front-runners — Mitt Romney and Rick Perry — and the rest of the field is daunting. Romney and Perry command a double digit lead over the rest of their nearest competitors.
A controversial local New Hampshire poll shows former Massachusetts governor Romney leading with 41 percent among likely voters in the state. Paul comes in second, but only garners 14 percent of the vote. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman comes in third 10 percent, followed by Perry with 8 percent.
In Massachusetts, latest polls put Romney at a comfortable 50 percent, with Paul only garnering 5 percent.
This appears to be the last, and greatest, hurrah for Paul. He ruled out a third-party or independent run for president at the breakfast, and he’s not running for re-election in the House.
But even if his run for the GOP nomination is ultimately unsuccessful, Paul said his days in what he calls the “freedom movement” won’t be over.
“All I know is the things that motivate me will keep motivating me,” he said. “I’d be pretty bored if I wasn’t involved in anything anymore.”