Americans owe Ron Paul a huge debt of gratitude. Four years ago, while Republican candidates for president were talking positively about trillion-dollar adventures in the Middle East, the congressman from Texas built his candidacy for the White House on the principles of sound fiscal management and military restraint. Thanks to his passion, his drive, and his supporters, these principles are now back in vogue.
But some Americans also owe Ron Paul an apology. Dismissed with all manner of invective in 2008, Congressman Paul’s opponents habitually failed to answer the case that the U.S. was facing a looming economic crisis borne of the country’s massive debt. “Deficits don’t matter,” snorted former Vice President Dick Cheney. Well, that was fourteen trillion dollars ago. Today, American debt ranks as one of the most pressing issues amongst voters. It was Ron Paul who helped raise public awareness of this alarming issue.
This week, Ron Paul announced he would again explore a run for the presidency. Libertarians were delighted, as well they ought to be, for he is their fearless champion. But despite all the good he has done, and all the good he has yet to do, another run for the White House would be a bad idea.
Without resorting to the superficial and, quite honestly, insulting reasons Ron Paul should not run (too old, too extreme), there are multiple arguments for why his candidacy would be flawed.
Think of the children!
As Politico recently explained, Rep. Paul is not only a knowledgeable and eloquent advocate for libertarian ideas, but also the patriarch of a burgeoning political dynasty. With one son already safely ensconced in the Senate, and another who recently mulled a run for the Senate in Texas, Paul’s family is shaping the larger libertarian movement, and will likely continue to do so for years to come.
If the Paul brand is to endure (and libertarians uniformly hope it does), it is imperative that it is kept fresh and relevant. But if the name Paul crops up whenever a presidential election is due, the strength of the brand and the ideas behind it will inevitably diminish. Jeb Bush would be a leading candidate for president today were it not for his last name, and in 2008 Hillary Clinton could never quite shake off the accusation that is was improper for the White House to be occupied twice by her and her family.
Lightening does not strike twice
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Ron Paul led a revolution in 2008. While other GOP candidates — including the eventual nominee, John McCain — singularly failed to fire up the base of the party, Paul generated an enthusiasm amongst young voters hitherto unseen in the modern GOP. His fundraising was likewise nothing short of spectacular.
But in politics, as in so much else, moments come and go. History is replete with examples of politicians who went from rock star to also-ran in the blink of an eye. Just ask President Obama or Sarah Palin. A Paul candidacy that failed to capture the dynamism of 2008 would likely hurt the libertarian movement and give succor to those who believe only big-spending, country-invading Republicans can win election. Granted, it is possible Ron Paul could repeat his success from three years ago, but this looks unlikely because . . .
He is not alone
At presidential debates in 2008, Ron Paul was an isolated figure. But one of his finest moments came when he defended himself against Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s accusation that, by arguing for a humble U.S. foreign policy, he was the dupe of America’s enemies. While Giuliani and every other GOP candidate parroted the Bush line that American freedom could only be protected by spending American blood and treasure thousands of miles away, Paul maintained a lonely position as the only candidate who was steadfast in his defense of a modest foreign policy.
Paul was also alone in arguing about the problem of national debt. While other GOP candidates dutifully trotted out the same glib lines about cutting wasteful spending, only Paul had the vision and the record of a tax-cutting and waste-busting constitutionalist.
But with the rise of the Tea Party, a movement that embodies the philosophy Paul has been expounding for years, new leaders have emerged who share Paul’s ideas.
The American adventure in Libya has prompted criticism from both Haley Barbour and Michele Bachmann, with Barbour going on to question the idea of nation-building in general. Such a break from GOP orthodoxy would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And when it comes to the debt, potential candidates like Gary Johnson are wooing the Tea Party — effectively parking tanks on the lawn that used to belong wholly to Paul. As a movement that prides itself on individualism, libertarians cannot be guaranteed to throw their support exclusively to Ron Paul this time around.
In 2011, the GOP presidential debates will not be such a lonely place for Ron Paul. That’s a good thing for the movement, but less so for his candidacy.
Stay at the House party
Today it seems hard to believe, but just four years ago Ron Paul was known as a mere bomb-throwing backbencher in Congress, if he was known at all. Today, in addition to being feted at Tea Party events up and down the country, Paul is also the chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy. Granted, that’s a long way from the presidency, but it is a role ideally suited to Paul’s expertise on monetary policy. As chairman, Paul has often been able to set the agenda in Washington. Already he has skewered Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, for rising inflation, and could use his chairmanship to advocate for a gradual elimination of the Federal Reserve System — a position he has long held.
But Paul will have less chance to lambast government bureaucrats if he spends his time at New Hampshire diners and Iowa state fairs. A presidential campaign would take him away from Washington for long stretches of time — time that could be used advancing his libertarian ideals as a senior member of the Republican House majority.
In sum, as a staunch advocate for limited government, sound money, and a sensible foreign policy, Ron Paul should be commended for his public service. But libertarians should pause before giving full-throated support to Paul’s third bid for the White House. A hero he may be, but another attempt at the presidency could harm the movement he has done so much to create.
Dan Whitfield is a British writer living in Washington, D.C. A veteran of over a dozen election campaigns in both the US and UK, Dan has been active in American politics since he arrived in the country in 2005.