In the week following Congressman Ron Paul’s second-place showing at the Ames Straw Poll, where he finished just 152 votes behind Michele Bachmann, Paul’s fellow Republican presidential candidates are echoing his decades-old message on monetary policy -- even if the original messenger is left out of green rooms.
Paul’s reaction to being ignored by most in the media was on display at an office opening in Concord, N.H., Wednesday. "In this day and age, they are not as relevant as they think they are,” Paul said, adding, “We have enthusiasm, rightness of our cause and another little gadget called Internet.”
The Daily Show also lampooned the media this week for dismissing the 12-term congressman. "How did Ron Paul become the 13th floor at the GOP hotel?” Jon Stewart asked.
In the past four years, the Republican Party has moved toward Paul’s libertarianism. But while much of the party -- including higher-profile presidential hopefuls -- has picked up his message on the Federal Reserve Bank, observers say it’s much of the rest of Paul’s message that gives him little chance at the nomination.
He is out of step with the party on foreign affairs (he’s to the left of President Obama on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran) and certain parts of his domestic policy go too far for mainstream Republicans (he’s would be OK with legalizing drugs, including heroin, for example, if states decide to do so).
“The Ron Paul campaign is not so much a candidacy than a cause,” said Charlie Cook, a non-partisan political analyst and author of the Cook Political Report. “He’s got issues that are important to him.”
The grandfather of the Tea Party has lagged in early state polls behind top-tier candidates. He could, though, do better than in 2008 -- when he finished fifth in both Iowa and New Hampshire – especially in New Hampshire. The “Live Free or Die” state is clearly open to a message of economic libertarianism. He could even beat someone like Michele Bachmann there, whose social record and rhetoric may go too far for Granite Staters, but winning the state might be too tall a task. (Mitt Romney, who owns a home in the state has consistently held double-digit leads in the polls.)
GOP runs with Paul's message on the Fed
Nonetheless, several candidates this week have run with Paul’s anti-Fed message.
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry gave a warning to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke Monday night in Iowa, saying, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost … treasonous in my opinion.”
Paul said that made him -- someone who wrote a book called “End the Fed” -- look “moderate.” “I never once said Bernanke committed treason,” Paul said.
Not to be outdone, on Tuesday Bachmann was in South Carolina taking her own shot at the Fed.
"The Federal Reserve is not subject to transparency,” she said. “The Federal Reserve has made terrible, grievous errors. I wrote letters to Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner and to Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke... The president has reduced the soundness of the dollar and the dollar has lost 12 percent of its value, according to experts, since President Obama came into his position."
Continuing the anti-Fed streak Wednesday, Perry repeated a line Paul supporters are used to hearing about auditing the Federal Reserve. Perry told the New Hampshire crowd, “They should open their books up. They should be transparent so that the people of the United States know what they are doing and how they are doing.”
And it’s not just Republican presidential candidates repeating Paul’s message. The chairman of the Republican National Committee also parroted the position that Republicans “fundamentally disagree with the idea of printing more, more money to solve our economic problem,” Reince Priebus said in an interview with CNN Wednesday night. “I think that it's a good thing that you and I are now talking about it and that many people around the country are starting to look at what's going on with the Fed and they start asking questions.”
Cook said that Paul’s “got strongly held views about the Fed that, until Rick Perry came along, nobody else was saying. If the big boys and big girls are parroting him, that’s a success. What he wants, what he would like is for his viewpoints that have been historically viewed as fairly eccentric to be more accepted by the party. To the extent that any of his rhetoric or ideas are parroted by Perry and-or Bachmann, I think Ron Paul would take some satisfaction in that."
Indeed, the Paul campaign is thrilled with the idea that the country is “starting” to look at the Fed and that they “start asking questions.”
“This surge in interest in Dr. Paul and support for him is a direct result of Dr. Paul being the most consistent, trustworthy and reliable Republican candidate for president when measured against his competitors,” said Gary Howard, the Paul campaign’s national press secretary.
Howard described the other presidential candidates as following Paul.
“Dr. Paul’s main status-quo competitors Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney are all emulating his message of personal and economic liberty, a return to constitutionally limited government, and a focus on sound currency, to name only a few issues,” Howard continued. “What they can never mimic is Dr. Paul’s impeccable record on these issues and therein lays the distinction. The entry of candidates such as Rick Perry merely dilutes the vote of the status quo.”
When asked how the Paul campaign can convince voters he is a viable candidate, Doug Wead, a senior adviser to the Paul campaign and presidential historian, explained it this way.
“Everybody’s mimicking Ron Paul,” Wead said. “So much of what he’s said has come true. The electorate is more savvy; they’re more educated. They can read all these things he talked about, that he said was coming. He’s the real thing. I’m glad that Michele Bachmann is coming our way, that Rick Perry is coming our way. But, for Americans who are looking for authenticity and they want a protest that has teeth in it. They want to register that anger, if they do their due diligence, they’re going to vote for Ron Paul. They’re not going to vote for Michele Bachmann who voted for Nancy Pelosi’s stimulus bill."
Out of step on foreign policy
Paul has joked that his ideas are becoming popular with a majority of voters, saying, “They’ve accused me of being mainstream, can you imagine that? All I know is that I haven’t changed my views, maybe the sentiment is shifting. Let’s hope so!”
But Paul’s views on foreign policy -- his rigid ideology on non-interventionism -- came into focus at the Ames debate a little more than a week ago.
“[The Soviet Union] had like 30,000 nuclear weapons with intercontinental missiles,” Paul said, adding, “We tolerated the Soviets; we didn't attack them. And they were a much greater danger … to us in our whole history.”
Doubling down, Paul even questioned sanctioning Iran and explained why it would want a nuclear weapon.
“Just think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran,” Paul said. “The Chinese are there. The Indians are there. The Pakistanis are there. The Israelis are there. The United States is there. Why wouldn't it be natural that they might want a weapon? … Internationally, they'd be given more respect. … Countries that you put sanctions on, you are more likely to fight them. I say a policy of peace is free trade. Stay out of their internal business. Don't get involved in these wars. And just bring our troops home.”
The Paul campaign insists his “peace” message is one that will resonate across party lines, uniting liberals, conservatives and independents. Howard says Paul gets support on this issue because of “voters’ concerns about … trillion-dollar foreign wars having an unclear connection to U.S. national security.”
Certainly, this is a war-weary nation. And even many in the hawkish GOP have begun to call for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. But talk of removing sanctions from Iran or accepting an Iran with nuclear weapon, observers say, is a tough sell.
The campaign takes solace in and touts that their candidate -- one of only two GOP presidential candidates with military experience -- raised more money from members of the military last quarter than any other current presidential candidate, including President Obama.
Wead echoed Paul's belief that American involvement in foreign wars is “economically devastating.”
“I think the people understand what he’s saying,” Wead said. “We cannot afford ongoing trillion-dollar wars. You’ve got to decide if you’re going to try and rule the world. We can’t afford to rule the world.”
Paul regularly repeats the line, “Bring the troops home” on campaign stops, which usually gets a standing ovation from supporters young and old.
Passing the torch
And then there’s the issue of Paul’s age. He turns 76 tomorrow, and would also be the oldest president ever sworn in. Reagan was just shy of his 74th birthday, when he was sworn in for his second term. But Paul told NBC News that any candidate who suggests his age is an issue should be ready for a physical challenge.
“I'd say come to Houston 12 o'clock noon tomorrow, 100-degree heat, 100-percent humidity and I’ll ride 20 miles with them on my bicycle!” he said. “And we'll see if they take me up on it. I mean age is relative to the person's mind and body and the most important thing is that you have young ideas. The other candidates have too much authoritarianism. They like too much government, so that is the only thing that really counts."
When Wead was asked about the candidate’s age being a factor, he pointed to Paul’s son, Rand Paul (R), a Tea Party freshman U.S. senator from Kentucky, who is likely being set up to inherit the “torch of liberty.”
“There’s always Rand, you know,” Wead said. “If [Ron Paul] ends up at the convention with a lot of votes, a lot of things can happen, and Rand is the right age, that’s for sure.”
But if he doesn’t, there’s always next election cycle.