Ron Paul is poised to pull off a major upset. The Texas congressman is surging in the polls and may even win the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. He has run an effective — and at times brilliant — campaign. His scathing ads have eviscerated former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. As Mr. Gingrich’s numbers fall, Mr. Paul is attracting disaffected Republican voters. He is emerging slowly as the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Yet, is Mr. Paul’s rise good for the GOP? Or will he ultimately help President Obama get re-elected?
Mr. Paul is the godfather of the Tea Party movement. He is not a Burkean conservative but a libertarian constitutionalist who champions limited government, sound currency and states’ rights. In foreign policy, he is a non-interventionist who believes — like our Founding Fathers — that America should mind its own business. For this, Mr. Paul has been excoriated by both the progressive left and the neoconservative right. The Democratic and Republican establishments despise him. The media largely ignore him. Much of talk-radio ridicules him.
I, however, have a confession to make: I like him. Mr. Paul is right on many key issues — out-of-control spending, our runaway national debt, exploding entitlements, the evils of the Federal Reserve and the perils of military interventionism and nation-building. He is the only Republican candidate truly serious about rolling back the federal leviathan. He seeks to slash government spending by $1 trillion — within one year. He favors massive cuts to capital-gains, dividend and income taxes. He would repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley, thereby unleashing the private economy. He champions real entitlement reform, pushing for Social Security and Medicare to be phased out gradually and privatized. He wants to audit and eventually abolish the Federal Reserve. This alone would tame inflation, restore the value of the dollar and protect the purchasing power of the working and middle class. Mr. Paul is the mortal enemy of New Deal-Great Society liberalism.
Even on foreign affairs, the area where he is most vulnerable and out-of-step with the Republican mainstream, Mr. Paul has shown genuine courage and foresight. Of all the GOP contenders, he is the only one who opposed the Iraq War. He warned that the invasion would drain precious American blood and treasure. Many of his policies echo those of pre-Cold War conservatives — abolishing foreign aid, withdrawing from entangling alliances such as NATO and protecting U.S. sovereignty from transnational intelligentsia, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.
Mr. Paul is saying what most on the right (and left) are not willing to confront: America is being broken by military overstretch. We are no longer a constitutional republic, but an empire. Democratic universalism — the notion that Washington must spread democracy and human rights to every corner of the world — is a recipe for perpetual war, national exhaustion and economic ruin. Also, Mr. Paul laments that Congress has ceded its war-making powers to the executive branch. The presidency has become a modern-day Caesar, able to wage war with little or no legislative restraint.
Mr. Paul is tapping into growing public frustration with endless military conflicts abroad. Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated the disastrous failure of nation-building; democracy, economic modernity and the rule of law cannot be imposed by the bayonet upon alien tribal cultures. Conservatives used to know that government activism cannot create economic prosperity or fix broken families, never mind mold entire national cultures. “War is the health of the state,” warned writer Randolph Bourne.
Conservatives wage it at their peril. Small government and militarism are incompatible. Moreover, Mr. Paul understands the seminal truth of our time: We are broke. Like imperial Britain and ancient Rome, America is being bled to death, unable to sustain its global ambition. The welfare-warfare state is doomed to collapse.
Yet Mr. Paul is also an ideologue. This is his fatal weakness. Ideology trumps reality. He denies that Iran is bent on getting the bomb. In fact, he often sounds like Teheran’s public-relations agent, defending the mullahs’ quest to acquire nuclear weapons. He refuses to recognize the existence of radical Islam and the mortal threat it poses to the West. He lionizes anti-American, anti-war web sites such as the odious WikiLeaks. He will not stand up to China’s predatory trade practices, blindly adhering to free-trade nostrums. His support for homosexual rights and the legalization of drugs, including cocaine and heroine, represents an assault upon traditional America. His libertine libertarianism would lead to a more permissive society and widespread drug use, especially among youth. Indeed, Mr. Paul appeals to many young voters: He combines the principles of Steve Jobs with Charlie Sheen, the economic individualist and the moral hedonist.
Mr. Paul’s anarcho-capitalism is too radical and too naive and deviates too much from Reaganite conservatism to capture the GOP nomination. Yet he has the potential to command 10 percent of the electorate — not enough to win, but enough to be a spoiler. He repeatedly has refused to shut the door on a possible third-party run. In 1988, he was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. The party would take him back in a heartbeat.
This, however, would be a tragic mistake. Running as an independent candidate would split the anti-Obama vote, enabling the president to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Mr. Paul would become the right’s Ralph Nader — the man who helps consolidate Mr. Obama’s socialist revolution. His legacy would be tarnished permanently and his movement betrayed.
No one has done more to remind the GOP of its small-government roots than Mr. Paul. This is why he continues to rise. It also is why he should tell Republican voters that, like Sen. Robert A. Taft and Sen. Barry Goldwater, his home is in the GOP. Otherwise, the only real winner is Mr. Obama.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a radio talk show personality and a columnist at The Washington Times and WorldTribune.com.