Did Ron Paul win the GOP debate in Ames?
Ron Paul's supporters think he wins everything.
Thursday night's Fox News debate presented eight of the Republican presidential wannabes on one stage as a political lead-up to Saturday's Ames Straw Poll.
Paul is a 76-year-old Air Force veteran and retired ob-gyn who has only been elected to 11 terms in the House of Representatives as a Texas Republican who talks more like a libertarian. He'sknown alternately as Dr. No, for his votes against spending, and Dr. Truth Serum, for his frank talk that some don't like to hear. None of the other Republican candidates have been elected to anything 11 times, counting schoolyard pickup games.
In the 2008 campaign, Paul and his noisy, very determined supporters were something of a joke. Fox News even barred him from its New Hampshire primary debate -- even though he'd done better in Iowa than Rudy what's-his-name, who went nowhere, and Fred Tennessee, who was going to be the party's next Ronald Reagan savior until he wore Gucci loafers to the Minnesota State Fair.
Paul came up more than 1,000 delegates short of winning the nomination in
...wait for it, St. Paul, but here's what he did do: Talking fiscal discipline, he took his supporters' donations (more than Mike Huckabee's hand-clapping evangelicals ponied up, btw) and walked the fiscal walk.
Flying commercial and sleeping in Super 8's, Paul paid all of his campaign bills. He ended up with a $5-million surplus, a word we don't often hear associated with things Washington, unless it refers to empty words.
He did another book and has been going around the country preaching his less-government gospel and sowing the seeds of the "tea party," which -- oh, look -- elected his son Rand to the United States Senate from Kentucky over the opposition of the party's establishment. In many ways this presidential election cycle, much of the country's political talk has come over to Paul's position -- despite the Real Good Talker being in the White House and on the other side.
Here's the kind of things Ron Paul says in speeches, interviews and Thursday's debate:
I approach this differently than all the other candidates -– Republicans or Democrats. I defend individual liberty in a different way. I am the one that says, 'War, there is too much of it.' They are undeclared. It's time to end war.
I am the one that says, 'I'm sick and tired of this Patriot Act -– this pretense to destroy our individual liberties and molest us at the airport.' None of the other candidates are saying that.
How many of the other candidates are going to talk about the financial situation and tie it into the reality of the Federal Reserve? Those views are different from other views, and it's my strong defense of liberty that separates me from other candidates.
All Paul has done is play a major role shaping this primary season's Republican discussion agenda -- less government, less taxes. Leave us alone.
Now, another Texas Republican conservative with the same initials, Rick Perry, can step into the ring and take the Washington-doesn't-know-everything struggle to another level.
Some people make faces when they hear Paul's blunt talk. Others find it refreshing.
And then, playing by the establishment's rules, Paul's people, many of them new to politics, go out with signs and their voices and their straw-poll ballots. The debate winner may be arguable. Paul's chance of being the Republican nominee might seem distant. But he's driving a big chunk of the debate.
And on Saturday, look for Ron Paul's name at or very near the top of the straw-poll competitors.
But, of course, he doesn't really matter.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Ron Paul. Credit: Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg