12 July 2011

All or Nothing for Ron Paul?

The fans of Rep. Ron Paul should take heart from his announcement today that he doesn't intend to seek another term in Congress. The explicit and obvious reason for his retirement (at the end of his current term) is his desire to concentrate more on what will almost certainly be his last presidential campaign -- unless he becomes the Harold Stassen of the 21st century. The less obvious but more promising implication of his decision is that he's starting to cut ties with the Republican party while ostensibly running for its presidential nomination. Paul doesn't have to worry anymore about being primaried for his controversial opinions on foreign policy, drug policy and other matters. His future is no longer in the hands of his Texas constituents but will be decided first by next year's primary voters, and then....

It seems to me that Paul's announcement is an early indication that he intends to run for President as an independent should he fail, as is just about certain, to win the Republican nomination. It is impolitic for him to say so explicitly now while he still has a theoretical chance to get the GOP nod. But his speeches and debate appearances will now probably be aimed past the primary base; he would be in a position to make his case to independents while running as a Republican, and to prove his independence through Republicans' likely repudiation of him. I don't know if he ever really constrained his opinions while a Republican officeholder or candidate, but he has no reason to hold anything back during the 2012 primaries, which should make the Republican debates more entertaining than they already promise to be.

As a libertarian ideologue, Paul would probably prove a national disaster as President, but a Paul candidacy is certain not to be about libertarian economics alone. Should he declare independence after the primaries, he would be the one prominent voice in the 2012 campaign against the perpetuation of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, just for starters. His participation would spotlight these issues and, one hopes, inspire others to decouple them from Paul's wilderness social policies. It might even come to pass that, like any candidate, Paul would prove willing, at least verbally, to compromise his dogmas to secure the votes of the anti-war element that might prove, in turn, his most formidable constituency. It will depend on Paul's ultimate priorities, and whether he wants a revolution on his own terms or a re-empowerment of American democracy without preconditions.

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