Ron Paul Exposes Cracks in GOP's Tea Party Pot
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While Ron Paul wants America to quit its "endless wars," he's blasting away at fellow Republicans.
Paul has become increasingly cantankerous as he rises in the polls (now in first place in Iowa, according to Public Policy Polling). Accusing his GOP rivals of warmongering, he baldly declares that Michele Bachmann "hates Muslims."
Sometimes, he gets as good as he gives. At the last presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses, Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, called Paul's pacifistic pronouncements on Iran "the most irresponsible thing I've ever heard."
Paul brags that he was a tea partier before there was a tea party. And when it comes to the fiscal issues that the tea party purports to care about, no one is tighter with a buck than the congressman. His budget cuts would shut down five Cabinet-level departments -- a pledge that none of his opponents has matched.
But Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy goes far beyond standard tea party orthodoxy. And that's where he exposes the shortcomings of the movement.
It's good and right for tea partiers to criticize federal spending and to attack the government's ballooning debt. They have stiffened the GOP's spine and energized the conservative base, as evidenced in the virtual Republican sweep of the 2010 elections.
Now along comes Paul to upset the party. From his unstinting assault on the Federal Reserve to his "Bring the Troops Home" mantra, the congressman roils the teapot. He knocks it completely over with libertarian rhetoric that offends social conservatives.
Tea party purists say they can only succeed by sticking strictly to fiscal issues. But Paul counters that America's foreign engagements -- costly both in terms of blood and treasure -- are an inextricable part of the problem.
In that respect, the former Air Force physician is reminding voters of President Dwight Eisenhower's parting plea to beware of the "military-industrial complex." It's a warning that echoes George Washington's admonition to steer clear of "foreign entanglements."
Indeed, Paul may be the Republicans' best crossover candidate. His insular foreign policy hits home with a wide range of voters leery of -- if not exhausted by -- America's role as nation builder and global cop at a time of serious economic and social disarray in this country.
The irony is that the mainstream media and so-called conservative pundits continue to portray Paul as a fringe candidate, even as he rises in the polls. Notably, those Republican surveys fail to reflect Paul's appeal to the left end of the political spectrum.
Building from a paleoconservative base, Paul sets himself against the neoconservative establishment that has controlled the Republican Party for decades. These "neocons" relentlessly advocate an ever-expanding military presence under the guise of exporting "freedom and democracy."
Neocons -- reformed liberals, actually -- are also architects for bigger government. They link arms with the likes of Ted Kennedy to federalize education, cozy up to corporations and shill for "comprehensive immigration reform" (i.e., open borders). Among the current crop of GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich is a neocon poster boy.
None of the neocons' global agenda and few of their domestic initiatives have anything to do with classic conservatism -- or classic liberalism, for that matter. Yet neocon Republicans have grafted themselves onto the tea party with remarkable success.
But St. Paul is chipping away at the unholy alliance. His insurgent bid for the Republican presidential nomination is a battle for the future direction of the GOP, as well as the independence and relevance of the tea movement.
Someday, political science textbooks will be written to lay out one of two scenarios:
- The tea party was a genuine grass-roots phenomenon hijacked by political opportunists who were not truly "conservative."
- The tea party movement was a neocon front all along, a crass branding exercise by the GOP establishment.
Either way -- or both -- Ron Paul's 2012 campaign is telling the tale.
"Making Ron Paul the GOP candidate for president will send the strongest possible message to a Republican establishment that is hell-bent on co-opting the tea party and maintaining the status quo," says Russ Paladino, a founding tea partier from New York and convert to Paul's campaign.
"A primary victory will make it unmistakably clear that we meant it when we marched in D.C. We meant it when we gathered to protest Obamacare. We mean it when we petition our representatives about government intrusions into the free market and individual liberty, and we will not be patted on the head and disregarded anymore."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.