Ron Paul runs for president again. Will GOP embrace a libertarian in 2012?

Ron Paul began his third run for the White House yesterday, saying that 'people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years.' A key hurdle: selling his foreign policy to GOP voters.

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    Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul greets supporters outside Grand Central Terminal prior to holding a fundraiser on October 13, 2007.
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Creating jobs. Strengthening family values. Improving education. Protecting Social Security. Those are the leitmotifs that generally mark a presidential candidate’s stump speech. They’re poll-tested to resonate with the broadest possible audience, which is why most stump speeches sound eerily similar.

Not Ron Paul’s.

Back in December 2007, I took my family to New Hampshire to listen to the candidates speak. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s event was jammed. Mitt Romney’s was, too. So we ended up in a hotel conference room listening to Ron Paul (a longtime Republican congressman from Texas) whip up the crowd with … references to ancient Roman emperors who weakened their currencies.

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I’ve seen grown women swoon at a Seal concert. But I never thought I’d see it happen during a discourse about the Federal Reserve. The ecstasy of his devoted followers, however, never materialized into a broad following and Mr. Paul’s candidacy soon faded.

Now Paul’s back in the ring. He formally announced his White House run yesterday. But unlike his efforts in 1988 or 2008, the explosion of US debt along with the weakening of the US dollar have turned his fringe talking points into mainstream issues. Paul was a one-man tea party before the tea party movement emerged in 2009, and his consistency as a fiscal conservative certainly gives him major street cred.

Those who back Paul were certainly buoyed by a shock poll from CNN last week that showed Paul running better against President Obama than any other GOP candidate.

The problem, though, is that Paul is not running in a Libertarian primary. He has to win the support of Republican voters, many of whom have expressed coolness toward his rigorously anti-war, isolationist foreign-policy views.

For example, consider the audience’s reaction to Rudy Giuliani's rebuttal of Paul’s comments about 9/11 in this Republican debate from May 2007:

Four years later, Paul still doesn’t shy away from controversy. Just before launching his presidential bid this week, he told a radio host that he wouldn’t have authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, citing respect for the rule of law.

That may be a principled stand, but it’s probably not one that will endear him to conservative primary voters.

The irony is that Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy was in some degree a hallmark of Republican thinking as recently as 2000, when George W. Bush campaigned on a policy of avoiding nation-building or using troops as the world’s policeman. 9/11 changed all that, which proves that American presidents can adjust their priorities with great speed. But so can voters. Nearly a century ago, the nation backed Woodrow Wilson – perhaps the most progressive US president ever. A short while later, voters embraced Calvin Coolidge – arguably our most libertarian chief executive.

Is the timing right for Paul? He certainly thinks so:

Announcing his run on ABC’s Good Morning America, Paul said the “time has come around to the point where the people are agreeing with much of what I've been saying for 30 years."

"So I think the time is right."

Is it? I plan on taking my family back to New Hampshire this December. If we can't get into the Ron Paul rally because of a traffic jam, we'll know for sure.

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