Ron Paul is in. That’s the word from the libertarian-leaning Republican congressman from Texas, who said on Fox News Monday night that he plans to announce his presidential exploratory committee Tuesday afternoon in Iowa.
Representative Paul suggested that he may not go beyond the exploratory phase. “It depends on what kind of reception I get on your show tonight,” Paul told host Sean Hannity with a smile. “If I get booed or something, maybe I shouldn’t do it.”
But at this point, not running hardly seems in the cards, even for a man in his mid-70s. Paul knows he has a fervent base of supporters. Major polls place him far down in the pack of prospective 2012 candidates, but his fans are a hardy bunch, many of them young.
In February, Paul won the straw poll for the second year in a row at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), half of whose 11,000 attendees were college students. A week later, Paul’s political-action committee, Liberty PAC, raised more than $700,000 in a 24-hour “money bomb.”
This will be Paul’s third ride on the presidential merry-go-round, first as the Libertarian Party nominee in 1988, then as a Republican in 2008. Though he didn’t fare too well last time – he placed fifth in both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary – that seems beside the point this time.
Running for president means getting interviewed on TV and taking part in debates – in short, getting your views out there. And Paul is all about holding strong opinions on the role of government (as limited as possible) and casting votes in Congress that often buck his party leadership.
“It’s not easy to vote against the budget when all the Republicans are voting for a budget,” Paul said. The government “should have closed down a long time ago ... so [we] could change our ways.”
“Liberty means to exercise human rights in any manner a person chooses so long as it does not interfere with the exercise of the rights of others,” Paul writes in the introduction to his new book, “Liberty Defined.” “This means, above all else, keeping government out of our lives.”
Paul will not be the only libertarian-leaning politician in the Republican field. Last week, former Gov. Gary Johnson (R) of New Mexico declared his presidential campaign. So a “libertarian primary” of sorts is shaping up.
Mr. Johnson also opposes the war on drugs and has admitted to use of marijuana as a painkiller, before medical marijuana became legal in New Mexico. Unlike Paul, though, Johnson has eight years of executive experience as a two-term governor. Paul, a physician, has spent his political career as a legislator.
One idea that Ron Paul isn’t promoting is “birtherism” – the false notion that President Obama was not born in the United States. On Monday, appearing on ABC’s “The View,” Paul teased celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump for highlighting the issue as he considers running for president. Paul called Mr. Trump “desperate for an audience.”
At CPAC in February, Trump bluntly told Paul’s fans that their man has “zero chance of getting elected” president. Since then, the two have traded shots at each other.