Did Ron Paul win GOP's national security debate?

Media-types seem to think Ron Paul more than held his own, which is no small feat, considering many of his ideas on national security are well outside the Republican mainstream. 

Jonathan Ernst /REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas speaks during the CNN GOP national security debate in Washington Tuesday.

Did Ron Paul win Tuesday's GOP debate at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington?

OK, it’s hard to really say anyone “wins” a debate, given that there’s no scoring, and Wolf Blitzer doesn’t come out afterward and hand out a medal. In general, last night’s word fight was high-minded and good for everybody, except maybe Herman Cain, since he didn’t say much.

CNN’s Blitzer did well, too – drawing candidates into real conversations, and emceeing questions from assembled think-tank luminaries. The whole thing was a real debate in that it juxtaposed real differences of opinion.

Which is where Congressman Paul comes in. It was him against the Republican world last night. His positions are often very different from those of his GOP opponents, and he defended them with his typical well-honed points. You’re reminded once again that he’s been at this for decades. Even longer than Mitt Romney.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato tweeted last night that Paul tied with Newt Gingrich as last night’s winner. Sabato gave both a “B+.”

New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver similarly gave Paul a “B+.” He thought both Newt and Jon Huntsman rated an “A,” however.

Paul “sounded authoritative and made his points clearly” judged Politico’s Maggie Haberman.

Our own reaction to Paul was that nobody laid a glove on him, despite the fact that many of his positions are controversial both within the GOP and in US politics at large. (He said foreign aid is “worthless,” for instance. Really? Not even the other GOP candidates went that far. US cash is paying for much of Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS, for instance. Is that not money well spent?)

But take the opening sequence, when most all the other candidates supported Patriot Act antiterror provisions as necessary intrusions on liberty at a time of danger for the US. Paul was having none of that.

“I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic, because it undermines our liberty,” said Paul in the opening moments of the debate.

The longtime libertarian was just getting warmed up.

“So if you advocate a police state, you can have safety and security, and you might prevent a crime, but the crime then will be against the American people and against our freedoms,” said Paul.

Paul then went on to differ with the crowd by saying the US should “let Israel take care of itself.” That meant, apparently, don’t meddle with Israel if it wants to bomb Iran, but don’t give it any money to do the deed, either.

(As an aside, we’ll ask this: Did the Texas congressman let slip some interesting and closely guarded info in his response? He said, “Israel has 200, 300 nuclear missiles, and they can take care of themselves.” That’s on the high end of the estimates experts outside the US government make as to the extent of Israel’s nuclear program.)

Then there was the whole defense budget-cutting thing, in which Paul and Mitt Romney went at it.

First Romney opposed the possibility of a trillion dollars being cut from the defense budget. That might happen because the congressional super committee didn’t figure out a way to reduce the budget by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, so automatic cuts might take effect next year.

“They’re not cutting anything out of anything,” replied Paul. “All this talk is just talk.”

Paul appeared to be referring to the fact that nothing is in stone yet – some in Congress want to repeal the automatic cuts, many of the “cuts” are reductions in growth as opposed to actual reductions in the size of government programs, and so forth.

Romney disagreed. He ticked off a list of weapons systems Congress has already trimmed. “They’re cutting ... into the capacity of America to defend itself,” he said.

So what do you think of Paul versus the GOP world? Leave a comment and let us know.

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