Jacob Heilbrunn

Ron Paul and Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer has a great column today on Ron Paul. He notices what not enough people have noticed about the New Hampshire primary, which is that Paul came in second. He earned 21 percent of the vote in Iowa and 23 percent in New Hampshire. I think it's safe to say that Krauthammer is not an admirer of Paul. But his analytical conclusions mirror my own.

The first observation is that this election is not really about Paul himself but about his son. He wants to establish a family dynasty. And, to a remarkable extent, he appears to be succeeding. His son Rand, a senator from Kentucky, is being groomed to lead the avid disciples that his father is cultivating. Come 2016, a more suave Paul will champion the fight for the libertarian cause of shrinking big government. And, if Obama is elected, there probably will be more to shrink, at least in theory (in practice, of course, it never happens. Neither the GOP nor the Democrats have the stomach to cut back entitlements or restrain spending). But put that aside for one moment.

Krauthammer's related point is that Paul could upend the Republican convention. If he keeps campaigning, and there's no cogent reason he should not, then Paul could demand a prime-time slot. Krauthammer observes,

The Republican convention could conceivably feature a major address by Paul calling for the abolition of the Fed, FEMA and the CIA; American withdrawal from everywhere; acquiescence to the Iranian bomb—and perhaps even Paul’s opposition to a border fence lest it be used to keep Americans in. Not exactly the steady, measured, reassuring message a Republican convention might wish to convey. For libertarianism, however, it would be a historic moment: mainstream recognition at last.

Put aside your own view of libertarianism or of Paul himself. I see libertarianism as an important critique of the Leviathan state, not a governing philosophy. As for Paul himself, I find him a principled, somewhat wacky, highly engaging eccentric. But regardless of my feelings or yours, the plain fact is that Paul is nurturing his movement toward visibility and legitimacy.

It would be difficult to disagree. Paul has, by and large, weathered the accusations that have been leveled at him about the farrago of newsletters that appeared under his name. He's simply dismissed them, and his dismissiveness appears to have relegated them to the status of a curiosity.  Paul's ambition is to inject liberatarianism into the bloodstream of the GOP. He's pure Tea Party. He's been tea partying before the party itself ever emerged. The rest of the primary season will offer further clues to the depth of the popularity for his twin calls for abolishing the Federal Reserve and for retreating from the rest of the world. Even as Iran threatens to shut down the Persian Gulf, Paul is, essentially, saying that America is at fault.

If Paul can win a substantial vote in South Carolina and other states, it would suggest that the GOP is in greater ferment than anyone predicted.

Image: Gage Skidmore