Jacob Heilbrunn

The Rise of Ron Paul

Michele Bachmann has been garnering many of the headlines over the past few weeks. Newsweek has run a cover story on her—the picture suggests that she's somewhat bonkers, staring wildly into the distance. The New Yorker has conducted a lengthy exegesis of her political background and religious views.

But to my mind, the more interesting and influential GOP candidate could well turn out to be Ron Paul. Will Paul end up shaping the parameters of the Republican debate? Or at least shifting it more in his direction—back to the tried and true traditions of the GOP?

Paul's stands are and have been fairly clear. For the most part, he's against it. Against printing more money. Against the Federal Reserve. Against foreign intervention. Against abortion. Against government subsidies. Against the New Deal. Against pretty much everything that has happened in America in the past century.

Paul is a unique American character, someone who has waged a lonely battle over decades, who has been dismissed as a kook and a crank. Now, in the twilight of his career, he is claiming vindication. The economy is going bellyup. The Fed is coming under fire for quantitative easing. Afghanistan and Iraq? Disasters alike.

But Paul has ventilated his views in panphlets and the like. Other Republican candidates are swinging wildly. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for example, has announced that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is engaging in "almost treasonous" actions by printing too much money and that they would "treat him ugly" in Texas. This, as former George W. Bush spokesman Tony Fratto notes, is "unpresidential." At a minimum.

The candidate who stands to profit from the incendiary rhetoric remains Mitt Romney. Romney may be the first candidate to win by pursuing a policy of silence. The real test of Ron Paul's influence will be to see if the Romney campaign as well adopts some of his views in more tailored fashion.

Image by madwurm