Amidst a great deal of speculation and excitement, Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), the venerable “Dr. No” of Congress is scheduled to announce the formation of an exploratory committee for the 2012 presidential race in Iowa on Tuesday. Paul joins a number of other potential candidates who have formed exploratory committees and one, former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who has officially filed as a candidate.
Paul’s decision to become involved in the primary process is timely because candidates who wish to participate in the upcoming Republican debate in South Carolina on May 5th need to have formed an exploratory committee as well as polling at 1% in national polls and paying a $25,000 entry fee in order to qualify. South Carolina is a key state in the 2012 race with the third earliest primary. It has played a key role in previous elections, particularly the 2000 Republican Primary where it was the break-out point for George W. Bush’s candidacy.
Dr. Paul did well in several early primaries when he ran for president in 2008 and ended up coming in 4th overall with 5.6% of the Republican vote. Since then he has seen many of his arguments vindicated by events and the party has moved closer to his fiscally conservative and socially libertarian views. The failure of the McCain candidacy in 2008 and the inability of the party to produce many credible candidates as 2012 approaches suggests that Paul’s clear message, established reputation and success at grassroots fundraising could give him an edge in the primary.
Since 2008 the legacy of Paul’s campaign has produced a resurgence of influence for Goldwater-style Liberty Republicans and a fiercely loyal movement supporting another Paul run for the presidency. It helped launch the Tea Party movement, put Paul’s son Rand in the Senate from Kentucky and has elected numerous other Liberty Republicans to federal and state offices. Of the Tea Party associated candidates who were elected in 2010, about a third to a half were clearly identifiable as Liberty Republicans and were endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus which is the leading organization promoting libertarian principles within the Republican Party.
As a result of Paul’s success in 2008 and the grassroots victories of the 2010 election, the Republican field of candidates for 2012 is much more libertarian-leaning than it was in 2008. Governor Gary Johnson is arguably as libertarian as Paul is, though his style of libertarianism is somewhat different. Businessman and radio host Herman Cain is a libertarian-leaning conservative and has also announced and exploratory committee. Governors Mitch Daniels and John Huntsman are also both on the libertarian side of the Republican mainstream and are considering entering the race, though neither has an exploratory committee yet.
These candidates are less well known, but like Paul their dedication to fiscal conservatism and limited government puts them in clear contrast to the supposed frontrunners in the race like former Governors Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. The frontrunners have establishment connections and name recognition which give them clout, but also have baggage and histories of past actions which may put them at a fatal disadvantage in a general election, even against an increasingly unpopular Barack Obama.
In this field, Paul’s entry as a strong voice for a different kind of Republican Party, with his advocacy of an end to foreign wars, substantial spending cuts and Constitutionally limited government, will make a significant difference. His candidacy will help set the tone for the campaign, pitting old guard insiders and the party elite against grassroots reformers and libertarians. It will help to focus the debate on fiscal responsibility and individual liberty, making it more difficult for candidates to campaign on divisive social issues or by pandering to special interest groups.