Let us concede at the start that Ron Paul is not likely to be elected president. He neither looks nor sounds particularly presidential. He has a tendency to wander away from his central message to discuss esoterica such as the gold standard. He lacks a professional campaign organization. He is an anti-war candidate in a pro-war party. And his campaign has attracted more than its share of conspiracy theorists and other fringe elements.
Yet it is undeniable that Paul has struck a chord with a large segment of disaffected Republicans. His fundraising over the last few weeks has been phenomenal. Paul announced Sunday that he expects to raise more than $12 million this quarter and possibly as much as $15 million. He's already set a record for the most money raised on a single day ($4.2 million) and has vaulted into third place for cash on hand among the candidates ($2.4 million before his most recent successes).
Little more than an asterisk in polls just a couple of months ago, Paul is running a respectable fourth in New Hampshire and closing in on double digits in other key states. As he spends some of the millions he recently has raised, that can only be expected to rise.
Where's the appeal?
Some of Paul's appeal undoubtedly stems from his opposition to the war in Iraq. Polls show that as many as a third of Republicans oppose the war, and many others are deeply troubled by the seemingly endless conflict. With all the other Republicans trying to outdo one another at being the most belligerent-toward Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the world in general -- Rep. Paul stands out. If you want to register opposition to the Bush foreign policy, but aren't willing to support the Democrats' version of tax and spend government, Ron Paul is the perfect vehicle.
But there is something more important at play here. Under the Bush administration, the Republican Party increasingly has drifted away from its limited government roots. Instead, it has come to be dominated by a new breed of "big-government conservatives" who believe in using an activist government to achieve conservative ends -- even if it means increasing the size, cost, and power of government, and limiting personal freedom in the process.
The difference in the two camps is as clear as the difference between Ronald Reagan saying, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," and George W. Bush's saying, "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move."
Bush's brand of big-government conservatism brought us No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug benefit and a 23 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending. It might well have cost Republicans control of Congress. After all, on election night 2006, 55 percent of voters said that they thought the Republican Party was the party of big government.
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