Monday, December 8, 2014

Reason: Dr. Never

-Matt Welch
On May 15, 2007, at a Republican primary debate in Columbia, South Carolina, longshot presidential candidate Ron Paul shocked the room with his answer to a question about how 9/11 changed America: "Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."

Then-frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, visibly agitated, interrupted the proceedings to condemn Paul's "extraordinary statement...that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq" and then demand a retraction as the crowd went wild. Campaign reporters, straight and ideological alike, started writing Ron Paul's obituary. Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, on CNN's American Morning the next day, said that "Rudy Giuliani came off terrific...mostly because he got that softball, where Ron Paul lobs it to him and basically blames the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks...You dream of those moments when you're a candidate, that's for sure." Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt agitated for Paul to be barred from future GOP debates. National Review's headline captured the media zeitgeist succinctly: "Giuliani Up, McCain Up, Romney Down, and Ron Paul Out—Way Out."

But a funny thing happened on the way to Paul's seemingly inevitable ostracism from the Republican Party for the sin of noninterventionism: His star began to rise, while Giuliani's crashed and burned. Not only would the rambling septuagenarian outpace the famous former New York mayor in both delegates and the popular vote during the 2008 campaign, his message of peace and American pullback electrified a new generation of activists and voters, while Giuliani's hawkish stance has become less popular by the day.

Now retired from Congress after a second, more successful run at the White House, Paul can gaze out at a world and a GOP that has become much more sympathetic to his once-lonely view of the world. His son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has been hanging out near the top of the polls for the 2016 presidential race, selling a more Republican-friendly version of intervention-skepticism. There are entire armies of young libertarian activists—including many recent military veterans—who got their introduction to the philosophy through Ron Paul's bracing criticism of U.S. misadventures abroad. You can't talk about libertarian foreign policy without talking about—and to—Ron Paul. reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch caught up with the three-time presidential candidate over the phone in October.