(Accessed May 12, 2067)

Ronald Earnest Paul (Aug. 20, 1935 — Nov. 10, 2014), better known as simply Ron Paul, was a Republican congressman from Texas best remembered for his dramatic showing in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries and the small but fervent following that came from it.

Small but fervent is the best way to describe the Republican medical doctor. After more than a decade-and-a-half in Congress, and an earlier third-party bid for the presidency, Paul had developed a reputation for honesty and integrity, and his small district in rural Texas became fervently devoted to him. They accepted the quirk that he would never vote in favor of a resolution unless “expressly authorized by the Constitution” — earning him the nickname “Dr. No” [1] — because he had done so well to bring federal earmarks back home with him at each recess of Congress.

Despite fundraising success that eclipsed that of most of the vetted top-tier Republican candidates combined — he set the single-day record for pre-primary fundraising for his party, a record not to be broken until the 2016 Murkowski campaign — Paul never mananged a victory in any Republican primary. Due to the preeminence of winner-take-all primaries in the Republican party of the era, won a total of 16 delegates; a simple majority of 1,191 was required to win the nomination.

If he had ran for president in another time, either before the Internet or after the Republican Party found another Reagan-esque charisma with small-government credentials to pin its legacy upon, it’s unlikely that his story would have earned even this footnote in American history. As it stands, however, he made an indelible mark upon the progress of the Republican Party like few of his contemporaries.

That small support Paul materialized at the polls was fervent, and possible in large part due to a rabid fanbase on the then-new Internet, a bastion for free networking and wildly erratic sharing of information in its early years. Ron Paul was the unlikeliest candidate for this treatment — a child of the the Great Depression and the Second World War, he knew little about the limited but popular computing available at the time, least of all the Internet.

Though his supporters would soon became ardent fans of Austrian Economics, Paul’s favored economic theory and a defining characteristic of his campaign, most of his support was initially due to his strong criticism of the ongoing Second Iraq War; to his first and most devoted fans, all other concerns had been secondary. As the only Republican to both seek the nomination in 2008 and speak out against the war, this favorite son of a rural congressional district, with the help of an Internet he knew nothing about, attracted the attention of a his following of disaffected Republicans across the country who felt the party of Lincoln had been “hijacked by big-government neoconservatives.” [2] This lead one commentator to observe, perhaps unfairly, that his supporters “came for the pacifism but stayed for the economics.” [3] However, this never translated into more than a second-place win in primaries, and Paul would soon realize the uneconomical nature of continuing long past opponent John McCain had already achieved a majority of delegates.

Upon quitting his presidential bid in July of 2008, Paul used the remainder of his fundraising success from the Internet to form an Internet-based grassroots movement, codified by Paul’s best-selling “manifesto.” Like the Bull Moose Party and the Ross Perot-led Reform Party before him, Paul’s Campaign for Liberty was a hastily-organized, high-burnout affair largely built on personal devotion to the figurehead at the very top, with very little keeping the diverse membership attached to one another. There was no other figure as admired as Paul in the entire movement, and though he was a picture of robust enthusiasm during his presidential campaign, he was even then also a picture of advanced age. Even as he endorsed not one but four ill-fated presidential nominations from largely inconsequential third parties — the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and Ralph Nader — on Sept. 9, 2008, Ron Paul was 73 years old.

Unlike the Bull Moose Party and the Perot-led Reform Party before him, however, Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty would have a lasting effect on the policies of a major political party in its era. Because Paul would not name a successor before his death, what was left of his movement would be absorbed into what was left of the then-discredited Republican Party. After a disastrous detour under big-government spending policies under the at-the-time enormously unpopular George W. Bush, the Republican Party accepted all the support it could from Paul supporters, in the process modifying its economic and foreign policies to fit the right of the political spectrum.

Whether continued involvement in the Middle East quagmire or the contentious character of the gaffe-laden Biden administration played a larger role in the 2014 Republican takeback of both houses of Congress is debatable; whether the albeit short-lived Campaign for Liberty played the largest is not.

This historian speculates that Paul, at the time of his death, already saw his short-lived burst of political fame as a grand victory for Goldwater conservatism — Paul, more than any of his supporters, knew his victories would not be from achieving high office. While still waging his 2008 Republican presidential primary bid, he said, prophetically:

“[If] you’re in a campaign for only gaining power, that is one thing; if you’re in a campaign to influence ideas and the future of the country, it’s never over.”

Paul didn’t live to see the Republican sweep and its resurgence as a political power in the United States, only the favorable polling and prediction of it. Poetically, he died not 12 hours before polls opened on election day.

His legacy lives on as it did then: small, but fervent.


  1. nader paul kucinich gravel

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  2. Tim

    The Dude ran for President in 1988 as a Libertarian. Interesting tidbit (I know you don’t care, but I am going to tell you later) was that he appeared on an Atlanta talk-radio station back in 1988. I was an 8th grader who HATED school. So here is this guy, running for President who is talking about getting rid of the public school system. No public schools. None. Nada. I was like, “yeeeessss!”. Of course what I realize now, as an adult is that I would have been sent to a private school since my parents could afford it and that would have sucked just as much. Ah, the naivite (sp?) of youth.
    As for Paul, he should have hammered home the social aspects of his polcies. Forget dropping out of the UN. Forget Iraq, forget Social Security…if he had gone to every bar, and frat house in America and said, “Gentlemen, I will legalize all victimless crimes. All drugs: legal, prostitution: legal, Gambling: all legal he would have at least earned a few more delegates and would have had a bunch of drunk frat boys following him instead of a bunch of conspiracy obsessed douchebags.
    Again, no point to my random ramblings. I’m outta here.

  3. Drunk frat boys aren’t exactly an ideal demographic, either. Besides, one of the fine things about Ron Paul’s candidacy was that his supporters wasn’t one guys who was, like, “Dude! He wants to make pot legal,” and another guy who was, like, “Most righteous.”




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