The donors who poured millions into Ron Paul’s presidential campaign coffers aren’t done yet. On Saturday, libertarian financier and commentator Peter Schiff raised more than $200,000 in a 24-hour “money bomb” as he continues to explore a bid for the Republican nomination to run against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
Having now collected more than $790,000 in campaign contributions since mid-July, the Ron Paul Republican Schiff is competitive financially with the frontrunners for the GOP nomination. Former Congressman Rob Simmons raised $754,000 through June 30 while former ambassador Tom Foley has taken in $528,000 since mid-June.
Schiff’s fundraising haul wasn’t the only reason libertarian-leaning Republicans had to cheer last week. Rand Paul, the ophthalmologist son of the 11-term Texas congressman and former presidential candidate, announced he was going to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY). As in Schiff’s case, the party establishment has other plans — the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination is Secretary of State Trey Grayson — but Paul is likely to take after his father when it comes time for his own money bomb later this month.
As Ron Paul Republicans have slowly been making inroads within the party structure, Congressman Paul himself has been gaining in influence over the GOP. Every Republican in the House is a now a co-sponsor of his bill to audit the Federal Reserve. Mainstream conservatives quote liberally from Paul’s reading list, including Thomas Woods’ Meltdown and some of Schiff’s work, when grilling Obama Treasury officials about the economy.
Even on issues of war and peace, Paul isn’t always in the minority anymore. A handful of conservatives who supported the Iraq war, like Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), have joined him in questioning President Obama’s Afghanistan escalation. All but five Republicans voted with Paul against the supplemental funding of Iraq and Afghanistan, including the entire leadership. They haven’t suddenly become noninterventionists — the issue for most Republicans was extraneous spending, not the wars themselves — but it is nevertheless a major departure from the party’s stance under President Bush.
It is of course the Obama administration and the financial meltdown that have given Paulian ideas a new resonance, not so much his dissent on the war. (Though Paul’s success in fundraising and attracting the kind of young voters who have been fleeing the GOP in droves has had an impact as well.) But efforts to expand this influence appeared to take a hit when South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was found crying with his mistress in Argentina. Sanford was a possible bridge between the Ron Paul Republicans and the mainstream conservative movement — and, until his extramarital affair, a credible 2012 presidential contender.
Now with Sanford likely out of the running, Ron Paul Republicans will once again have to reach within their own ranks. Peter Schiff has been an apostle of economic doom who claims vindication in the current malaise. “Though the worst of the global financial crisis may have passed,” he wrote recently, “the real impact of the much more fundamental U.S. economic crisis has yet to be fully felt.” That fundamental crisis, in his view, is the result of massive debt, unsustainable government spending, and a reckless monetary policy that is undermining the dollar’s strength.
While Schiff advised Ron Paul’s Republican presidential campaign, Rand Paul got his start in politics supporting his father’s bids for public office. In both appearance and speech, he bears a striking resemblance to the elder Dr. Paul but is somewhat less old-fashioned. It is hard to imagine Ron Paul saying, as his son often does, that the Republican Party “has lost its mojo.”
Paul and Schiff have very different approaches to the GOP. In a speech to the Connecticut Libertarian Party, Schiff openly talked about using it as a vehicle for libertarian ideas because its electoral debacles make it ripe for a takeover. His theory is that a leader-less and idea-less major party could be reshaped faster than a minor party could be made politically viable.
Rand Paul is much more conciliatory toward regular Republicans. Like Grayson, he said he would not run unless Bunning retired. When the senator obliged, Paul announced on his Facebook page that he had “nothing but good things to say” about Bunning and thanked the outgoing senator for his vote against the bailout (politely leaving unmentioned Bunning’s vote for the Iraq war). Like his father, Paul is pro-life and would strip the federal courts of their jurisdiction over abortion.
The younger Paul is careful to present his foreign policy views in a way that could appeal to Republicans more hawkish than he. “Defending our Country is the most important function of the federal government,” Paul says on his website. “When we are threatened, it is the obligation of our representatives to unleash the full arsenal of power that is granted by and derived from free men and women.” While a defender of Congress’ sole constitutional authority to declare war, he acknowledges that there are times when the president “can and should make military responses without Congressional authority.”
“As a member of Congress,” the statement on his campaign site continues, “Dr. Rand Paul would have demanded and voted in the affirmative for a declaration of war with Afghanistan. He would have demanded and voted against a declaration of war with Iraq.” He is similarly judicious on defense expenditures: “In Rand’s proposed budget, defense spending would represent a larger percentage of the total budget than it does today, while military spending on unnecessary programs and unconstitutional operations would be eliminated.”
Do these men have a chance? Several promising Ron Paul Republicans — and at least one Ron Paul Democrat — won their primaries in 2008 but went down to defeat. Murray Sabrin finished third in New Jersey’s GOP primary last year. Despite their fundraising prowess, some Paulites have found fiat currency also to be of little value at the ballot box.
In July, a Quinnipiac poll showed Schiff within five points of Dodd as the Republican nominee — but not registering at all among GOP primary voters. Like his father, Paul has done well in Internet polls but no scientific survey has yet tested his viability. Nevertheless, they are both serious libertarian candidates in competitive Senate races. No wonder they are taking the liberty to run.