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Associated Press/Photo by Jim Cole

Father of the Tea Party

Campaign 2012 | For decades Ron Paul has held up the lonely libertarian standard in Congress and the GOP primaries. Now, as his non-interventionist foreign policy ideas gain traction, Paul is entering the presidential fray for a third time

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

WASHINGTON-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke almost suppressed a grin at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in mid-July when a lawmaker noted Rep. Ron Paul's plan to retire after he finishes this term-but the smile spread to both ends of the chairman's face. The Texas Republican congressman, who is retiring to focus on his presidential run, would like to abolish Bernanke's agency and return the United States to the gold standard. "Someone had told me that announcement would put a smile on Chairman Bernanke's face," Paul said, laughing giddily. Then he assailed Bernanke about the rising cost of living and the Federal Reserve's injections of cash into the economy-and the chairman's smiling face changed to a furrowed brow.

The gold standard may sound antiquated, but Paul strikes a nerve when he talks about the weak dollar: He said if Bernanke "talked to the average housewife," she would tell the chairman that prices are rising rapidly, even if the Federal Reserve isn't worried over inflation. Hanging on a wall in Paul's congressional office are framed German marks from the autumn of 1923, when hyperinflation raged across Germany. A 10 million mark note in September 1923 bought a loaf of bread, and by October, Germans needed the 500 million mark note framed below for the same loaf of bread. Surrounding the frame with the old German marks are pictures of Paul's five children, 18 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

The "average housewife" may be more inclined toward libertarian ideas than in the past. Paul is considered the father of the Tea Party movement, which upended the midterm elections in 2010. Now central elements of Paul's noninterventionist foreign policy are resonating too. Polls in recent years find American "isolationist sentiment" is at a 40-year high. "I do think there is some growth in interest in libertarian ideas-not the word libertarian-but those ideas," said David Boaz, the executive vice president of the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute. "If you polled 100 people in Peoria, 10 will have heard of the word, and of those, five people would be libertarian."

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The New York Times statistician Nate Silver reported in June that "libertarian sentiments" have risen steadily since 2009 and are at their highest point since polling began in 1993. Still, Paul is an outlier in most GOP presidential polls (though he regularly wins straw polls at places like the Republican Leadership Conference and CPAC). After breaking fundraising records in 2008, Paul's fundraising numbers have been good again: In the last quarter, he raised $4.5 million, better than the same quarter in 2007, when he raised $2.4 million. His fundraising is second in the Republican field to frontrunner Mitt Romney, who raised $18.25 million. President Barack Obama raised $86 million.

At the New Hampshire GOP presidential debate in June, Paul received cheers when the moderator asked him about bringing troops out of Afghanistan: "I'd bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn't start a war in Libya. I'd quit bombing Yemen. And I'd quit bombing Pakistan. I'd start taking care of people here at home because we could save hundreds of billions of dollars." Military personnel contributed more to Paul in 2008 than to any other Republican candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Paul supports international commerce and trade but opposes all wars, unless they are what he considers defensive. He would cut all U.S. governmental aid to Pakistan, to Israel, and to the nations in Africa where the United States has made big investments in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He argues that Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, are worse off due to U.S. intervention there: "Christians have lived there since the time of Christ. They survived. And yet the one consequence of this war is that Christians have had to become refugees and actually leave Iraq."

Paul's views are formed from home-he "rarely travels overseas," said his congressional spokeswoman. He never goes on congressional delegations abroad-those cost taxpayers money. His son Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said as a family they stayed close to home when he was growing up because his father was always traveling back and forth to Washington. "Being at home sort of was a vacation," the senator said.

Paul arrived in his congressional office one late morning chipper, even though the 75-year-old had already been up since dawn. "Sometimes I feel like, Why am I doing all of this?" he said, coming into his office and grabbing a water bottle. "I don't need to be this busy. But then if I had nothing to do, I wouldn't be very happy either. I'd go about two days and then wonder, what am I doing next?" A track star in high school, Paul walks several miles daily and bikes whenever he can, so his eyes are bright. Paul has been in Congress over the course of the last 35 years (taking a break from 1985 to 1997), and this is his third presidential run after running in 1988 as a Libertarian and in 2008 as a Republican.

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