An invitation to appear on one of the Sunday morning talk shows is a privilege that every presidential candidate—even Duncan Hunter—is afforded at some point.
The no-shot curiosities—like Mr. Hunter or Mike Gravel—usually show up early in the campaign for their perfunctory segment or two in a nationally-televised hot seat. Ron Paul was supposed to among this class of candidates, and for a while it seemed that his Sunday morning exposure would be limited to being told by George Stephanopoulos over the summer that he had zero chance of winning the presidency.
But now, less than two months before the first primary and caucus votes will be cast, the networks want an unexpected second serving of the 72-year-old Texas congressman, thanks to the stunning fund-raising success he’s enjoyed—capped, for now at least, with the $4 million he took in over the internet in one day last week.
Dr. Paul sat down with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, and this time was treated by the host much more as a serious presidential candidate—albeit one with some ideas that don’t often get aired in big-time American politics—than some freaky side-show at a circus.
In addition to revealing that he didn’t own a computer until 1997, Dr. Paul advanced his usual arguments in favor of the gold standard (paper money, he believes, is the main source of inflation, “an invisible tax on the poor”) and against an interventionist foreign policy. (“We defended Seoul, Korea, better on 9/11 than we did Washington, DC,” he said.)
He also fielded the obligatory can-you-really-win question by pointing out the strides his campaign has made in the last year, none of which anyone in politics thought were remotely possible.
“I also know what the odds are,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what: Don’t try and tell my supporters that there’s not a chance, because they believe it…My name is out there. I may well win.”
Determining where precisely Dr. Paul fits in the G.O.P. mix is a perplexing task. Judged by his standing in the polls, he has barely distinguished himself from the likes of Tom Tancredo and Mr. Hunter, although lately he’s begun to edge into mid-to-high single digits in some surveys. But if you judge him by the money he’s raised, and the number of donors he’s attracted, Dr. Paul is a giant.
No matter how he ultimately fares, though, Dr. Paul has made a contribution to the G.O.P. race and to the national political dialogue in a way that the other long-shot Republicans haven’t and can’t—simply because he’s the only Republican candidate willing to defy the foreign policy orthodoxy that has emerged within his party during the Bush years.
While the other Republican candidates refuse to break with the Bush administration on Iraq or any other weighty foreign policy questions, Dr. Paul proudly trumpets his outrage and tells his fellow Republicans that they are following their President off a cliff. A strong Paul showing in the primaries will make a powerful statement about how a significant chunk of the party’s grass-roots really feel about the cheerleading for the White House they’ve been asked to do for the last seven years.
On “Face the Nation,” Dr. Paul once again played the role of refreshing contrarian, this time on Iran. With President Bush and the architects of the Iraq war now training their sights on the Islamic republic, the jockeying has been intense among Republican candidates to strike the most muscular posture against Iran.
But Dr. Paul questioned the two very basic premises behind all of the drum-beating now going on: the assumptions that Iran has to be our enemy and that a nuclear-armed Iran would somehow represent an unprecedented threat to regional and global stability.
“I think our policy towards Iran is a threat,” Dr. Paul said. “That’s what I fear. You know, I fear that tomorrow we might bomb Iran. That really scares me.”
Mr. Schieffer asked whether we should simply allow Iran to build the bomb.
“We have a more sensible policy,” Dr. Paul replied. “We talk to them. And we trade with them. We remove the sanctions. I mean, the Soviets had 40,000 [nuclear warheads].” The U.S., he pointed out, continued to talk with the U.S.S.R. throughout the Cold War.
In raw political terms, Dr. Paul is obviously on the wrong side of the Iran issue within the Republican Party. But he’s got all of that contrarian terrain to himself—and Iran is hardly the only issue where this is the case. And that goes a long way to explaining why Ron Paul is getting second and third invitations to Sunday morning news shows, while the other Republicans who began as asterisks in the polls have already exhausted their 15 minutes.