Ron Paul, the patriarch of the libertarian stream in GOP politics, announced on Tuesday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, taking a step to join the Republican nomination sweepstakes.
Paul, who will be 76 in August, has served about 20 years in the House representing districts in Texas, most recently the 14th, which includes Galveston. He is a medical doctor by training, having served as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and in private practice as a gynecologist.
No stranger to presidential politics, Paul was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 1988. He announced his committee and his local campaign officials in a visit to Iowa where he placed fifth in the GOP caucuses in 2008.
A favorite of conservatives, Paul has won straw polls, including the one held at the prestigious Conservative Political Action Conference, but he does less well in national polls. In a recent Gallup poll, he drew about 6%, at the top of the second tier of possible candidates. The first group, all of which drew numbers in low double digits, included a trio of former governors: Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee, Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney and Alaska’s Sarah Palin. Also in the top group is reality-show star and businessman Donald Trump.
But Paul’s influence goes beyond his numbers.
He has been a steady voice for a version of libertarian thought that harks back to Friedrich Hayek, a 20th century Nobel Prize winner in economics, and the Austrian school of political economy. Hayek traced his roots to classic 19th century liberalism, support for free markets and the least possible government as a way of achieving the maximum amount of individual freedom. The Austrian school was harshly opposed to collectivist thought, whether socialist or, later, fascist.
Hayek’s work was an influence on late 20th century conservative American political thought, particularly through the influential University of Chicago economics department, where the Austrian and later British citizen also taught.
For Paul, libertarian thought has come to include strong opposition to the Federal Reserve and its ability to print money, which he calls monetizing debt. He has condemned what he calls welfarism at home and militarism abroad.
He also has called for eliminating the income tax, the Department of Education and votes against raising the debt ceiling, an issue, along with budget cuts, that will mark the next weeks of congressional deliberations.