During NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning, Ron Paul was the latest recipient of host Tim Russert’s grilling of presidential candidates. Paul is currently polling around 5 percent in national polls on the GOP side, and is flirting with double that amount in some state polls, such as New Hampshire.
Paul, who has raised more money this quarter than any other Republican candidate (including more than 10 million on two fundraising days), was longer on slogan and shorter on substance during the half-hour interview.
Paul was at his best advocating a U.S. foreign policy disentangled from the problems of the world—bringing all of our troops home (from Iraq, Korea etc.) and cutting foreign aid, particularly to Israel and all Middle Eastern countries. Paul no doubt angered Bush Republicans when he restated his controversial comments made during previous presidential debates that our actions are contributing to the hatred directed at the U.S. by radical Islamists.
Paul was disadvantaged, however, in how Russert forced him to first raise these foreign policy stances not from an ideological perspective, but as a means to pay for necessary federal government programs, in view of Paul’s advocacy of eliminating the I.R.S. and the income tax. When Paul was asked by Russert how much revenue would be lost by eliminating the income tax, Paul could not state specifics and replied, “a lot” (Paul gave the same imprecise response when Russert asked him exactly how many U.S. troops were stationed overseas that should be brought home).
Paul was also a not-so-artful dodger of past statements he had made, particularly during his stint as a Libertarian and his early political career. Paul claimed that several quotes attributed to him were simply not true, such as calling Ronald Reagan a ‘traitor’ and that he wanted to eliminate federal funding of public schools.
Paul was at his best in the interview when discussing constitutional issues—those that lend themselves more towards the kind of sloganeering that has made Paul a formidable fundraiser and almost cult hero among the libertarian wing of the GOP. Paul ranted against how the U.S. was flirting with fascism in view of the influence corporations and the military have over the federal government, as well as the chipping away of American civil liberties that Paul feels have taken place under the Bush administration. When Russert asked Paul how he could be a strict constructionist when it comes to the U.S. Constitution as well as advocate amending the constitution to not allow children of illegal immigrants to automatically become U.S. citizens if born on American soil, Paul stated that amending the Constitution is constitutional—it’s part of the process set forth by the document.
Paul probably did not lose any supporters during the Meet the Press exchange, but, as is the case with any candidate less prepared than the estimable Mr. Russert, he likely did not win over many skeptics.