What is your appeal?
I think people are tired of what they're getting from their government. They don't believe it's working. They're angry. They believe they're being lied to when it comes to the economy. They believe they've been lied into going to war. And they're tired of it all, and they want change. Even though people poke fun at me—say that I don't look like the one to bring about change—I think I offer a different program than they've heard about for a long time.
What do you mean you don't look like someone who would bring change?
They talk about age, and say, why would you appeal to young people? I think it's because the idea of freedom and self-reliance is a very new and young idea. We've experimented with it in this country. I'd like to continue that process rather than reversing back to tyrannical-type government where government tells us how to live, runs the economy, polices the world, runs an empire around the world.
You believe you are tapping into anger and frustration?
Not only are there a lot of young people out there; there are a lot of other people who had given up a long time ago and had dropped out and sense this as an opportunity to get back in. Some are Republicans who left two, four, six, or eight years ago, never being satisfied. There are some who come up and say, "I'm 60, 65, and I've never been involved—this is the first time." The Democrats are, I think, rightfully not very happy with their choices because they're not offering a foreign policy much different than George Bush, and people can see through this.
Can you characterize a typical Ron Paul supporter?
No. The characteristic is they're not typical, and we're proud of it. We talk about it all the time—freedom brings diversity. It brings people together. Big government divides us, and we become competitive, and we fight over the spoils. That's why you have lobbyists up here fighting. It was fine when everybody thought there was endless wealth in this country. But today people, down deep in their heart, they know there's something wrong. And they see symbolically one of the best measurements of a country that is losing its wealth is when their currency goes down in value. And I've been talking about currency values since the very first time I ran for office. It's the monetary issue that has motivated me. And it's just all coming together now. The welfare spending at home, the militarism, the empire building is bringing us to bankruptcy. And we have a lot more inflation than they'll admit. Here we have currency going down—that in itself is inflation. The figures they fudge with—the CPI [consumer price index]—that is not inflation. That is a pseudo measure of inflation. The dollar is important. The money supply is important. But not government reports on the CPI.
Polls have said that Americans feel less hopeful than they can ever remember. Do you sense that loss of optimism?
I think so. I'm always amazed that people walk away from our rallies more hopeful than ever before. "You give me hope," they say. "You remove my apathy"—all kinds of signs like that. I've been wondering about that since I dwell on the problems, though I offer solutions, I spend a lot more time complaining about the problems. Someone said to me maybe it's because it's the first time they had somebody tell the truth about what the problems are instead of denying and instead of saying, "Oh, yeah, everything is fine: No inflation, war's going to end next week, losing 4,000 men doesn't mean all that much." They want the truth. But then I always conclude with an upbeat note that we got into this mess by not following the laws of the land, which is the Constitution, and we could merely go back to that and solve most of our problems. We don't have to give up our freedoms. They applaud loudly when I say this idea that we're obligated to sacrifice our liberties to be safe from terrorists—say the opposite is true. The freer you are, the safer you're going to be. They like that.
While recognizing the effects of 9/11, why do you think many Americans have been apathetic about the freedom issue, particularly when it comes to protecting what was once their personal information?
I think a lot of people, the ones who gave up on it, just sort of dropped out. So there are more of those than we ever realized. I think now that they're realizing that they have to worry about something because they know we're becoming a poorer country, and they're looking for answers, and they're less apathetic. I think when you're very free, you're very prosperous. And when people concentrate on material wealth that comes from freedom, they forget about the principles. And now we're becoming less wealthy, and we're trying to make the people think about how prosperity comes about. Young people especially are very principled, and they're idealistic, and they do not hesitate to applaud when I say, "I want you to take care of yourselves. You can do what you want with your own body, and you can do what you want with your own money. You can get out of Social Security if I had my way. You have to assume the responsibility for yourself. If you don't do well or you mess up, you can't come crawling to the government." They don't have anything: They just take it from someone else. They like this approach to self-reliance. But people point out, "Yeah, people always vote for what they can get out of the government." So I think there's a contest going on by the people who would be quite willing to be self-reliant versus the people who still argue that the world owes them a living.
Do you have a pollster?
Not really. We do a little bit of polling in New Hampshire. We didn't hire a permanent pollster. Somebody did some work up in New Hampshire to get a baseline because it's a pretty good state for us. It's a state that we'll be working hard in.
What do you have to do to stay in the race? Do you see yourself going through February 5 and into the March primaries?
I think if the curve continues, the money's going to keep coming in. We just take one day at a time and see how we do, and every day is better than the last. We don't have a goal that says we have to be first or second or even third in two or three states. We have to do well—if you're last in the first five primaries, you better reassess things. But I just don't think that's going to happen. Just as we surprised people on how many Meetup groups we have, how many volunteers we get, how much money we raise, how well we do in post-debate polls—why shouldn't we expect a surprise in the primaries?
If you're polling in New Hampshire, you must see an opportunity with that state's large group of independent voters. How do you appeal to them?
If we motivate them, we'll get their votes because who else is going to motivate them on the other side? They're tired of the war. The Democrats—they all backtrack. They've all joined Bush's foreign policy. I don't know how anyone can tell the difference between what they're saying and what Bush is saying. They all say, "We'll be better managers." I don't want to manage the war. I want the war to end. That's what the people are sick and tired of. No real choices.
You've at times been compared to Barack Obama for motivating supporters, to Howard Dean for your online effort, and to Ralph Nader, because of your potential as a third-party candidate. Do you see yourself in any of those modes?
A little bit of each, I guess. I've been in a third party. Of course, Howard Dean did use the Internet, though I don't think anywhere near to what's happening now. Obama—I think the longer that goes on, what really is he saying? I think he got some credit for newness, but he's a young person and comes across as a fresh face. I think my ideas are actually younger in spirit. He's talking about the same old clichés—government programs, perpetuating the war, don't take anything off the table in dealing with Iran, can't let them have a nuclear weapon or we'll bomb them.
How has the deteriorating situation in Pakistan affected your campaign message?
It fell right in my lap. It's exactly what I said. Ten billion dollars we paid into this guy's coffers to keep a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. And we're supposed to die for spreading democracy? We're going broke. And now we've created chaos in that country. We had Bhutto come back in there. Everybody over there knows our CIA is trying to run things. That's why he's so unpopular. As long as we're going to interfere, there will be a motivation for people to get rid of our puppet government and turn against us as well. That's where the radicalism comes from. It's a response to a foreign policy that is seriously flawed.
Would you consider a third-party run?
I have no intention of doing that. I've done it before, the laws are biased against us, it costs a lot of money, and even though we've raised a lot, you really need a lot more. It doesn't interest me at all. I've refiled for my congressional seat. That's Plan B.
Who has helped you put your campaign strategy together, particularly your online strategy?
There hasn't been any. The strategy was to present a platform, something I believe in. People ask me, "Well, who prepped you for your debates? What do you when you go in to Jay Leno—do you have someone prep you?" I figure I've been reading about this, studying it, trying to understand it, explain it, and vote a certain way for 30 years. There's no strategy other than trying to get the information out, and the Internet provided the vehicle. I knew there was something strange going on because when I finally yielded to the many requests to run and said, yes, I would do it—then it got leaked on the Internet, and we didn't even have an office. And then, we had literally thousands of calls from people—"Why don't you answer our E-mails? Why don't you do this?" We didn't even have an office set up. The Internet does the work. Then they get excited. They form the groups. We've never organized a Meetup group, yet there's 1,100 of them. Not that we're connected to them; we make good use of them. We say we're coming to town, and they'll get the people out. And then, when we want to raise some money, we'll send periodic E-mails out. But yesterday, it was all their doing. We had no idea whether they'd raise $1,000 or a million. To get $4.3 million was pretty amazing.
When you ran as a third-party Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988, you said you hoped that what you were doing would expose a new generation to the movement's ideas. Are the stakes higher now?
Oh, I think so. The seeds we planted back in the '80s have come to fulfill some of those plans because quite a few who work in the campaign, on the staff, even some people here, worked for the campaign in 1988. I met them when they were in college, and they became fascinated and interested. I'm a strong believer that ideas have consequences and nothing happens by accident. If there had not been some groundwork laid for Austrian free-market economies, sound money, and this foreign policy, which has been going on, it wasn't there in the 1970s when I came here. But many organizations have popped up that have taught this. There have been documentaries made, books written, more professors than ever before. So I've just tapped into something that has been going on. The intellectual revolution has been going on for a generation. It's just that when they asked me first to do this, I didn't think the time was right. I wasn't sure how the young people would respond. I figure they'd only ask me about student loans and nothing else, and they haven't. If they would, I'd just tell them, "No, that's not part of it. Talk about what it would be like if we didn't have government: Tuition would be a lot cheaper, you could have a job, and I wouldn't tax you. You could take care of yourself. . . . "
If you don't get the nomination, what is your best outcome? What will you have done in this process?
Only time will tell because I never knew from the very beginning if anything would come of it. So all I know is there may be more people thinking about this.
Why are Republicans having such a difficult time?
I think they've lost their way from their traditional beliefs of being conservatives. They are big spenders. They pass entitlement programs, create new departments. They pass more regulations. They have prompted a monetary crisis because of their irresponsibility. And they haven't lived up to their foreign policy that they've generally followed in the past—less intervention than the Democrats overseas. . . .
Do you feel like a Republican?
I think I feel more like a Republican than they should. They're not conservatives, they're neoconservatives, and neoconservatives are big-government people. Why they get called conservatives or Republicans is beyond me. Some people feel loyal to the party, and people hate to break with this loyalty. But when I talk to people and they say, "You can be against the war and still be conservative?" I say, "Certainly." The conservative position is to not start wars and to obey the Constitution. Ronald Reagan not too long ago ran against the Department of Education and the Department of Energy, and he did quite well, and there's this whole idea that all of a sudden that I'm strange to the Republican Party? . . .
Where should decisions about legalizing abortion lie?
If you don't protect life, you can't protect liberty. And we now are at a stage where we allow the national government through the Supreme Court to permit the killing of an unborn baby anytime before birth. How do you protect somebody's right to go out and drink alcohol and smoke marijuana if you can't even protect life? As a physician, it's a legal entity. I could be sued if I hurt a fetus. I've been strongly pro-life, but I don't support nationalization of any of these problems. I voted against the marriage amendment. I want this to be held under our traditional form of republican government and let the states deal with it. . . .
Do you need to court conservative evangelicals?
I think so. I have to talk about the Christian just-war theory. We're not supposed to start wars. I talk about civil liberties, and they say, "That lets people do bad things." I say, "Yes, but these are the same liberties that allow you to pray in school, that allow you to have your home-schoolers, to have your own churches."