Ron Paul keeps winning Republican presidential straw polls even though his views on some major issues, such as the use of U.S. military force, seem out of synch with many GOP voters. This dissonance is likely to limit his support in the nominating caucuses and primaries that start January 3 in Iowa.
On Saturday, Paul showed again that he can generate turnout in the straw polls when he won 52 per cent in Illinois. This comes after he won an Ohio straw poll in October and one in California in September, and after he did well at similar events in recent months.
Paul's backers say he is being unfairly treated by the mainstream media, which haven't given much coverage to these victories. But many reporters and political professionals consider the straw polls artificial events that can be dominated by relatively small cadres of committed people, like Paul's followers.
The critics also note that Paul, a Republican representative from Texas, has run for president as a libertarian before but has generated little support in general elections. And he remains at only 10 per cent or less in most national polls of GOP presidential preference.
One big problem for Paul with rank-and-file Republicans is his hands-off philosophy, especially on issues of national security. It may be admirable that he won't flip-flop or bend with the political winds, but such an approach won't help him expand his base beyond a hard core of libertarians.
This dynamic was clear in Paul's interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. When Wallace said many conservatives consider Paul's views on foreign policy "the bridge too far" and "isolationist," the GOP candidate replied, "Isolationism is when you put on tariffs and protectionism and you don't want to trade with people and you don't want to travel. And mine is the opposite. Mine is really very open. But I don't want troops around the world because I think it hurts our national defense. By having too many troops, it helps to bankrupt our country, the wars that we have been fighting. that were undeclared, and from [my] viewpoint is unconstitutional and illegal."
Paul also repeated his opposition to the use of drones to kill terrorist leaders, a technique that seems widely popular among Republicans and other Americans because it has been effective and minimizes U.S. casualties. "I think it makes it worse," he said, "because if you have one bad guy and you go after him and say, you know, he's the one, he's the al Qaeda leader, let's kill them. Sometimes they miss. Sometimes there is collateral damage. And every time we do that, we develop more enemies. Take, for instance, we are dropping a lot of drone missile bombs in Pakistan and claim we killed so many. How about the innocent people who died? Nobody hears about that....So, I think that makes us less safe. Every one you kill you probably create 10 new people who hate our guts and would like to do us harm."
Paul also said he has no intention of running again as an independent presidential candidate in 2012 if he fails to win the GOP nomination.