Ron Paul’s Election Problem: The Issues he Supports

No, Ron Paul is not a viable candidate for president.

Mother Jones has a list of Ron Paul’s 15 Most Extreme Positions.  Now, one might say “Mother Jones!  That’s like a commie rag, right?  Of course they don’t like Ron Paul!”  Well, regardless of MoJo’s ideological predilections  (all joking aside:  liberal, yes; commie, no), the list is legit and provides for a discussion of Paul’s actual viability.  This exercise is useful because we are all likely to be treated to a large number of Ron Paul fans (sometime called Paulbots, but I prefer the term “Ronulans”*) who will argue that Ron Paul is a Serious CandidateTM who really, truly, could win the presidency if given the chance.**

Now, if one reads the list one is likely to find things that make one think “what’s so extreme about that?”  Indeed, I expect many denizens of OTB’s comment section, not to mention some segment of the GOP base would find the following acceptable in whole or in part:

2. Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.


11. Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.

As rhetorical devices, these are ideas that would likely appeal to the GOP base (carrying said policies out is another matter, but we are talking campaigning here, not governing).  However, that is only two of the 15.

Here two other ideas that have clear cache with hardcore libertarians and Objectivists, and might also excite some GOP voters, but which create problems for a campaign:

1. Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts’ failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.


12. Not Do Anything, but Still…: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964because it was a “massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society.”

Of course, as we know, many in the Tea Party want the government to keep their hands off of Medicare, so how well #1 would really go over remains to be seen.  However, the party of the party that likes the Ryan Plan are amenable to serious changes.  #12 is vested in private property rights, and so would appeal to some, but it also carries the baggage of being opposition to guaranteeing civil rights expansion.

However, what about these:

3. Enable State Extremism: Would let states to set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.

Allowing the states to set their own policies on abortion would make it impossible to make abortion totally illegal in the United States, so this is a verboten position in the GOP.  [updated–see comment section]

Or, how about these two:

7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.

8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.

Ok, libertarians would like these (and, I will confess, I am sympathetic to them as well, but won’t get into the arguments at the moment), but social conservatives hate these ideas.  Indeed, even a reasoned discussion of drug legalization is heard by many as a proposal to allow schoolchildren easy access to heroin, so this is a no go.***  There is some softening on public opinion on marijuana, but not on harder drugs.

And, of course, this one has been getting a good bit of public play of late, and would present both a primary problem and a general election one:

5. Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan’s cooperation to arrest him.

There are others, but I will leave them alone.  The bottom line is that stuff like 3, 7, and 8 are why Paul cannot make much headway within the GOP primary process and why he is not to be considered a series contender for the nomination, let alone the White House.  If you ever need an easy place to send people who think otherwise, send them to this post.

I do think that Paul will get a bit of a boost this year because of the Tea Party enthusiasm, but exactly how much he can tap into that energy will also depend on whether someone like Bachmann gets into the race or not.


*I do like my Trek refs.

**The fact that he loses every time he is given the chance is typically considered immaterial.

***I jest only slightly.  Pay attention to these things and you will see what I am talking about.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Climate Change, Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Alex Knapp says:

    I think my favorite response to this list came from Ron Paul’s spokesman, who protested that Paul has never advocated legalizing heroin.

  2. See I go through this list and other than the devotion to state’s rights I don’t find any problems at all. Will it become law? No, but that’s what ideal worlds are about

  3. @Doug:

    I am not criticizing the man for having ideals, I am questioning whether the ideals in question are suggestive of electability (or, even nominatability).

  4. mantis says:

    See I go through this list and other than the devotion to state’s rights I don’t find any problems at all.

    Wow. So you think the Civil Rights Act and the ADA shouldn’t be law? Really?

  5. mantis,

    I believe that we’d be far better off if Congress limited itself strictly to those powers in Article I, Section 8

  6. Steve,

    Understood, though I’m not sure Paul thinks he can win either. There are other reasons to run a campaign like this

  7. TG Chicago says:

    that’s what ideal worlds are about

    That’s Libertarianism for you!

  8. TG Chicago says:

    Allowing the states to set their own policies on abortion is the same things are saying “let’s overturn Roe v. Wade“—last time I checked, that is a verboten position in the vast, vast majority of the GOP, especially the primary electorate.

    The GOP base doesn’t want Roe v Wade overturned? Am I misreading this?

  9. Anon says:

    Just curious, suppose ocean levels really do rise as a result of human activity. Is there any mechanism that would allow damaged parties, in the US and elsewhere, to be fairly compensated? It would be awful hard to apportion fault, I think.

  10. @ Doug:

    True enough, but the post isn’t aimed at Paul or whether he should run (or why he would) but rather to those who seem to genuinely think he can win.

  11. sam says:


    “I believe that we’d be far better off if Congress limited itself strictly to those powers in Article I, Section 8”:

    Hehhehheh. About those powers in Article 1, section 8: What are the limits of those powers? (And yes you have to talk about the N&P clause. And no, I won’t accept your form of originalism.)

  12. @TG:

    The GOP base doesn’t want Roe v Wade overturned? Am I misreading this?

    I have amended the statement to say what I meant above. You are certainly correct–the base very much wants Roe overturned.


  13. @TG:

    And for clarification: I was thinking in terms of what an overturning of Roe would mean (essentially returning control to the state, i.e., the Paul position) as opposed to what a lot of people think it would mean (making abortion totally illegal a la the Life Amendment).

    Paul’s position, however, is not one that ultimately appeals to the GOP base, as it does not take the firm moral stance on abortion that they fervently hold.

    How I managed to write that original sentence I will have to chalk up to a brain fade.

  14. George Washington says:

    Mr. Paul;
    He is not for legalizing drugs. That is a State issue.
    He is not for legalizing prostitution. That is a State issue.
    He is not Isolationist.

    As for the Civil Rights issue the important thing for everyone to remember is the difference between Natural Rights (aka. God given Unalienabl¬e Rights) and Civil Rights. The former, no man has the lawful right to transgress¬. That which your creator gave you only he can take away. Civil Rights on the other hand, are given by government¬s, by men, and that which man can grant to another man he can take away. Civil Rights also imply that some posses the right to grant rights, while others do not. What does this suggest about the condition of those who are only granted rights by other men? That they are subordinat¬es, proverbial slaves to those who grant them Civil Rights.

    The question must be asked: If human beings have Unalienabl¬e God given rights why do they need Civil Rights, considerin¬g that Unalienabl¬e Rights, by there very nature, supersede all others?

    So I suspect that it’s all about control. “Let us deny people their Unalienabl¬e Rights so that we can substitute Civil Rights for them instead. For Civil Rights are ours to grant and revoke as we see fit, control those who would speak or act not as we desire, but Unalienabl¬e Rights are only the province of our Creator and make other men our equal in freedom and liberty.”

    Constitutionally, legislatively, and morally, Ron Paul has no equal. His 22 year voting record speaks for itself. The World is watching. Ron Paul for President in 2012.
    Thank You

    ttp:// The facts speak for themselves

  15. CB says:

    The question must be asked: If human beings have Unalienabl¬e God given rights why do they need Civil Rights

    because of systemic, governmentally sanctioned discrimination, rooted in centuries of inhumane subjugation.

    i mean, seriously?

  16. Ryan Spires says:

    being a naive young high school student, I owned many “Who is John Galt?” and similar shirts for Ron Paul. After becoming While I think he is very draconian, naive, and ideological- you can’t deny the importance for America as having him as a voice. Think about it, America has no G20 summit protests, only one socialist in power, and the hardest left leaning news program is quite tame ( hard left would be Democracy Now! – which is quite 6 feet under the beltway) – my point is that it is a good thing for any democracy, in my opinion, to have many voices. The current neocon “reign of terror” won’t choose him because he would oppose Israel. The liberals hate him domestically- but I believe in order from to stay in Congress he dodges all the social conservative favs, – he was after all a voice for repealing don’t ask don’t tell. Democrats may oppose a lot of what he has to say, but I’d rather have more guys like Paul than more like Palin or similar.

    I love watching Paul and Bernie Sanders on the Congressional floor. They contribute to the lacking diversity of Congress and Ron Paul is not afraid of telling the truth. Auditing the fed, ending torture, and ending American sponsored terrorism? That will be his presidential mandates if elected, not so much ending social security, etc. He did vote against the Ryan plan and if I remember correctly, he also does not believe money is a form of petition. He can sound like a crazy old man and is wrong, IMO, about a lot of stuff. America isn’t ready for another Taft. Sorry for the rant, blackberry makes it easy.

  17. Ryan Spires says:

    One that is particularly upsetting on the attached list was the rescind on the Bin laden raid. That raid was just stupid. America’s overwhelming obsession with catching him and killing him is quite obnoxious. Consider, his ideas live on, he is now a martyr, and he will only get more of his way. Remember, he hoped to bankrupt us and spread us across the middle east, and make us turn against one another. the idea that all of what we’ve done abroad was worth it to get one man is silly. We had no right to violate anyone’s rights like that,

    “he who would make a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man” -hunter s thompson

  18. ken says:

    I think Obama did the right thing. During the campaign he was the candidate who said he would go after Bin Laden in Pakistan if the evidence warranted it. He had the evidence…… So he sent his boys in to put a bullet in Bin Laden’s head – and then to bury him at the bottom of the deep blue sea.

    Every day that Bin Laden is dead is a good day!

  19. Donn says:

    @Steven The only reason I support Paul is so that people like you keep their beliefs away from me. I don’t care what you believe or what you do, Just don’t force it on me, it’s that simple. If my state does something to infringe on my rights then I can find a state that doesn’t. This country was set up as a republic not a democracy. 50.1% of the people should not be able to tell the other 49.9% how to run their lives. As long as I don’t bother you or impose my will on you what should you care? If I raise you health insurance because I smoke, it is only because of the stupid system of insurance we have or the way our socialists healthcare laws are written. Property rights were put in place to protect business from government running them. The smoking ban in private establishments is another example of stupid law. Another 50/49% of one group telling the other group what they can and can’t do. If you don’t like smoke don’t go in the establishment. By the way I don’t smoke.

  20. mattb says:

    As long as I don’t bother you or impose my will on you what should you care?

    The ultimate problem with the libertarian viewpoint is the notion of the possibility of radical individualism.

    Unfortunately, since at least the industrial revolution the ability for each of us to indirectly (and often unknowingly) have profound (and often detrimental) effects on each other have been increasing and an alarming rate.

    Gone are the days where “Going Galt” was a real possibility in the US — or most areas of the modern world. While it might seem trite, the fact is that we live in a complex and interrelated system. The end result is that we also live in the age of “blow back.”

    Regulation is the best way of limiting (or at least controlling and mitigating) unexpected consequences (and providing the most level playing field we can — even though it can never really be level).

    It’s great to have Ron Paul as a voice. An in general, I think he’s far better for political discourse than many more mainstream politico’s on the right and left. But much of what he expresses, for the reasons that Steven points out, have real problems when you start to imagine how to implement them in the real world (or at least in a US that is a United Nation versus a confederacy of small countries).

  21. @Ryan and @Mattb: I have no problem with Paul running and agree that he is good for the debate. My point is an electability one.


    I am curious as to what you think you my politics are. Based on this post, anyway, I provide not much in the way of clues. In fact, the only policy preference I express, albeit obliquely, was sympathy for legalizing drugs and prostitution.

    I don’t recall mentioning smoking one way or another.

  22. Rob in CT says:

    Libertarianism, particularly the hard, principled kind that Ron Paul seems to adhere to, tops out around 10% of the population, IIRC. Even if you assume that 10% is overrepresented in the pool of GOP primary voters (entirely possible), I still can’t see him getting the nomination, let alone winning a general election.

    But I’ll add my liberal voice to those who are glad he’s around.

  23. Max Lybbert says:

    @Donn I am curious as to what you think you my politics are.

    From references you’ve made, I think I have an idea of what your politics were, say, ten or more years ago, and I know what several of your political beliefs are today (namely the ones you’ve mentioned explicitly), but I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what your politics are on several issues. I know you believe you’re a moderate, but nearly everybody believes they’re moderate.

    Of course, I’m not moderate and I’m not libertarian. And I know that Donn can answer the question without help. But the big selling point of libertarianism is that it doesn’t matter what your politics/beliefs are as long as you don’t impose them on Donn (outside of contracts and a few other sacred cows).

  24. Max Lybbert says:

    And, yeah, I would love to see several Administration Departments removed, with the responsibilities divvied out among other Departments or returned back to the states. George Washington used the Cabinet to get things done, but the Cabinet has changed dramatically in over two centuries:

    [Presidential Cabinets] are no longer a council of the President’s closest advisers. Instead, it’s a ritualistic meeting in which heads of completely separate organizations go through the motions of discussing policy and keeping each other informed.

    Just as the real work of the houses of Congress is done in committees and back rooms, so also the real work of the White House is done by smaller groups than the unwieldy and largely irrelevant cabinet-as-committee.

    Not that the individual cabinet members are irrelevant — as heads of vast bureaucracies, they are very important and are expected to be experts on the organizations they head. But nobody cares very much what the Secretary of the Treasury thinks about labor policy or defense policy — except insofar as those departments might tread into Treasury territory ( ).