Ron Paul is no panderer. He’s not even particularly friendly to the folks who turn out for him.
At Monday morning’s Ron Paul rally in Des Moines—held in a meeting room at the downtown Marriott, where the invading media army crowded out his supporters—the good doctor couldn’t even bring himself to introduce his wife, Carol, a plump, blonde-bouffanted lady who was standing behind him on the podium with a perplexed look on her face, or even to hug his son.
Instead the razor-thin Texas congressman offered Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was spending the day introducing his dad on a whistle-stop tour of Iowa, a brittle handshake.
When his supporters on the periphery of the room broke into a lusty chant of “Ron Paul! Ron Paul!” the candidate cut them off.
“You know, we have a short time, but if you get to chanting,” he admonished, “we won’t have any time for a speech.”
And after he breezed through his remarks—his standard attacks on invasive big government, the Federal Reserve, deficit spending, and U.S. military intervention abroad—he skipped the traditional meet-and-greet part of the state-of-the-art campaign rally to dart behind a curtain so he could fly to the next event.
The 76-year-old Paul—who may or, more likely, may not win the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday—is a unique figure in American life: a political ascetic. And he seems to wish that the rest of the world would join him on his bed of nails.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one issue,” he told his mostly youngish followers, who had to peer over the heads of reporters and between the thicket of cameras planted by the out-of-towners. “There’s only one issue that has made America great and the answer to all your questions … and the issue is individual liberty.”
A nominal Republican who leans libertarian (except that he’s against abortion rights), Paul promised to make sweeping cuts in federal programs, stop “the runaway welfare state,” balance the budget, replace the Fed, get rid of the Patriot Act that allows warrantless searches, and make sure that the United States is “not the policeman of the world.”
The media scrum was so massive, reporters essentially had to wait in line to interview the Paulites in attendance. “Is there ANYONE from Iowa here?” the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet called out plaintively as she worked the aisles.
Luckily, there were. Electrical engineer Matt Devries, who homeschools his five daughters in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, said he’s been supporting Paul since 2008. “He has consistently been a champion of the Constitution and liberty,” said the 33-year-old Devries, who refused to vote for John McCain last time and wrote in Paul instead. “He’s a man of high integrity and what you see is what you get. He’s not going to flip-flop or change on an issue.”
Robert Ussery, 53, whose day job is sterilizing surgical equipment in a hospital operating room, said he supports Paul because “he’s the only candidate that will protect our national sovereignty.”
Ussery, who as a member of the Iowa Minutemen spends his free time lobbying the state legislature for stricter laws to deal with illegal immigrants, also likes Paul’s policy of international noninterventionism.
“We shouldn’t go abroad searching for foreign monsters to destroy,” he said. “We should protect our own borders and take care of our own country.”
Zander Morales, 21, a hospital concierge and valet parker, said he was leaning toward Paul even though he’s worried about Paul’s idea of dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency.
He voted last time for Barack Obama and could still, in the end, see himself repeating that vote. But he also said he could envision Paul as president. “Crazier things have happened.”
Los Angeles documentary filmmaker Robin Nelson—a former reality show producer who worked on TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras—had come at her own expense to make a movie about her hero and his grassroots campaign.
“We’re here on our own dime … and going broke,” she said. “I’ll be heartbroken if he doesn’t win.”