The GOP presidential contenders held their first beauty pageant at the Reagan presidential library a few days ago to give the party faithful their first glimpse of this season's crop of Ronald Reagan wannabees.
I didn't watch the show because I just don't have the patience for these tedious exercises in political banality. Based on what I read, it seems I didn't miss anything more than each contestant vying against the others to prove they are the second coming of the Great Deceiver.
Even Rudy Giuliani got into the act, trying to convince the ignorant that he is just as conservative on social issues as the former soap detergent pitchman, and that he has the stuff to force women into back alley abortions and gays back into the closet.
One candidate who seems to be at least a little different from the rest of the pack is Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the 1988 presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party. According to a post-debate MSNBC poll Ron Paul won the debate by a substantial plurality. I believe the reason for this is that while the other nine candidates did their best King Kong impression, beating their breasts over who would drop more bombs and send the most troops to Iraq, Ron Paul took a decidedly opposite position in calling for the immediate withdrawal of all American troops.
While most GOP voters support Bush's war, there is nevertheless a substantial percentage who do not. By differentiating himself from the rest of the candidates over the war, Ron Paul appeals to a significant portion of potential primary voters. In fact, there has always been an isolationist streak among paleo-conservative Republicans going back to the days of Robert Taft and GOP opposition to American participation in "Mr. Roosevelt's War". More recently, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan has been the chief spokesman for disaffected paleo-conservatives who oppose the interventionist and imperialist policies of the current neo-conservative administration.
By tapping into these frustrations I believe that Ron Paul will raise enough money to break out from the rest of the second tier candidates and become competitive in the early primaries. Like another obscure legislator named Eugene McCarthy forty years ago, who launched an uphill presidential campaign against an unpopular war and an unpopular president, Ron Paul might make an impact far greater than any of the pundits could imagine at this point.