Even though Ron Paul had one of his best debate performances last night he has probably hit a plateau with GOP primary voters because of his foreign policy and national security positions. Paul will not crack 30% of GOP voters nationally with his Rockwellian strain of libertarianism. His strong belief in the free market, his defense of civil liberties, and hostility to American interventionism is a refreshing break from the monotonous repetition of GOP orthodoxy from all the candidates but it isn't have enough to get him over the top with Republicans. Paul's following is big enough though for him to continue to be a thorn in the side of all the candidates.
Take this exchange over the Patriot Act with Newt Gingrich:
MITT ROMNEY: "What they're doing is cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget."
RON PAUL: "They're nibbling away at baseline budgeting. ... There's nothing cut against the military. And the people on the Hill are nearly hysterical because they're not going â€” the budget isn't going up as rapidly as they want it to."
There is an element of the GOP base that is hostile to the Patriot Act. There is an even stronger element of the Tea Party that is hostile to the Patriot Act and open to trimming the defense budget but they, like their GOP allies, are often brought down by their faithful obedience to flag waving hawks and national security fear mongering. So where does that leave Paul?
It leaves him with his core of followers that fluctuates between 8%-14% of the GOP base. Paul's foreign policy of "Just mind our own business" sounds palatable to some Republicans until he actually explains it. In many ways they have inoculated themselves from the idea that we don't need to be continuously on the warpath in all four corner of the planet. Unfortunately for Paul, there is little he can do in 2011 to change this.
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