Rep. Ron Paul's cross-party appeal rests not just on a strand of foreign policy that's utterly distinctive among the Republican candidates, but also on his insistence that military might exhibited overseas doesn't always translate into geopolitical power.
"People think that strength and manliness comes from killing people and fighting wars," the Texas Republican told The Huffington Post after an MSNBC appearance in early November. "And I think manliness ought to come with character enough to resist people who are warmongers and preach mob rule. I mean that's what people need to stand up to this whole idea that you just go along with this to prove how strong you are. I think resisting the status quo takes a little bit of strength."
It's a brand that appeals to both progressives -- who bemoan the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the similarities in foreign policy between Barack Obama and George W. Bush -- and conservatives who have a non-interventionist tilt towards international affairs.
"The neocons," as Paul told The Huffington Post back in November, "control it under Obama and under Bush."
But it's also a foreign policy platform built largely on broad ideas. And when the conversation turns to specific policies, it's tough to see how he sustains the appeal he has with either progressives or the Christian right. Ending the war in Afghanistan and drawing down U.S. bases abroad is one thing; opposing government-sponsored Tsunami relief or AIDS prevention programs is another.
The Paul campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this piece. But a look through the archives of columns that he wrote for the website run by his one-time chief of staff Lew Rockwell underscores the extent to which he applied skepticism with government and budget frugality to international crises.
Two weeks after Southeast Asia was devastated by a tsunami in 2004, Paul wrote a column imploring the Bush administration to not send taxpayer money for relief. It wasn't that he was unsympathetic to the victims (he urged Americans to make their own donations). He thought private charities and nonprofit groups were better equipped to handle the job.
"The Asian tsunami is the worst natural disaster of our lifetimes, and we should all do everything we can to help. Investigate the charities and private groups involved, and send what you can," he wrote. "But let's get governments and the United Nations out of the way, please."
Paul made similar pitches with respect to foreign aid and earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti and Japan. And even when the disaster wasn't immediate in nature, he was hesitant to get the government involved. On July 12, 2005, he wrote the following about President Bush's efforts to help the contentment of Africa with AIDS prevention.
"The president is promising money we don't have to solve a problem we didn't cause. Americans have the freedom to do everything in their power to alleviate African suffering, whether by donating money or working directly in impoverished nations," he wrote.
"But government-to-government foreign aid doesn't work, and it never has," he continued. "We should stop kidding ourselves and ignore the emotionalist pleas of rock stars. Suffering in Africa cannot be helped by delusional, feel-good government policies."
According to an "Annals of Internal Medicine" report issued in April 2009, between 2004 and 2007 Bush's PEPFAR program reduced the number of HIV/AIDS-related deaths by 1.2 million.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the name of the journal that produced the report about PEPFAR. The error has been corrected.