The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.
Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) recently gained fame for breaking one-day online donation records, but he's still considered an underdog by many because of his single-digit polling and arguably radical views on a variety of issues. For one thing, he supports an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, a position that seems more at home with the Democrats these days. So why is he up there, debate after debate, standing out from the likes of Huckabee and Romney and McCain? Why isn't he trying to fit in if he wants to win the primary? Is he even a Republican?
He told me he is--just not the same kind as the rest of them.
"I think their definitions are different," he said. "Today, the Party has been taken over by a group called neoconservatives, and I don't believe they're really conservative. I think they're really liberal in the modern sense of the word--they're big spenders, they believe in entitlements, they believe in military adventurism."
Paul certainly doesn't believe in "military adventurism." He articulated an anti-preemption stance, geared toward avoiding another inextricable, Iraq-like conflict in the future. And unlike some politicians, he usually acts in accordance with his stated philosophy. For example, he was one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against the Iraq War Resolution.
"The traditional conservative--which the Republicans used to be--did not advocate aggressive war, usually got our country out of the wars such as after Korea and Vietnam..." he said. "We've done exactly the opposite. And because I'm a strict constitutionalist, this has separated me from the other candidates."
Some have called Ron Paul an isolationist, in part because of his views on foreign aid and the use of military force. He strongly disagreed with the association.
"I'm the last thing from an isolationist," he said. "An isolationist is a protectionist--they want to build walls around their country. They may want to bring troops home, but they also want to close the door for trade and travel and the spreading of ideas, and that's quite different. The Founders, I think, had it right when they said, 'Trade with people, be friends with people, but don't get involved in their internal affairs and don't get involved in entangling alliances,' and you'd be a lot less likely to fight people that you're trading with than if you have protectionist measures and sanctions on countries [like] we do today."
He added: "The same individuals who claim I might be an isolationist are the ones who are putting sanctions on countries like Iran and Iraq and Sudan, and yet the trade might stop us from fighting. I, for instance, think we should be trading with Castro, rather than putting sanctions on Castro, because it didn't do any good--after 40 or 50 years, it hasn't helped us a bit."
Finally, Paul believes that the United States should not be entirely dependent on other nations for its energy.
"I think the most important thing is to let the market set the price of energy and get out of the way of alternative energy," he said. "We've been interfering with the development of nuclear energy for 30 or 40 years. We don't develop any new nuclear power plants, but then at the same time we take money and we subsidize alternative fuels such as ethanol, which nobody's ever proven is an economically feasible alternative. So the most important thing is to recognize that the government bureaucrats and politicians have no idea what is the best alternative fuel, but if the market pushes the price of oil up, then people are going to say, 'Hey, they're running out of oil! And oil is now $200 a barrel, we better do something,' and the market's going to come up with the best alternative."
These goals may seem ambitious, but Paul is conservative about what he could accomplish unilaterally, stressing that he would need to rely on congressional support that a mandate, in the form of his successful election to the presidency, would grant him.
"You could [unilaterally] change the foreign policy and bring troops home and save a lot of money. And you could start repealing executive orders that have been so onerous. And you could refuse to enforce laws that are put on the books through regulations and by court orders or executive orders. So you could be discreet in what you enforce, but to really, really have the big changes, yes, you have to work and develop a consensus on what you're trying to do."