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Ron Paul: GOP Needs To Change

Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who are shaping American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with Texas Rep. Ron Paul about his candidacy for president, his competitors for the Republican nomination, and the agenda driving his long-shot campaign. The L.A. Times poll came out this week and showed that nationally you are at two percent. Are you running to actually win the Republican nomination? Or are you running to make a statement about the war and other issues?

Ron Paul: Well, I do not think you ever run not to win. I think there are statistics that contradict some of the polls that we are looking at that makes us a lot more optimistic. When we look at the number of people who are joining the campaign, the money raised. So, in that regard, we are seen as a much more viable candidate than some of the national polls say. But it is still early. We are just starting to spend our money. I think the campaign is still yet to be won. The vast majority of Republicans, at least at this point, support President Bush's foreign policy, which you've railed against. Has the Republican Party changed?

Ron Paul: Well, I think I support Bush's foreign policy in the year 2000. He was pretty clear on the criticism of what was going on under Clinton. He criticized nation building and policing the world. And he thought we should have a more humble foreign policy.

I am, in many ways, supporting the Bush policy of the year 2000. And many of the Republican traditions, in the past, always advocated a lot more caution in foreign policy. But I think you are right. I think, right now--although the party shifted from their traditions--yes, there are still a lot of Republicans who support this policy.

But you cannot win an election with a very, very narrow base of the Republican Party when 70 percent of the American people are sick and tired of the war and they want out of it. So, if the Republican Party wants to win next year, they have to have a candidate that is willing to change the foreign policy and not just keep digging a deeper hole for ourselves. But why do you think the vast majority of Republican voters, and Republican candidates, seem to support the Bush foreign policy of 2007?

Ron Paul: I think they get trapped, you know--this whole idea that if somebody dies and you do not keep fighting and a lot more people die, then somebody has died in vain. And they are not willing to make a mistake, or admit that they have made a mistake.

In doing this, they continue to make the same mistake over and over again. They do not have the courage to change course when it needs to be done. And the American people want a change in course. I did not like the course that we went on. I did not like the change when we left our policies of the year 2000.

And I have been arguing the case that we should not have done it. Now, I am arguing the case that we ought to change our ways. And yet, they're digging in their heels and digging a deeper hole for themselves. And also, the harder they fight for this foreign policy, the worse they are doing. And the members of Congress I talked to up here behind the scenes are very, very concerned. They think that we are going to lose even more Congressional seats next year and that we do not have a plan, with this foreign policy, to win next year.

So I am much more with the American people than with maybe some of the Republican leadership that are sticking with Bush on this war. Now you've said a number of times that Republicans behind the scenes are uncomfortable with his foreign policy. Can you name names and tell us which Republicans have said that they're uncomfortable?

Ron Paul: No. I would not do that. Because it was said in confidence. And, you know, they were just expressing themselves. But I think a lot of people know--and there are a lot of other outsiders who are assessing things who are saying the same thing--that nobody is predicting the Republicans are going to gain seats or come close to regaining control of Congress. The other dark horse candidate who has gotten a lot of press attention recently is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. But he only raised about one-fifth the money that you got last quarter.

Where is all this money you are raising coming from? Do you think it is mostly from Republicans who are disillusioned with the current policies? Or is it from people who ordinarily would not participate in the political process?

Ron Paul: I think there is a little bit of each, so some Democrats, some Independents, and some disgruntled Republicans that saw that we did not stick to our principles of limited government and balanced budgets and joined the entitlement crowd.

But, interestingly enough, it is our campaign that gets the most money from the military. And that is something that the other candidates do not want to admit. Your position on Iraq polls is popular but your other libertarian positions on issues like privatizing Social Security, privatizing Medicare, privatizing a whole host of government functions, that does not seem to be a majority position in the country at all. How do you persuade people to change their minds about that?

Ron Paul: Well, it is also true that that has not been the most important issue in my campaign. Philosophically, I think those programs are doomed to fail. And most young people know that they are not going to get any Social Security. And that is why they are joining me when I said, "I would let you get out." And they love that.

Because all they are going to do is pay into it, and not get anything. But I really take a pretty soft stand on that. One thing that can be said is, I have never voted to spend one nickel out of Social Security funds. If I had my way, all that money would have been there. Because I do not spend it on this militarism and all the other wasteful programs. So, I am a true protector of the Social Security fund.

And the older people in my district have always, overwhelmingly, supported me. But my approach is toward a transition. I'm not calling for closing down any of these programs. Matter of fact, I do the opposite. I save hundreds of billions of dollars in rejecting this notion that we can run a world empire, cut the deficit, and then actually use some of those funds to tide people over who have become dependent. And this offers a way of helping people who are dependent without putting anybody out in the street. In 1988, you were the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party. Are you open to running on an independent ticket this time?

Ron Paul: No, I have no plans to do that. But do you completely rule it out?

Ron Paul: Well, about as close as you can get, I really, really cannot conceive of that happening. You and Rudy Giuliani, in particular, seem to get into these tussles in Republican debates. Is there any chance you could support him if he were the Republican nominee based on the policy positions he has taken thus far?

Ron Paul: Well, if he became a civil libertarian and rejected the Patriot Act and decided that we ought to bring the troops home from Iraq, yeah, I would consider it. And do you think there is any chance of that happening?

Ron Paul: Not much. And so, is there a potential that you could support the Democratic nominee if the Republican is so opposed to your positions on these issues?

Ron Paul: No, I cannot conceive of supporting a Democratic candidate. But if the Democrat is for ending the war and the Republican is not, and you are not going to support a third-party candidacy, where do you go from there?

Ron Paul: Well, that I will have to deal with when the time comes, after we find out how we do in these primaries. My main job right now is to appeal to that 50 percent of the people in New Hampshire who are independent who are very interested in my campaign.

Besides, the Democrats are all neo-cons to a large degree. None of them are saying the troops ought to be home before 2013. They are not willing to take these options off the table. And I do not think they offer an alternative one bit. I think foreign policy will not change with the top three or four or even five of the Democratic candidates. You don't think the Democrats are at all closer to your position on the war than the Republicans?

Ron Paul: Well, Dennis Kucinich would be, and Mike Gravel. But they have not done anything to slow this war up. They have not responded to the election of last year. And that is why the Democratic base now is very frustrated, and why I am getting more Democrats to my rallies than ever before. It's not because President Bush keeps vetoing their plans to set a timetable for ending the war?

Ron Paul: No. I do not think they are very earnest to do it. Why was it that the Democratic leadership removed from the supplemental bill early this year, the admonition that Bush could not start another war in Iran without getting permission from the Congress?

That was in the bill. And it was deliberately removed in almost saying, "Yeah, we are not going to hold you to the line here and go and do what you want. If you have to bomb Iran, we will not say a whole lot." So, that is what they were subtly saying. But I do not know why the Democratic leadership deliberately removed that. And that was supported by a coalition of antiwar Republicans and Democrats. On the lighter side, you are on Jay Leno next week. Can you give us any preview of what you plan to say?

Ron Paul: No. I have to wait for the questions, I guess. You're not working out any bits in advance?

Ron Paul: No. I think what I ought to do is watch his show and find out how it runs.

Ron Paul served in Congress first in the late 1970's and early 1980's and then again since 1997. Born in Pittsburgh, Paul graduated from the Duke School of Medicine and became an obstetrics/gynecology specialist who has delivered over 4000 babies. He was the 1988 Libertarian nominee for president and garnered 0.5% of the vote. Paul was one of only four congressman to endorse Ronald Reagan for president in 1976, and he has consistently voted against most taxes and government spending, and opposed the Patriot Act and the Iraq war. Paul is married with five children and 17 grandchildren.

By Brian Goldsmith