When Ron Paul leaves office in January, he will have been more successful than many of the legislators who spent decades maligning him. Paul’s ideas have gradually gone from marginal to mainstream, and his record shows how much even a single determined man of principle can do to change a movement. In foreign policy especially, the Texas congressman leaves behind a new generation of leaders, both libertarian and conservative, who challenge the disastrous bipartisan consensus.[...]
As it turned out, Giuliani’s biggest moment in the 2008 primary campaign was an exchange with one of the two surviving antiwar Republicans in Congress. Ron Paul was then in his tenth House term, running for president as practically an asterisk candidate, receiving just 1 percent of the vote in national polls. Giuliani led nationally as late as November 2007, beating new entry Fred Thompson by nine points in Gallup’s polling.
On May 15, 2007, the Republican contenders debated in Columbia, South Carolina. Paul argued that American intervention in the Middle East—bombings, sanctions, and efforts to destabilize foreign governments—helped turn local populations and their co-religionists against us, to the point that they would contemplate terrorist attacks like those on 9/11.
“Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attacks, sir?” asked the Fox News moderator. Paul had said nothing of the sort, but neither did he react to the implication behind the question as forcefully as he might have. Giuliani pounced. “That’s an extraordinary statement, as somebody who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11.”
Giuliani waited for the thunderous applause to die down, then demanded a retraction: “I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us he didn’t really mean that.” Paul didn’t budge.
The optics were poor: a little-known congressman was standing against the GOP frontrunner on an issue where 90 percent of the party likely disagreed with him. Paul did not do enough to rebut the “blame America first” charge, while Giuliani hit all the right emotional notes. Predictably, there came calls from prominent Republicans over the next few days to exclude Paul from future debates and even throw him out of the party. Giuliani was judged the decisive winner of the exchange.
But then something surprising happened: the encounter helped galvanize a movement behind Paul while Giuliani’s campaign died a slow, painful death. Paul outperformed Giuliani in most primaries and caucuses, wrapping up his first Republican bid for the White House with more than 1 million votes. Giuliani dropped out of the race after the Florida primary and received less than 600,000 votes.