Ron Paul got more speaking time Tuesday night than he has at most of the other debates, and he used it to point out even more differences that set him far apart from his rivals and the Republican mainstream.
Turned to repeatedly by moderator Wolf Blitzer, Paul detailed his disagreements on renewing the Patriot Act, attacking Iran, supporting Israel and giving foreign aid. Those answers aren’t surprising — he’s said most of the lines he delivered Tuesday many times before — but with Paul’s core of support likely to keep him in the debates for months to come, they were a reminder of just how much of a thorn he has the potential to be in the side of the eventual nominee.
Paul started the evening taking on former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who’d argued about the importance of preserving the Patriot Act to more effectively fight terrorism.
“I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty,” Paul responded. “Today it seems too easy that our government and our congresses are so willing to give up our liberties for our security.”
As the other candidates sided with Gingrich, Paul became visibly agitated, waiting for his opportunity to respond.
“You can prevent crimes by becoming a police state,” Paul aid. “So if you advocate the police state, yes, you can have safety and security and you might prevent a crime, but the crime then will be against the American people and against our freedoms.”
Even Mitt Romney got drawn in to the Paul orbit. Though Romney’s avoided much direct confrontation with this rivals, on Tuesday he challenged Paul on his position that foreign bases are provoking the nation’s enemies. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used this as a tactic in the 2008 primaries, pitting himself against Paul to enhance the impression of his foreign policy strength.
On border security, Paul took issue with fellow Texas Rick Perry recommending ending the “war on drugs” to curtail violence created by Mexican drug cartels.
“That’s another war we ought to cancel,” Paul said. “And that’s where the violence is coming from.”
Paul made his usual comments about ending all foreign wars, which he’s kept firing hard on, even in a field comprised of several hawks who advocated hardline responses to Iran and Pakistan.
“I am convinced that needless and unnecessary wars are a great detriment,” Paul said. “They undermine our prosperity and our liberties.”
The rest of the Republican field has positioned itself as strong supporters of Israel, but Paul said he’d be against helping if the country decided to go to war with Iran to halt nuclear proliferation.
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” Paul said when asked, prompting laughter from the audience.
Paul argued that it’s unlikely Israel would even opt to attack Iran.
“And if it did — you’re supposing that if it did, why does Israel need our help?” he said. “We need to get out of their way.”
While the other Republicans bemoaned possible cuts in defense spending, Paul argued the reductions aren’t as deep as others were making them out.
“There’s nothing cut against the military,” he said. “And the people on the Hill are nearly hysterical because they’re not going — the budget isn’t going up as rapidly as they want it to.”
And with the topics and questions continuously coming back to Paul, Rick Santorum — who’s repeatedly locked horns with the congressman —instead tried to insert himself into the discussion with a joke.
“I agree with Ron Paul,” Santorum said, pausing to the let the audience respond to how he’d framed his answer about how “war on terrorism” was a misnomer.
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