Time's Jay Carney previews this afternoon's GOP debate from Michigan. Most people will, quite naturally, be most concerned with judging Fred Thompson's debut performance. But Ron Paul has quite a bit at stake here too. Carney says:
Finally, there's Ron Paul, whose anti-Iraq War, libertarian message has made him this campaign cycle's surprise phenom. He forces the other candidates to spend more time defending the Bush administration than they'd like. And having pulled in as much money in the third quarter as John McCain, Paul isn't about to fade away.
True, but this debate is supposed to be concerned with economic policy. That spells trouble for Dr Paul. Hitherto his goldbuggery and old-fashioned views on "sound money" have generally been overlooked (in as much as he's received any attention at all, of course). There are plenty of people to whom Paul's anti-war, limited government message appeals who might pause to reconsider their enthusiasm if he's seen banging on and on about returning to the gold standard. It may be a dangerous moment for the campaign.
My sense is that the Paul campaign must be hoping that since there are very few people who agree with him across the board (he's a "Bad Libertarian" on trade and immigration, for instance) that they won't be put off by his antiquated, even extreme, monetary views.
However, it's a gamble. At some point Paul is likely to go too far even for voters who know he can't win but are considering voting for him to make a statement of their dissatisfaction with contemporary Republicanism. At the very least it's hard to see that Paul's views on economics are going to persuade the media to take him more seriously.
So, is this the moment Paul becomes bad for libertarians? Or is it just another example of the Paul Paradox? It would be a shame if he were to throw away so soon the momentum - and credibility! - his fund-raising prowess has won him...
UPDATE: Paul's done pretty well. When Romney said you'd need to get the lawyers together to determine whether you could attack Iran without Congressionl approval, Paul was quick to point out it's pretty simple: you just open the constitution and read it. Points to Paul! But he was also helped by the debate pivoting away form economic policy. Yes, Ron Paul knows lots about monetary theory and yes he's been studying it for 40 years. But my point has nothing to do with whether or not Paul's views on "sound money" are correct or not but how Paul would be perceived by a media that is less inclined to give him the benefit of charity on these matters than, for instance, his anti-war stance. Still, Paul steered clear of much of that and gave soe good answers. Overall he may even have helped himself. Happily, Romney had a terrible time; unhappily this means it was also good for Giuliani.