Before the storm clouds gathered over Tampa, a plank advocating an audit of the Federal Reserve was written into the Republican platform. An even more exacting audit the Fed bill passed the House with bipartisan support. Republicans voted for it by a 238-1 margin.
Sen. Tom Coburn has signed onto the next project to advance federal transparency: an audit of the Pentagon. The Oklahoma Republican is unique in that he is respected both by conservative hardliners and centrists who like bipartisan problem-solving.
Co-sponsors of a bill requiring such a measure include swing state Democrats like Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, moderate Republicans like Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, Tea Party favorites like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, establishment Republicans like Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, and even GOP hawks like New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Neither of these issues was remotely mainstream until relatively recently. The Fed was a particularly arcane topic, of interest only to a small number of gold bugs, libertarians, and hard-money types. Today college students chant “End the Fed” while conventional Sunbelt Republicans like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich express their disdain (or worse) for Ben Bernanke.
As recently as 2008, Republicans who dissented from the Bush-Cheney-McCain line on foreign policy were an endangered species. Economic conservatives threw in their lot with neocons who wished to oust one of the remaining antiwar Republicans, North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, through a primary challenge. By that November, all but two of the seven Republicans who had voted against the Iraq War were already gone from Congress.
Today candidates who say we should leave Afghanistan and should have never gone to Iraq are winning Republican primaries, with the backing of fiscal conservatives ranging from anti-tax kingmaker Grover Norquist to the Club for Growth. Bona fide noninterventionists like Thomas Massie in Kentucky and Kerry Bentivolio are favored to win House seats this fall; Justin Amash, a freshman from Michigan, already holds one.
The leading conservative in the Senate is arguably Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. In addition to trying to cut $500 billion in discretionary spending in a single year before even touching entitlements, he has insisted that Congress be involved in any decision to go to war in Iran, Libya or elsewhere. He is on record as saying the war in Iraq should not have been waged and helped persuade South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party Republican, to vote to revoke its authorization.
None of these developments would have been possible without the success of one man: Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Paul is the literal father of Kentucky’s junior senator, but he fathered all the above accomplishments in a figurative sense.
After decades of laboring in obscurity in the House, casting lonely no votes, Paul has captured the imagination of millions with his two Republican presidential campaigns. Now the GOP conference can vote 238-1 on an issue of interest to him and actually have “Dr. No” on the winning side.
That’s not to say Paul has prevailed in any final sense. Mitt Romney is about as far from Ron Paul as a Republican presidential nominee can be. The Republican National Committee is working hard to ensure that the delegate rules make it difficult to mount even a phony opposition to the party establishment, like Rick Santorum, much less a principled constitutionalist alternative like Paul.
Romney covets Paul’s voters. His running mate Paul Ryan practically begged for them. This is a positive step. Republican leaders once recognized the appeal of Pat Buchanan’s brigades too, trying to win them over with Bob Dole’s clumsy invocation of “fair trade” and George W. Bush’s solemn promises of a “humble foreign policy without such lip service changing the GOP. Perhaps today’s promises to actually declare wars and promote sound money are similar gestures.
Yet the rapid progress in a short period of time is undeniable. So too is the enthusiastic group of supporters rallying behind Paul’s message, even as he prepares to retire from the House and leave electoral politics. While no one can replace a Ron Paul, he does have a small but growing band of successors.
There was a time in recent memory when Paul’s ideas about monetary policy were as marginal as his foreign policy convictions remain among GOP elites. Today they are moving inexorably toward the mainstream. Paul’s dutiful defense of the unpopular has paid dividends before. With work and more than a little luck, it could again.
Whether the proceedings in Tampa end with the final gavel in the hall or the first wind gusts in a vulnerable densely populated area, there will be two enduring images. One will be of Romney winning the nomination, resulting either in his assumption of presidential power or his return to irrelevance after November. The other will be of Ron Paul, rallying his young troops one last time as a candidate in his own right.
The large crowd applauding Romney wants only a winner. Nearly everyone in that convention hall outside his own relatives would be indifferent if he was replaced with another cookie-cutter politician. The people cheering Paul are looking for victory over the long term and can’t imagine another standard-bearer.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.