When Ron Paul ran for president in 2008, polls showed that Americans-at-large were worried about an increasingly bad economy, angry at Washington for bailing out Wall Street and weary of the Iraq War. GOP primary voters found themselves defending a Republican president who was on the unpopular side of all three issues, supporting a Republican nominee who agreed with him, and having to choose from a Republican field of candidates virtually indistinguishable from their president, their nominee and each other. Except one.

With Ron Paul all but declaring his candidacy for president this week, polls show that Americans at large are most worried about a bad economy, Obama’s high negatives indicate a persistent distrust and disgust with Washington, and this president’s three Middle Eastern wars are arguably more unpopular than Iraq and Afghanistan were three years ago.

Yet, even though they will have adjusted their various positions accordingly, 2012 GOP primary voters will generally find a field of candidates willing to bash the White House for basically doing the same things these same candidates once defended a Republican president doing. In fact, most potential 2012 candidates will be as guilty of contributing to big government as the president they’ll criticize. Mitt Romney gave us the blueprint for government-run healthcare. Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich gave Republican support for cap and trade. Rick Santorum ran cover for Bush’s entire statist agenda by touting the president’s alleged social conservatism. Adding ideological insult to injury, most of these candidates still promote an astronomically expensive foreign policy while they simultaneously and contradictorily claim we must cut spending. By and large, these candidates are conservative in rhetoric only, not their records, as has been the case with most Republican presidential candidates for decades.

That is, again, except one.

During the periods when conservatives find themselves not defending big government Republicans and instead choose to stress the need for limited government and constitutional fidelity, they echo the sentiments of Ron Paul. The difference is Paul never changes his sentiment. When conservatives are not defending big government Republicans and instead choose to talk about the need to eliminate debt and deficits, they are repeating the philosophy of Ron Paul. The difference is Paul never changes his philosophy.

Paul’s conservative consistency remains true, even when—and perhaps especially when—his fellow conservatives disagree with him. When conservatives attack Paul for his non-interventionist foreign policy views, the Texas congressman is quick to remind them that it is mathematically impossible to reduce the debt or deficits without addressing Pentagon spending. Cutting NPR, Planned Parenthood and earmarks will do nothing to effectively reduce the debt, no matter how much each might excite conservatives emotionally. Likewise, ignoring the need for military spending cuts will continue to help sustain and grow the debt, no matter how emotionally attached some conservatives are in their support for maintaining the status quo.

Obsessing over Obama’s birth certificate might be fun for some conservatives—but it only distracts from the United States’ economy’s impending death certificate, says Paul. Excitement over a reality TV star with a bad comb-over may hold conservatives’ attention for the moment—another moment wasted, says Paul, by not addressing the stark reality that is our collapsing dollar and economy. Many conservatives draw a battle line between Republicans and Democrats. Paul draws his line between those who support limited government and those in both parties who consider it unlimited.

Indeed, Ron Paul is the conservative constant in US politics. To the extent that the American Right is consistently conservative, it is generally in line with Paul. To the extent that the American Right gets distracted from conservative principles—typically in the name of Republican partisanship or some emotional attachment to a particular aspect of statism conservatives generally like—it finds itself at war with Paul.

But much of the GOP infighting Paul found himself in the middle of in 2008 has either vanished or significantly subsided. If the Republican leadership seems to have learned very little from the Bush years, the GOP’s conservative base has noticed this stubbornness and now sets its sights on defeating big government Republicans every bit as much as Democrats. For the political establishment, the Tea Party movement represents something new and perhaps unsettling in our politics. For Ron Paul and his admirers, it means there is finally a conservative movement.

With an overarching concern for limiting government and eliminating the debt, the now widespread conservative condemnations of “Keynesian economics” and attacks on Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve would’ve been unthinkable in 2008. Today, more Americans than ever seem willing to accept substantive entitlement reform and even oppose raising the debt ceiling, reflecting popular sentiments noticeably more radical than anything that could have been conceivable just a few years ago. Not all conservatives are in agreement with Paul’s foreign policy views, but they are significantly more open to them, especially within the context of criticizing a Democratic president’s seemingly foolish interventions and the absurdity of borrowing money from China to pay for them.

Heading into 2012, Paul’s poll numbers equal or exceed those of the perceived major potential candidates, his fundraising abilities equal or exceed those of the same candidates and the once perennial political outsider has now become a household name. More importantly, when it comes to the issues—most conservatives and perhaps most Americans are finding themselves increasingly in agreement with Paul.

Ron Paul is the conservative constant in American politics. In 2012 and beyond, may there be more Americans willing to be as consistently conservative.