Ron Paul shirts, Ron Paul hats, and Ron Paul stickers adorned many of the roughly 120 people that gathered in Des Moines to hear the younger Paul speak. Even the speech itself sounded a lot more like the fiery Texas Congressman of yore than the polished, diplomatic tenor that Rand has worked to fine-tune over the course of his fairly recent emergence on the national stage.
While at times Sen. Paul has shied away from his libertarian heritage, he seemed to embrace it fully on Friday night – to the applause of an energetic crowd of Liberty activists from around Iowa. “Anybody here want to audit the fed?” Paul bellowed to the cheering audience as he took the stage. His opening line was a shot over the bow of the Federal Reserve, and an indicator that recent competition from the rest of the 2016 field may have pushed him back into consolidating the liberty vote, before expanding his appeal to other groups in the often-cliquish Iowa GOP.
Throughout his nearly 20-minute speech, he threw out plenty of libertarian red meat to his audience, hitting on executive overreach, prison sentencing reform, and foreign non-interventionism. After tearing into the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated by the Federal Reserve, Paul discussed the more specific problem of backing currency with undisclosed federal “assets”, which according to him constitute taxpayer liabilities. “Once upon a time, your dollar was as good as gold. Then for many decades they said your dollar was backed by the full faith and credit of government. You know what it’s backed by now?” Paul quizzed. “Used car loans, bad home loans, distressed assets, and derivatives.”
Claiming that the practices of the Fed were also connected to the problem of income inequality, he took the opportunity to zing the Obama administration on the issue. “Yeah, I think there is (income inequality). It seems to be worse in cities run by Democrat mayors, states run by Democrat governors, and countries run by Democrat presidents,” Paul challenged, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
He then pivoted to criminal justice reform, where he touted his willingness to work with the Obama administration and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder, shortly before his departure from the AG office, effectively barred civil forfeiture – a practice in which suspects could have assets seized by government agents without any formal charge or complaint filed against them. Paul praised the decision to end the practice, but took a shot at President Obama’s current nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, for openly supporting the continuation of civil forfeiture. “She confiscated 100 million dollars from people who were never charged, she’s ignored the reforms, she’s not filed the paperwork, she’s not trying to prove anybody guilty – she just takes their stuff,” Paul fumed. “That is turning justice on its head, and we should defeat her.”
Paul also delved into the separation of powers within the federal government, quoting Montesquieu and condemning the executive branch for assuming legislative powers through federal regulatory agencies that he claimed were never permitted by the Constitution. “Congress writes the laws, the President executes them,” said Paul. “But the President does not write law, and we need to stop him.”
He then proceeded directly to the holy grail of the Liberty Movement – and possibly its most distinguishing feature in a Republican Party that almost universally pays lip-service to limited government ideals: foreign non-interventionism. While calling for a robust debate about sending troops anywhere to defend vital American interests, Paul said that the decision to go to war belongs to Congress alone, and called it “the most important vote that any legislator will ever take.” Taking a swipe at the more hawkish national defense wing of the GOP, Paul pledged that whether as a Senator or a presidential candidate, he would continue to promote a return to a constitutional foreign policy. “There will be one loud voice in our party saying, ‘think of the unintended consequences…think about what we want to accomplish and whether it will work before we go to war,’” he promised.
His willingness to speak candidly on issues of great importance to the Liberty Movement was refreshing for some in the audience. James Schneider, of Cedar Falls, who showed up in a Ron Paul tee shirt, said he’s very concerned about the Federal Reserve. “The four-trillion-dollar debt that Rand just talked about tonight, I want to know who’s buying that up, and what that’s all about, and why we’re accepting this.” Schneider, who has a favorable view of Liberty Iowa, was impressed with Rand’s speech but is open to hearing from other potential 2016 candidates as well. “I’d be very interested in hearing Ted Cruz speak, if he were to come through and do something like this as well,” said Schneider. “I’d probably listen to Scott Walker as well, but Ted kind of stands out there a little more.”
Others in the audience are sure that they have found their man for 2016. Taylor Egly, a 2012 Ron Paul supporter and 2014 candidate for the Iowa House, acknowledged that his mind is made up. “I like Rand’s track record, I like the bridges he’s built I think that’s very helpful to build those coalitions,” said Egly. “I’m pretty much on board with Rand 100% at this point.”
Paul’s natural appeal to the Liberty audience could prove to be a critical factor in what is sure to be a crowded 2016 field. In Iowa, the strident Liberty Movement seems willing to give him a look for the presidency, and at least for now, Rand Paul may find that the best way to grow his appeal, is to return to his roots.