Other than Sarah Palin, no national figure in the Republican Party causes more heartburn and head-scratching than Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Except that while Mrs. Palin mostly drives Democrats crazy, Mr. Paul is a source of bewilderment within his native GOP.
There are two reasons for this, one of which may vault Mr. Paul to a surprising finish in the upcoming Iowa Straw Poll. The other may prevent him from seeing many of the vital economic issues he's championed for years go mainstream at a time when this country desperately needs to follow his lead.
A conversation I recently had with a close friend who is considering supporting Mr. Paul is a perfect illustration of the enigma that is Ron Paul.
This friend was an enthusiastic Mike Huckabee supporter in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, but with Mr. Huckabee out of the race, the field is wide open - especially because, like many of his fellow evangelicals, my friend is much better informed about our precarious economic situation than he was four years ago.
Whenever Mr. Paul displays his unmatched knowledge of how we sank into this economic abyss and what it will take to get out of it, he comes close to closing the sale with my friend. And now that Mr. Paul is on the campaign trail using one of the Bible's saddest moments - when the ancient Israelites desire a human king to rule over them instead of God, which is analogous to Americans looking to Washington for guidance rather than the "Creator" referenced in the Declaration of Independence - he's starting to convince my friend that economic issues are moral ones, too.
However, just when it seems Mr. Paul is about to broaden his appeal and make inroads with a group that largely shunned him in the last go-round, he chases libertarian rabbit trails that remind evangelically minded voters of the uneasiness they have with a Paul candidacy.
Case in point: If you're running for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, you probably don't need to make any headlines about partnering with uberleftist Rep. Barney Frank on legislation. But that's just what Mr. Paul did recently, side-saddling next to Mr. Frank over the legalization of marijuana.
I know the Republican establishment continually urges conservatives to sell out their principles in exchange for a big tent, but not even former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele included stoners when he once suggested the party reach out to everyone, including "one-armed midgets."
You may or may not think this proposed legislation is a good idea on principle, but it's terrible politically for Mr. Paul. First, it's not just a second-tier issue - it's a no-tier issue. Most of the people who care about this issue either always vote Democratic or make munchy runs instead of voting on Election Day. In addition, being a candidate is like being a salesman - both require the ability to overcome objections. In neither case, however, do you want to introduce any. But with less than 50 days until the vital Iowa Straw Poll, that's just what Mr. Paul did to the sort of social conservatives who dominate the state's Republican political landscape.
It's a shame, really, considering that Mr. Paul made another headline this week that is vitally more important to the future of this nation and touches on an issue near and dear to the hearts of Republican presidential primary voters. On June 20, Mr. Paul issued a statement saying, "I will veto any spending bill that contains funding for Planned Parenthood, facilities that perform abortion and all government family planning schemes. Like millions of Americans, I believe that innocent life deserves protection and I am deeply offended by abortion. It is unconscionable to me that fellow Pro-Life Americans are forced to fund abortion through their tax dollars. As a congressman, I've never voted for any budget that includes funding for Planned Parenthood. Instead, I've introduced the Taxpayers' Freedom of Conscience Act to cut off all taxpayer funding of abortions, so-called 'family planning' services and international abortionists."
To my knowledge, Mr. Paul is the first Republican presidential candidate to make such a vow. Others have said they would defund Planned Parenthood, but I'm not aware of any other GOP presidential candidates promising to veto any budget that includes the funding should it land on his desk.
This is something that should have been a boon to Mr. Paul's campaign in Iowa, yet it's been overshadowed by his apparent need to lock up the "crucial" stoner vote, lest all 26 of them end up as part of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's formidable 1 percent.
Mr. Paul can win the Iowa Straw Poll, but to do so he must make a choice: Does he want to be president of the United States, or does he want to be the first bishop of American libertarianism? A president stays on message, especially when his message is resonating with people, and certainly doesn't set it aside to share headlines with a man who represents the worldview that is threatening the future of this republic.
Mr. Paul's views on limited government, taxation and phony money and even his at times maddening tendency to take criticism of American foreign policy too far are needed more than ever before in the national debate. Not to mention that he's not a flip-flopping panderer like most of his ilk.
We need several of Mr. Paul's themes to become mainstreamed if we're going to survive as a free people. Nevertheless, if he persists in cozying up to the enemy in order to advance a peculiar political philosophy that will never be widely accepted in this country, I fear that won't be the case.
Steve Deace hosted a talk show on Iowa's WHO-AM, where Ronald Reagan was sports director. (SteveDeace.com)
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.