- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2011

Despite his recent surge in the polls, presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul won’t back away from controversial positions that have in the past caused pundits and many Republicans to dismiss him as an unelectable fringe candidate.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, the Texas Republican held firm to his stance that eliminating the U.S. military presence around the world is the key to both reducing the nation’s debt and easing tensions with the Muslim world.

“Those troops stationed overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies,” Mr. Paul said during a testy back-and-forth with host Bob Schieffer. “I think it’s a danger to our national defense, and we could save a lot of money cutting out the military expenditures that contribute nothing to our defense.”

Mr. Paul made clear that he doesn’t think American troops should be stationed anywhere in the world, including Germany, Japan, South Korea and other international strongholds of U.S. military might.

That position, among others, has in the past been a deal-breaker for many conservatives, particularly Republican hawks who support robust American influence across the globe.

But with many in the GOP searching frantically for an alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, seen by some as less than an authentic conservative, Mr. Paul has begun to gain traction.

A Bloomberg poll released last week shows him in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, where the nation’s first caucuses will be held in less than two months. The survey of likely Republican caucus-goers shows Mr. Paul at 19 percent, trailing only businessman Herman Cain, at 20 percent. Mr. Cain has slipped in the polls in recent weeks after allegations of sexual misconduct and a perceived lack of foreign-policy knowledge.

Mr. Romney came in third with 18 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is polling at 17 percent, according to Bloomberg.

A longtime darling of the Republican Party’s libertarian wing, Mr. Paul thinks his candidacy has gained steam as voters grasp the depth of the nation’s fiscal problems.

“This country is in bankruptcy. We have to deal with it,” he said. “We can’t remain in denial. This is why I’m getting a good reception on the campaign trail.”

Mr. Paul’s recent success highlights the fluid nature of this cycle’s GOP primary process, which has seen several candidates enjoy meteoric rises only to falter in a matter of weeks.

During the summer, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, was seen as Mr. Romney’s strongest challenger. When she fell sharply, Texas Gov. Rick Perry assumed the mantle. Weak debate performances have hurt his chances, and Mr. Perry is now polling at just 7 percent in Iowa, the Bloomberg survey shows.

Mr. Cain rocketed to the top of the field, but has also come back to earth, while Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Paul have now assumed the role as the Romney alternative.