Call for limits on federal spending trump Republican divisions over social and foreign policy

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Suddenly, Republican leaders appear to be shifting their rhetoric toward Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, one of several presidential contenders who took part in the Republican Leadership Conference (RLC) last week.

Paul says that over the past several decades America has lost sight of its founding principles and has surrendered too much authority to government officials. He shared that message with GOP members gathered in New Orleans for the three-day event that ended on Saturday, and he lamented that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks constituents seemed to accept a loss of liberty for the prospect of greater security.

“I don’t buy that,” he said.

Although other Republicans were sharply critical of Paul’s views, especially on foreign policy, when the Texan previously ran for president, the party has moved strongly in his direction, his supporters from Huntsville, Alabama, declared after his speech

“Young people get it because we read,” Robbie Valentine, one of the attendees from Huntsville, Ala.said. “If you watch too much television, you don’t really see what’s happening. We know the country has gone off in the wrong direction and that it’s time to restore constitutional government.”

In previous elections cycles, both parties were “pro-war” and “pro-spending,” Derek and Tamar Page, also of Huntsville, Ala.observed. They believe Paul has not changed, but the Republican Party has shifted in the past few years thanks in large part to his efforts.

In his talk, Paul also said he would run under the banner of “no new regulations.” Another way to restore limited government is to prevent the executive branch and the judiciary from writing and creating new laws, he added. He believes that function belongs within the purview of the legislative branch.

Although some of delegates expressed disagreement with Paul and other libertarian leaning candidates on social issues like drug legalization, there was considerable unity on the question of government spending.

Attendees also praised  Gary Johnson (pictured left), the former Republican governor of New Mexico, for addressing entitlements and for outlining reforms that would help put the U.S. on firm financial footing.

With regard to Medicare and Medicaid, Johnson would block grant the states a fixed amount of money that they would use for delivery of health care to the poor and the elderly.

“We would have 50 states as the laboratories of innovation and best practices,” he said. “The notion that Washington [D.C.] knows best, that’s what has us in this situation.”

As president, he would push for raising the retirement age and the use of means testing for benefits, Johnson continued.

“We should also change the escalator that’s built into Social Security from the wage index to the inflation index,” he added. “That in and of itself would make Social Security soluble into the future.”

It’s also possible for policymakers to cut military spending while providing for a strong national defense, Johnson said.

Jack and Courtney Goldstein of New Orleans were impressed with Johnson’s comments. Although political figures have been reticent to take on entitlements, the country is ready for an honest discussion of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, they said.

“We liked him very much… We don’t agree with his views on drug policy and some of the foreign policy. But what he said about our financial situation makes a lot of sense.”

Johnson and Paul both support legalizing marijuana, or at least leaving the issue to the states.

While Johnson supports maintaining restrictions and provisos on marijuana that are similar to alcohol laws, his approach to legalization would end prohibition type restrictions that are responsible for most of the border violence with Mexico.

Since 2008, Republicans have become more concerned about fiscal issues, Alton Russell, Republican chairman of the third congressional district in Georgia, observed. For this reason, he sees an opening for libertarian candidates.

“I certainly don’t think anything like the prescription drug bill could pass in today’s Republican Party,” he said. “But there are differences on the social issues. Rank and file Republican are not with Johnson on drug legalization.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at and he can be followed on Twitter.