Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is more than politician. He's a brand. For the past decade he has represented the libertarian movement within the Republican Party, often putting him at odds with hawks and social conservatives. But to win in Iowa, South Carolina, and other early primary states, Paul needs to win over more than fiscal conservatives. Paul’s campaign has been recently repackaging his candidacy for evangelical voters, preaching a new political gospel that may resonate with many evangelicals: to save America you need to change the culture, not replace the politicians.
Last week, the Family Research Council's Values Bus tour cruised around Iowa with top Republican contenders including Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty (who dropped out of the race), and Rick Santorum. They spoke to crowds about their social conservative credentials. Paul, however, is not that kind of conservative. Other candidates are social conservatives who want public policy to reflect, defend, and promote morality.
Paul, however, has built his brand as a libertarian who wants government to stay out of regulating pornography, prostitution, drugs, gambling, and other vices that excite social conservatives. He preaches a message of liberty, and that often puts him at odds with Christian conservative groups.
However, Paul’s campaign is now reaching out to evangelicals, focusing on how Paul sees libertarianism as reflecting his Christian faith. Senior Paul strategist Doug Wead told Politico that the campaign is actively campaigning to win over evangelical voters.
“The missing link for us, the outreach to evangelicals, which is so key to South Carolina and the south — we’re filling it,” said Wead.
To do this, Paul is talking about his positions using Biblical allusions and references to doctrine. His speech at this year's Faith and Freedom conference illustrates this approach well:
1) Pass the Abortion Litmus Test. Paul begins his talks to evangelicals with a clear statement on his pro-life position. Paul says that life is the one political value higher than liberty. "As an OB doctor, let me tell you,” Paul said, “life does begin at conception."
2) Agree that American Society is Immoral. Paul echoes the social conservative narrative about the change in American society. The problems in American society began in the 1960's with the sexual revolution, the drug culture, and other changes began a decline in morality. Paul's twist, however, is that this is not a reason to enact new laws. Instead, he says that policy reflects morality, so the focus should be on changing the culture, not trying to change society through government.
3) Give Biblical Justifications for Positions. Paul describes his economic views as “biblical economics.” He references Old Testament admonishments against false weights and measures as a reason to go to the gold standard and to get rid of the Federal Reserve. He talks about government as a false idol. He recounts the story of Saul as a lesson against the temptation to want a king—which is an all-powerful government—who will steal young people for war and overtax the people.