The End of the Ron Paul Era?

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After representing his Texas district for over 22 years, Ron Paul will not run for Congress again in 2012, instead focusing on his presidential campaign. Texas-based publication The Facts reported on Tuesday morning:

"I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election," Paul said. "It's about that time when I should change tactics."

His announcement will give enough time for anyone with aspirations for his seat to think about running, he said. Paul didn't want to wait for filing in the 2012 primary to let people know he wasn't seeking reelection.

"I didn't want to hold off until in December," he said. "I thought it shouldn't be any later than now." ...

We have a lot more support right now," he said. "Things are doing well for us."

Paul is traveling the country in his bid for the White House and said he has spent twice the amount of time in New Hampshire and Iowa this year than he did in 2008. Throughout his time in politics, Paul has had a stance of limited government, reduced federal spending, individual liberties and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

"I have been talking about this for years," he said Tuesday. "I will always be doing that. But not in the U.S. Congress."

A former obstetrician, Paul is 75 years old. He set fundraising records during his 2008 presidential bid, which put him on the national political map. He was reelected to his seat after failing to secure the GOP presidential nomination.

Paul supporter Lew Rockwell posits some motivations for Paul's decision:

He has been thinking about this for some time, and wants to concentrate on the presidential campaign and future and enhanced educational efforts that will blow your socks off. Also, he has had it--to name just a few items--with: twice weekly groping by the TSA (since he has metal knees and is selected for the full feel-up every time); dealing with the crooks and creeps in Congress, especially in the rotten Texas delegation; and the deadly new district the Republicans have placed him in.

Given Paul's age, it seems he will retire if he doesn't win the presidency. A senior adviser wouldn't say whether Paul is open to running for Congress again, or another office in Texas, if he doesn't win.

More likely than not, then, this decision will mean the end of Paul's career as an elected official, as he is a long shot to win the White House in 2012 despite enjoying probably the most enthusiastic supporters of any candidate in the race and performing solidly in national polls. Paul placed second in a recent nationwide NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, collecting 11 percent (tied with Rep. Michele Bachmann) behind Mitt Romney's 43 percent. His best showings in 2008 came in North Dakota and Maine, where he finished second.

Paul's 2008 campaign changed things. It brought libertarians out of the woodwork, revolutionized online fundraising for conservatives by breaking single-day records and inventing the "money bomb," helped give rise to the tea party movement, and made it okay for Republicans to oppose foreign wars. It gave libertarians power within the Republican coalition, dragging the GOP's center of gravity far enough toward fiscal austerity and social agnosticism that Republican politics became the main outlet for libertarians, who have always had to choose between the GOP and the Libertarian Party.

Without Ron Paul's 2008 debate performances, we might not see Mitt Romney campaigning against the war in Afghanistan on stage today. Without his public campaign against the federal reserve and government interference in people's lives, the tea party's small-government flavor wouldn't be the same.

In his November 2010 magazine piece about Ron Paul as "The Tea Party's Brain," The Atlantic's Joshua Green explained how the housing bubble and the recession helped make Paul into the star he is:

THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED. The housing bubble burst, banks stopped lending, and the Federal Reserve became an object of contempt. It was the world Ron Paul had prophesied, and he had a seductive story to tell about why it had happened--the Austrian story.

The Federal Reserve, in its hubris, had thought it could goose the economy and mitigate the effects of a post-9/11 recession by holding interest rates low, he explained. But tampering with money had sown disaster, just as Mises had warned. Easy credit had fueled massive amounts of what the Austrians called "malinvestment"--badly allocated investments, in this case in the overproduction of houses and automobiles. Only no one recognized this, because the true value of money had been distorted. Now the reckoning had arrived.

For his devotion to Austrian economics, Paul was always seen as slightly aberrant, in the same way that he might have been if he were, say, a practicing Druid. The Austrian school had peaked in the early 20th century but had fallen away after the Great Depression, which it claimed was caused by an expansion of the money supply and could be met only with chastened submission as the market corrected itself. Herbert Hoover's Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, offered similar counsel, famously urging Hoover to "liquidate" and "purge the rottenness out of the system." But this failed to stop the catastrophe. Only when Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard and committed to deficit spending, and the Fed adopted consistently low interest rates, did the economy finally start to recover. This validated the argument of the Austrians' intellectual adversaries, economists like John Maynard Keynes, that rather than stand aside, governments should intervene to mitigate recessions.

Paul will take one more shot at the presidency, having already shifted the mainstream and accomplished some of his goals -- the creation of a movement and shifts in how the right looks at economics and government.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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