Ron Paul and the Rise of the New Tertium Quids
While Republican presidential candidates have shockingly risen and fallen, from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to businessman Herman Cain, none will be more surprising than Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
With less than a month to go before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, there is a real chance that Paul could win the state. Paul has shown incredible organization and strength in a state that has been remarkably fluid. A new PPP poll shows Paul with a lead in Iowa, with Gingrich dropping to third place.
Paul’s success or lack of it has drawn scorn, laughs and ambivalence from his detractors on both the Left and the Right. Liberals like Paul’s foreign policy, conservatives are comfortable with his domestic policy, and his libertarian supporters believe that he is the only candidate that has had a consistent, non-hypocritical and logical set of ideas and principles.
While Paul is mostly viewed as being on the Right side of the American political spectrum, he has clearly not been in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party. Paul’s role and even many of his views are in line with a splinter faction within America’s first national and functioning party, the Jeffersonian Republicans—which has no affiliation with the modern GOP.
The splinter faction from Thomas Jefferson’s party was called the Tertium Quids, which means “third thing” in Latin, and were led by the brilliant but highly eccentric John Randolph of Roanoke, Va. Members of this faction often called themselves the “Old Republicans,” to differentiate themselves from the mainstream Republicans, who they believe had abandoned the principles of the founding.
The Tertium Quids even turned on and opposed Thomas Jefferson during the time he was serving as President. Their opposition came mostly because of the Embargo and Nonintercourse Acts that were intended to harm France and Great Britain, the great warring powers in Europe. Besides being ineffective at hurting either France or Britain, and crippling the American economy, the measures were some of the worst infringements on American civil liberties in American history.
On top of fighting against the Embargo and Nonintercourse Acts, John Randolph and the Tertium Quids came out against the War of 1812, fearing that American liberties at home would be seriously impinged on by an expensive, fruitless and reckless war against the greatest super power in the world at that time, Great Britain.
On the issue of the War of 1812, the Tertium Quids even sided with the rival Federalist Party that was more upset with the war on the grounds that it was hurting trade in federalist political strongholds, and because they were deep Anglophiles. Randolph and the Tertium Quids, however, were more afraid of the expansion of executive power through war and in the growing military. Randolph was not afraid to go after the very popular war from the beginning, and he was in a very tiny minority in doing so.
The final break for Randolph and the Tertuium Quids was made when President James Madison’s administration reinstituted a national bank, called the Second Bank of the United States. Randolph and his supporters saw this as a deep betrayal of their principles that opposed central banking. They saw the action as unconstitutional, and believed that it would decimate the power of the states and lead to deep levels of corruption. On top of that, a large number of Jeffersonian Republicans started to favor federal internal improvements, or what is now called infrastructure, and protectionist tariffs. Randolph was appalled by this because he thought it would destroy the sovereignty of the states.
“It was his policy, Mr. Randolph said, to stick to the states in contests arising between them and the general government—to the people in all collisions between them in the government, and between them and the popular branches and the unpopular branches of government,” said the famous senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun.
Randolph’s main opposition in this fight over the national bank, protective tariffs and internal improvements was a man who was in his own party, Henry Clay of Kentucky, who was often called the Star of the West. The bitterness between the two men in politics and on policies was so intense that the eccentric Randolph said that he wanted to be buried facing west, so that he could “keep an eye on Henry Clay.”
The hostility between the closest politician to Henry Clay that we have in national politics right now, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, and Paul is deeply bubbling under the surface in this campaign. Paul’s commercials have been almost entirely negative attacks against Gingrich.
Gingrich is a deeply different type of politician, a man that has changed his perspective over time, has been comfortable with government schemes to accomplish his policy ideas, and has often compromised some principle to get larger policy ideas passed. Those traits would be totally alien to both Randolph and Paul, but fit comfortably with politicians like Clay and Gingrich.
Through nearly the last three decades, Paul and his followers have gone after every administration, Democrat and Republican. Paul continually appeals for a deeply limited government, more power to be vested in the states rather than the federal government, decreasing executive power, free trade, noninterventionist foreign policy, and the elimination of the Federal Reserve.
Like Randolph and the Tertium Quids, the modern-day Paul and his libertarian supporters have taken unpopular stands on policies, leading to them being ostracized by members of their own party. But in the early days of the republic, events changed, and the public became more amenable to Randolph’s views, as they just may now toward Paul.
Randolph rightly saw how destructive and futile it was to wage the War of 1812. During the war, America became weaker and closer to disintegrating than at any time since the American Revolution. Likewise, Paul has been consistently against U.S. interventionism abroad, including the invasion of Iraq. At one time, noninterventionist policy was in the extreme minority in the Republican Party, but clearly the split over aiding Libya, and some skepticism on the Right over the ongoing war in Afghanistan, is bringing the party more in Paul’s direction, even if members don’t entirely agree with the line of reasoning that brought him there.
Paul’s criticism of the out-of-control spending allowed by, and often engaged in, by Republicans during the George W. Bush era was in many ways a precursor to the Tea Party movement, which is in many ways split between Paul supporters and more staunch conservatives.
On central banking too, there has been a turnaround within the modern GOP. During the Bush era, any mention of going after the Federal Reserve in any capacity was often met with laughter and scorn. Now Republican presidential candidates routinely say they will either remove Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, or will audit the agency. There have even been some calls by prominent conservatives to return to a metal-backed currency, eliminating the Federal Reserve entirely.
Witness the big push within the Republican Party recently for going after crony capitalism, a cause that Paul has been leading the charge on for years. The relationship between Big Business and Big Government now resonates with the average voter in the Republican Party. Randolph also took up a similar cause by excoriating the corrupt land deals between Georgia state politicians and wealthy land speculators in the Yazoo land controversy. Jefferson and his supporters wanted to compensate the Yazoo land companies that lost a great deal of money in the process. This proposed compensation of the land companies was essentially a bailout like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that bailed out America’s large financial institutions in the economic crash of 2008.
While Randolph and his supporters had significant impact on American politics, they never came close to actually ascending to power. The Second National Bank was brought down, internal improvements were left mostly to the states, and protectionist tariffs were reduced dramatically, so the ideas of Randolph and the Tertium Quids had impact despite the fact that they never got one of their own elected President.
Unfortunately, the same ideas that animated Randolph sent his acolytes down a dangerous path in future generations, championing policies such nullification, and eventually, seccession, which would plunge the country into civil war.
For Paul and his supporters, this might be the perfect time to move the Republican Party more in their direction, for good or for ill. The struggle in the party to unite behind a single standard-bearer, and grassroots frustration with the Republican “establishment” encompassed in Tea Party, are clear reasons why some Republican voters may turn to Paul.
In the end, it is highly unlikely that Paul will have any real electoral success on the national level. His views and manner of speaking on foreign policy often sound more left-wing than President Obama, and he’s a magnet for a variety of destructive supporters, such as 9-11 Truthers, anarchists and anti-Semites. These factors will most likely always keep him squarely at the fringe of the Republican Party. However, the attraction to the purity of Paul’s ideas, and the devotion of his dedicated supporters, are having more impact on this presidential cycle than any other.