Six Reasons Ron Paul Has Appeal Beyond the GOP

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate and Congressman Ron Paul ofTexas, campaigns at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Dec. 28, 2011.

Council Bluffs, Iowa

A rowdy pack of ever dedicated supporters makes its presence known at most of Ron Paul’s campaign events in Iowa. But beyond those who show up already wearing “I voted for Ron Paul” T-shirts, there are those who are more curious than diehard. Many of them are Democrats and independents — recent polling suggests that as much as half of Paul’s support in the state is coming from non-Republicans. And when asked what has piqued their interest, these non-Republicans sometimes cite the same reasons as conservatives: Paul is a straight shooter; he values the Constitution; he’s consistent. But there are also parts of the Texas Congressman’s philosophy that uniquely cater to those outside the GOP, even if inadvertently. Here are six reasons Dems and indies are staking out space in Paul’s tent.

A Hands-Off Approach to Personal Matters

The central thesis of Paul’s stump speech is that the government’s singular role is to protect our liberties. And part of true liberty, Paul believes, is making personal choices without interference from the federal government. In every speech, Paul reaches a moment in which he relays that We don’t have to agree on everything: people should have their own religion, their own intellectual pursuits and the right to live their private lives however they see fit. That last part strikes some as a tacit acceptance of liberal positions on social issues like abortion and gay marriage — and on some level, it is. While Paul himself would support state bans for such things, his stay-out-of-people’s-business philosophy is absolute at the federal level. “I like that he’s for less governmental involvement in our lives,” says Erin Nevius, a 24-year-old who classifies herself as independent and attended a Paul town hall on Thursday, Dec. 29. “For being a Republican, I think he has some pretty liberal ideas.”

(MORE: On the Trail with Ron Paul: Love, Curiosity and Anger in Iowa)

Noninterventionism

Jordan Leckband, a registered Democrat, checked out Paul at a town hall in Newton, Iowa, on Wednesday after hearing his father rave about the man. “I’m a little bit of a pacifist,” Leckland says. “So his whole antiwar strategy … I’m a big fan.” By the end of the talk, Leckband said he’d be willing to switch parties to caucus for Paul on Jan. 3.

Polls consistently show those on the left and in the center to be more wary of entering wars and more supportive of ending them. A recent CNN/ORC survey, for example, showed that 73% of Democrats and 70% of independents now oppose the war in Afghanistan, while only 38% of Republicans do.

Paul wants to bring troops home from both war zones and from bases in countries like Germany and Japan. He believes other countries should solve their own problems and that meddling in far-removed conflicts will only bring havoc to America. He also opposes foreign aid. “The easiest place to cut spending is to cut spending overseas and to deal with our problems at home,” he told a group assembled in Perry, Iowa, on Thursday. “There’s a lot of expense and a lot of killing, and it goes on and on.”

(MORE: State Senator Kent Sorenson: Why I Jumped from Bachmann to Paul)

The Golden Rule

When explaining his foreign policy positions or his beliefs about personal liberty, Paul often explicitly invokes the golden rule. He also presents golden-rule scenarios. Imagine, he suggested on Thursday, that a country like China was treating us the way we treat Iran. “It’s natural for [Iranians] to say that they want defense,” he said in Perry. “What we need to do, if you want to quiet things down, is don’t put sanctions on them. It’s just going to cause more trouble.” Sanctions, he said, are painful for Iran, and American behavior that causes hardship abroad unites fractured countries against us, just as factions of America were all united after 9/11.

Studies have shown that certain “moral triggers” lead Democrats and Republicans to make different decisions. Democrats place more importance on factors like harm and fairness, while Republicans give more weight to values like loyalty, authority and purity. Paul’s appeal straddles both groups.

(MORE: TIME Poll: Paul a Close Second in Iowa)

Drug Legalization

Paul’s support of states’ rights has its extremes: if Vermont wanted to legalize heroin or Alabama wanted to legalize cocaine, his ideal government wouldn’t object. But with marijuana becoming increasingly popular for medical use, Paul’s argument for legalizing drugs is often music to liberal ears, and he frequently decries the so-called War on Drugs. “When it comes to personal liberties and personal lifestyles and the way people live — and the way they eat and drink and smoke, it seems like … we don’t trust people to make decisions on what do with their own bodies, and we should,” he told a standing-room only house Thursday night, to hoots and hollers.

(MORE: Top 10 Debate Moments of 2011)

He Doesn’t Blame Obama

While candidates like Michele Bachmann call for the repeal of ObamaCare, Paul also calls for the repeal of the Patriot Act. In his dire warnings about the state of the country, he often points out that the problems in the country are not “three years old” or even three administrations old. He doesn’t say it outright — and rarely even breathes Obama’s name — but his point is clear: this mess we’re in does not start and end with the current President, so don’t try to goad him into saying so. This, in fact, is about as raw as his criticisms of Obama usually got during speeches on the trail in Iowa this week: “People who are President right now are said to be working on getting more involved in Syria.” Paul disagrees with current policies, of course, but his general restraint makes it easier for Iowans who caucused for Democrats four years ago to consider Paul this time around. (They’ve got no Democratic game to play, after all, and they can switch registration with a mere signature when they show up to caucus.)

(MORE: Top 10 Political Gaffes of 2011)

Notes of Occupy Wall Street

Couple that with Paul’s support for the Occupy movement — its spirit, not its preferred tax policy — and you have a liberal-friendly message.  “Wealth is being accumulated into smaller and smaller hands,” he said on Thursday. “Right now, Big Business makes more money paying high-paid lobbyists going to Washington to get a good deal than trying to satisfy you, the customer. And that needs to be reversed.” Paul’s message focuses on the weak economy, a grievance pretty much everyone can get behind. There is always the possibility that liberal voters will realize how conservative he is on issues like taxation, entitlements and abortion, but Paul’s libertarianism acts as a buffer. And that could make all the difference when voters caucus Tuesday night across Iowa.

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