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1. Ron Paul

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Paul.jpgTwo years ago, many Republicans couldn’t stand him. The longtime congressman from Texas made his quixotic presidential campaign all about the Constitution and the Federal Reserve, seemingly to the exclusion of other issues, and for his trouble he was excluded from some of the debates. Reporters, hungry for soundbites and attack lines, and interested more in who would win the nomination than what the candidates thought, found him tiresome — at the very first GOP debate in 2007, Chris Matthews muttered “Oh, God” when Paul started talking about “original intent.” He raised $35 million and won 1.2 million primary and caucus votes, but when 2008 ended, his slogan sounded extreme. The “Ron Paul Revolution”? What did that word have to do with modern American politics?

But at the close of 2009, Paul seems less like an outsider and more like a pioneer. For the first time in his congressional career, he got every Republican colleague on board with a piece of legislation: HR 1207, an attempt to “audit” the Federal Reserve’s activity. His rhetoric and some of his imagery (like Revolutionary War re-enactment) have been copied wholesale by the Tea Party movement. The beliefs held by Paul that were once considered out of the mainstream — a collapsing dollar, obsession with the Fed, an encroaching North American Union, gold as the only safe investment — are now de regueur for Republican candidates. What presidential loser has had more of an impact on the party that rejected him?

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