Ron Paul's seemingly enduring popularity is an indication that conservative voters support a limited government approach to some problems, an analyst at a conservative think tank said. However, he doubts Christian conservatives will coalesce to elect a libertarian candidate to the White House.
Heritage Foundation Vice President of Government Studies Michael Franc observed that in a political atmosphere where Republicans constantly criticize "big government" and regulation in the business and health sectors, there is a newfound appeal for the libertarian emphasis on limited government.
"In many cases that would be viewed as a positive by Christian conservative voters," said Franc.
Following the May 5 Fox News GOP debate, Paul's popularity among conservatives has grown tremendously in the polls.
Five days after the debate, a poll on FOXNews.com poll shows that the percentage of people who believe that the Texas Congressman won the first Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina has soared to over 61 percent. The debate featured Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty. Notably absent were the bigger names including Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann.
While Paul, who ran for president twice before, has not led any of the GOP polls in terms of frontrunners for the 2012 presidential race, a CNN poll last week revealed that Paul does best against President Barack Obama. He only trailed the president by seven points in a hypothetical election.
Making observations about the libertarian appeal to Christians, Franc noted that libertarians' belief in freedom and independence is consistent with the Christian desire to worship freely without government interference. But Christians who identify as social conservatives would consider a purist view of libertarianism a "mixed bag,” he added.
"Some libertarians ... believe that the government should have no role in deciding what should be illegal in terms of substances: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, you name it," explained Franc. "There's much more a willingness to let individuals use these substances without any sort of criminal repercussions."
Paul, a 12-term House representative, is definitely a libertarian purist.
Paul, who first ran for president as a Libertarian in 1988 and still considers himself a strong advocate for liberty, according to his congressional webpage, explained his support for drugs saying, "If you have the inconsistency, then you are not defending liberty."
Christian social conservatives would disagree with Paul's view of liberty.
"Sure, families come first and churches and so on as the vehicle to say to a child or a family member 'Don't do that. Don't use those drugs' but they see that there's also repercussions for widespread use of that," Franc said.
Bottom line, there will be instances where social conservatives favor government limits despite libertarian objections, he noted.
Rather than vote for a libertarian president, social conservatives will likely look for conservative Republican candidates with a libertarian streak, Franc predicted. "What I think would happen is that you get more candidates running for office who will have libertarian tendencies in certain issues.”
During last Thursday night’s debate, many of the five GOP candidates spoke of limited government. According to Fox News Pollster Frank Luntz, audience members responded most favorably to former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain's statement – "One of the biggest problems that we have out there today is too much government intervention in trying to tell business to do what they do best, which is create jobs."
Cain was also overwhelmingly favored in the Fox News focus group and in the FOXNews.com poll the next day. The online poll showed that on Friday night, 54 percent of voters (1,103 voters) believed Cain won the debate. The poll now shows Paul to be the winner.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty expressed support for limited government intervention in determining when and how teachers should teach about creationism.
Franc expects libertarian views on government spending and regulation to draw the most conservative voters.
"There's going to be some selective ... libertarian messages that will be well received, but there's going to be a lot of areas where people just don't want to hear about it."