Ron Paul, the patriarch of the libertarian stream in GOP politics, will announce on Tuesday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, taking a step to join the Republican nomination sweepstakes.
Paul, who will be 76 in August, has served about 20 years in the House representing districts in Texas, most recently the 14th, which includes Galveston. He is a doctor by training, having served as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and in private practice as a gynecologist.
No stranger to presidential politics, Paul placed fifth in the GOP's Iowa caucuses in 2008 and has made several trips back to the key early state in this election cycle. He was the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate in 1988 and is scheduled to announce the exploratory committee in a stop in Des Moines.
"We're going to announce that I am going to start an exploratory committee," Paul told Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity on Monday night. "I will stop in Iowa on my way home and that might lead to the next decision. It depends what kind of reception I get on your show tonight. If I get booed or something then maybe I won't do it."
A favorite of conservatives, Paul has won straw polls, including the one held at the prestigious Conservative Political Action Conference, but he does less well in national polls. In a recent Gallup poll, he drew about 6%, at the top of the second tier of possible candidates. The first group, all in low double digits, included a trio of former governors, Arkansas's Mike Huckabee, Massachusetts' Mitt Romney and Alaska's Sarah Palin. Also in the top group is reality-show star and businessman Donald Trump.
But Paul's influence goes beyond his numbers.
He has been a steady voice for a specific stream of libertarian thought that harks back to Friedrich Hayek, a 20th-Century Nobel Prize winner in economics, and the Austrian school of political economy. Hayek's roots go back to classic 19th century liberalism with its support of free markets and the least possible government as a way of achieving the maximum amount of individual freedom. The Austrian school was harshly opposed to collectivist thought, whether socialist or, later, fascist.
Hayek's work became an influence on late 20th century conservative American political thought, particularly the influential University of Chicago economics department, where the Austrian and later British citizen taught.
For Paul, libertarian thought has come to include strong opposition to the Federal Reserve and its ability to print money, which he calls monetizing debt. He has condemned what he calls welfarism at home and militarism abroad.
He also has called for eliminating the income tax, the Department of Education and votes against raising the debt ceiling, an issue, along with budget cuts, that will mark the next weeks of congressional deliberations.