When Ron Paul met Piers Morgan

"Once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

Despite his poor performance in the Republican primaries thus far, Ron Paul spoke to Piers Morgan with characteristic optimism and enthusiasm. Arguably more self-assured than Rick Santorum who appeared on the show two weeks ago, Ron Paul refuted claims that he can't win the nomination, telling Piers Morgan: "I have steady growth -- once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

In his interview with Rick Santorum, Morgan referred to Ron Paul as "barking". While the Texas Congressman has been criticised for his slightly eccentric views, the one thing he cannot be accused of is flip-flopping, unlike fellow candidate Mitt Romney.

Despite being the oldest candidate in the field at 76, Paul has a significant youth following. "My principles of liberty are inviting to young people," he told Morgan. "Their minds are more open; they won't just accept the status quo."

Morgan went on the attack about health care, telling the Congressman that his view -- that if you can't afford health insurance you should essentially fend for yourself -- is uncompassionate. In his defence, Paul argued that the Soviet system wasn't actually able to medically care for its people because it ended up totally bankrupt. In this respect, for Paul, the worst thing possible would be to depend on the government. Speaking as a child of the Great Depression, he said: "You have to assume responsibility for yourself."

However, he failed to mention quite how people should afford backbreaking insurance prices without government assistance. So, what would vulnerable people have to do in Ron Paul's society to get healthcare? The Congressman dodged the question with the sweeping generalisation that "to produce the best middle class you have to do it through freedom, not through redistribution of wealth."

Morgan asked Paul what he thought about Romney's comment that he "isn't concerned about the very poor" -- a statement that has been taken wildly out of context. Refusing to take the talk show host's bait and go on the attack, which is undoubtedly what Newt Gingrich would have done, Paul said: "I don't have many agreements with Mitt on policy - not on foreign policy, spending policy, bailout policy - but I've ended up defending him on this." Unlike the other Republican candidates, Paul doesn't play dirty politics.

Paul did, however, sum up his political ideology: "Sound currency, limited government, contract rights, don't bail out anyone -- that's when the poor get benefits and jobs will come. I'm as concerned about the poor as much as anyone else, but I don't think robbing from one group works."

On foreign policy, Paul is a stark contrast to the views Rick Santorum expressed on the show a few weeks ago. He categorically denies that he is pacifist, but says he only believes in war when it's justified. "From a strict constitutional viewpoint I don't want to fight any wars that aren't declared and, since World War II, nothing has been justifiable because we haven't gone through the proper process." Paul said that he did not support US forces in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks because "the country didn't attack us -- a bunch of thugs did."

His foreign policy views stand in particular contrast to the other Republican candidates' with regard to Iran. Santorum, speaking to Morgan a number of weeks ago, said that he would have no qualms about bombing Iran. However, Ron Paul said that a pre-emptive strike would be aggression and "aggression is for dictators." His view on the pre-emptive issue has caused him to appear weak on national security. He said: "Iran is the same principle as Iraq. We were wrong to go in there and we lost 8,500 US lives."

He confirmed his isolationist philosophy by saying that the British should be the ones to "take care of Israel," not America. "Why is it assumed that we are the policemen of the world, that it's our moral obligation? Besides, we're broke!"

Paul's non-interventionist policies are certainly seen as radical and, in many ways, deeply un-Republican. Fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich said that Paul's views "are totally out of the mainstream," although this is a little rich coming from the man who is planning a moon colony.

Morgan bizarrely asked the Congressman whether he was "a spanker" with his children. Comparing his parenting and foreign policy views, Paul told him: "I reject the use of force and intimidation with children, as I do with politics."

The interview made for uncomfortable viewing as Morgan rarely let Paul finish a sentence. While his rigidity and firmness in his policy ideas has been praised, Paul did demonstrate a willingness and ability to modify his opinions and bend where necessary. However, the self-proclaimed "conservative liberal" is perhaps the man you want as your grandfather, not your president.

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.