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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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism