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Ron Paul gets boos from South Carolina debate audience; can he reclaim momentum?

Ron Paul has endeared himself to many by refusing to back down from policy ideas that fall far from the GOP mainstream consensus. In Monday night’s debate, some of those views earned him boos from the audience. As AP reported:

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul says he will make deep cuts to the military budget even though many voters in South Carolina and elsewhere are employed by the military.

The Texas congressman was grilled Monday on his position on military spending during a nationally televised presidential debate. He has called for closing bases overseas and reducing spending on what he calls the military industrial complex.

Paul said he wants to protect military jobs domestically and insists there’s a difference between military spending and a strong national defense.

Paul said conservatives should insist on cutting spending on military projects, not just domestic spending. He said overseas military spending should be cut before trimming federal jobless benefits for the long-term unemployment.

Ron Paul’s foreign policy views, which diverge from the rest of his rivals and most of the GOP base, hurt him repeatedly in the debate. As Chris Cillizza explained in his winners and losers analysis:

Ron Paul: Ugh. We don’t often feel bad for politicians — after all, they are putting themselves out there and inviting public scrutiny — but we felt some pangs for the Texas Republican Congressman tonight.

His answers on foreign policy were repeatedly booed and Perry even suggested that a gong should have been used to cut Paul off. While Paul-ites undoubtedly cheered their hero’s willingness to stand up for what he believes in when it comes to U.S. involvement in foreign countries, it’s just not a majority position — or anywhere close to it — in the Republican electorate of South Carolina.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If Paul would deflect all foreign policy questions and turn every answer into something about his economic views, he could be a real contender for the nomination. He won’t do that, so he isn’t.

Audience: The Fix is pro-audience involvement — to a point. Tonight’s debate went beyond that point. Not only were moderators booed for asking questions — just doing their jobs, folks — but it became clear after about 15 minutes that Gingrich, Perry and, to a lesser extent, Santorum were all vamping for crowd reaction in each of their answers.

The result? Lots of conservative red meat thrown on the debate stage but not a lot of serious and detailed discussion that went beyond the candidates’ talking points.

(Sidebar: The level of audience involvement hurt Romney. Unlike his rivals who have nothing to lose by throwing out every rhetorical excess known to man, he has to be far more measured — knowing the Obama opposition research team is always watching.)

Paul and his campaign have hammered again and again the message of small government and reduced spending. Some see his position undermined by his use of first class travel for trips to his home state. As AP reported:

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has been spending large amounts on airfare as a congressman, flying first class on dozens of taxpayer-funded flights to his home state. The practice conflicts with the image that Paul portrays as the only presidential candidate serious about cutting federal spending.

Paul flew first class on at least 31 round-trip flights and 12 one-way flights since May 2009 when he was traveling between Washington and his district in Texas, according to a review by The Associated Press of his congressional office expenses. Four other round-trip tickets and two other one-way tickets purchased during the period were eligible for upgrades to first-class after they were bought, but those upgrades would not be documented in the expense records.

Paul, whose distrust of big government is the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, trusts the more expensive government rate for Continental Airlines when buying his tickets. Paul chose not to buy the cheaper economy tickets at a fraction of the price because they aren’t refundable or as flexible for scheduling, his congressional staff said.

“We always get him full refundable tickets since the congressional schedule sometimes changes quickly,” said Jeff Deist, Paul’s chief of staff. Paul might have to pay out of his own pocket for canceled flights in some cases if he didn’t buy refundable tickets, Deist said.


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