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HOUSTON – Following the inspiring meeting of conservative Christian activists last weekend, my biggest question about the 2012 election is whether Republicans are ready to meet what I call “the Ron Paul challenge.”

By “the Ron Paul challenge,” I’m not talking about the threat of Paul actually winning the nomination. I’m referring instead to the impressive movement he has built among Republicans, independents and tea-party activists, not to mention disaffected Democrats.

There’s no getting around it, Ron Paul has a real and growing constituency – one vital to the future of the Republican Party, not only in 2012, but beyond.

Republicans need to recognize some sad facts about this movement:

  • It is not a passing fad;
  • It is not a cult of personality;
  • It is built on growing dissatisfaction with traditional Republican politics;
  • It is the result of the abject failure of Republicans to do what they claim they want to do – cut government spending , reduce debt and return Washington to the constitutional limits on power and authority;
  • It has legitimate grievances that include the bipartisan projection of military power around the world without clear objectives for victory;
  • Failure to understand this movement and win back the Ron Paul constituents in future elections will render the party impotent in the future.

What can Republicans do short of nominating Ron Paul in 2012?

Easy.

Embrace the best of his ideas and discard the worst of them.

After all, there’s a lot to like about Ron Paul’s platform. On economic issues, he is terrific. For instance, how can conservatives argue with his prescription for balancing the budget – cutting $1 trillion from the budget in 2013. I think this is the best single idea I’ve heard from any candidate this year. It’s the only way to get government under control. As I’ve been saying, all you have to do in Washington is stop spending borrowed money. The rest takes care of itself. The downsizing is automatic. Entire bureaucracies will fall. We would be on our way back to constitutionally limited government. And until we get there, all the rest is just talk.

The first order of business for conservatives is rolling back the size and scale of government. Is there any doubt Ron Paul’s prescription is best?

Embrace it.

It’s the right thing to do.

If Rick Santorum did this starting right now, and meant it, he would not only win over some Ron Paul support, he’d position himself well against Barack Obama should he win the nomination. He needs to stop beating up Ron Paul for wanting to freeze the debt limit and realize it is exactly what 85 percent of Republicans want to do. There is no other way to bring Washington spending under control. Republicans have to stop passing the buck to future congresses. The time for bold action is now.

Santorum should continue to distinguish himself from Paul’s nonsensical, ostrich-like positions on same-sex marriage. But he should recognize Paul is right about the Federal Reserve and take it on like Paul does. Again, this is not just a libertarian position, it’s a conservative position.

Then there’s the national security and foreign policy stuff: This is where it gets tough for most conservatives. Ron Paul seems clueless on these issues. He seems to think radical Islamists will just leave us alone if we leave them alone. That hasn’t been true for 230 years of American history. And it hasn’t been true for Western civilization for the last 1,300 years.

Santorum has a clear-headed view on this subject, but the response most Americans and most Republicans want to hear is not the beating of war drums. America’s wars are not achieving their objectives – if we even have objectives. America’s wars are not being waged sensibly. We are not fighting to win. In fact, we’re not even defining what victory is.

America needs to secure its borders and be ready to defend itself before engaging in any more foreign adventures that have little to do with national security.

I say this as someone whose credentials as an anti-Shariah fighter are second to none.

I say it as someone whose support for Israel is second to none.

And I say it as someone who believes the biggest traditional national security threat facing the U.S. is posed by the march of Islamism around the world.

However, there is a bigger non-traditional national security threat facing the U.S.: We’re going broke! Our system of government is broken! Government is going wild and far exceeding its authority!

This is the appeal of Ron Paul. Do you want to know where his support is coming from? It’s coming from the tea-party movement – a movement absolutely integral to any hope of beating Barack Obama in 2012 and returning Washington to the constraints of the Constitution.

Isn’t it about time for the conservative movement to stop demonizing and attacking Ron Paul as irrelevant and misguided when many of his ideas are sound and sensible?

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