19. Ron Paul
for inspiring the thinking man's Tea Party.
Congressman | Washington
He may not have won a single primary, but nobody in the 2008 U.S. presidential race presaged Obama-era conservative politics quite as well as Ron Paul. With his stridently libertarian policy goals -- abolishing the Federal Reserve, withdrawing from the United Nations and NATO -- and his plain-spoken eccentricity, the obstetrician-turned-Texas-congressman often seemed more like a third-party candidate than a Republican. But in the past two years, Republican politics have lurched decidedly in Paul's direction. The amorphous but passionate Tea Party movement espouses a similar vision of a radically smaller federal state. If Sarah Palin's devoted followers are drawn by her personality, Paul's are drawn by his ideas: strict constitutionalism, doubts about U.S. interventionism abroad, and a conviction to reduce the size of government at any cost. Paul's chances in 2012 may be vanishingly small, but polls show half of Tea Partiers agreeing with his views. "We're bankrupting this country, and we … need a sea change," he told a cheering crowd of Tax Day protesters in April. With Tea Party fervor fueling Republican gains in Congress this year and helping bring Paul's son Rand to the Senate, the sea change might be finally hitting shore.
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