“Caution” was the watchword in the first hour of the second Republican party presidential primary debate, held on the campus of the University of South Carolina in mid-May. The first debate, held a few weeks earlier in California, had already proved that the format—sixty-second responses to questions from panelists, with very little give-and-take between the candidates—tended not to produce a debate per se but a series of recitations of rehashed campaign rhetoric, and the ten men on the stage were doing little to challenge that conclusion. They gave mostly rote answers that were only loosely related to the questions asked by the moderators, whose primary function seemed to be to get the candidates to stop talking when their sixty seconds were up. After a while, it was hard to even distinguish one man from another. The evening was headed toward an unremarkable conclusion when Wendell Goler, a White House correspondent for Fox News, which was broadcasting the debate live, directed a question about the Iraq war to Congressman Ron Paul, the dark-horse candidate from Lake Jackson, in Brazoria County.
Paul, who had gotten to speak only twice up to that point, was standing on the far side of the auditorium stage, almost in the wings, a position entirely in keeping with his relationship to the mainstream of Republican party politics. Six of the past seven presidential elections have featured a Texan on the Republican ticket (a Bush, to be specific), but with all its hopes pinned on Paul, a 71-year-old backbencher in his tenth term in Congress, the state is not likely to go seven for eight. Since entering the race in March, he has been running a quixotic campaign seemingly aimed less at the White House than at challenging his party’s status