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Ron Paul Helped Inspire the Tea Party Movement, and Now It Could Take Him Down

Facing three GOP opponents affiliated with the Tea Party movement in the primaries, Paul is concerned that building anti-Washington sentiment could take him out as well.

Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas' Gulf Coast, faces three Republican challengers this year -- more than in his six past primaries combined. All three opponents are affiliated with the Tea Party movement. What makes this so fascinating is the fact that the Tea Partiers got their unofficial start through Paul himself.

Sarah Palin may be the face of the Tea Party movement today, but it started with Ron Paul in 2007. That December, on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, Paul's presidential campaign supporters participated in a " money bomb," a one-day online fundraising blitz that raked in $6 million from 40,000 people nationwide, and drew upon the 1773 protest's anti-tax sentiments.

Officially a Republican, Ron Paul was denied a speaking slot at the GOP convention in St. Paul, so he held his own well-attended event across town. While Paul only tallied 41,905 votes on Election Day, his fundraising prowess and widespread appeal among disaffected fiscal conservatives who have grown uncomfortable with the Republican Party's easy reliance on corporate money and gay-bashing base, made political observers across the spectrum take note of the scrappy outsider.

In 2009, right-wingers saw the glimmers of a populist movement in the anger directed at President Obama's stimulus spending and identified it as a chance to unify a strong opposition movement that could bite into Democrats' majorities in both houses of Congress by 2010. One group was inspired by Paul's Boston Tea Party metaphor and started organizing Tea Party protests throughout the country, opposing -- as Paul does -- big government and a "runaway" federal budget.

Yet today's Tea Party movement bears only a handful of similarities to the so-called Ron Paul Revolution. Both are anti-tax and anti-spending and they have issues with the Federal Reserve. But Ron Paul libertarians, on the whole, are also focused on ending the post-9/11 wars, are proponents of government accountability and transparency, and often are closer to progressives on civil liberties -- especially regarding the war on drugs -- than they are to the average right-winger.

Just this week, Paul was a guest on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, where he spoke about the Tea Party crowd. While both he and they are bolstered by anger at our current modes of government, Paul said the Tea Partiers only sometimes represent his own views, and suggested that their "message gets a little bit diluted when a lot of people come in." In particular, Paul said, the Republican Party has tried to insert a "neocon type of influence" into the movement.

In fact, many Tea Party adherents -- like neoconversatives -- are pro-war and pro-Homeland Security, whereas Paul has built a reputation on opposing the second Bush administration on everything from the PATRIOT Act to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given the few similarities and far greater differences, where does Ron Paul fit in within the growing Tea Party landscape he inadvertently paved the way for?

Interestingly, his son Rand Paul, who is running for a Senate seat in Kentucky, has received the backing of both Sarah Palin and the official Tea Party leadership, a fact the campaign has extensively touted. Rand Paul is running to "fight for liberty and limited government and put an end to the current climate of insider politics, runaway deficits and out-of-control growth of government" -- a message that sounds exactly like his father's has for years.

Rand Paul is currently a favorite in Kentucky, holding a double-digit lead in the Republican primary and polling ahead of either Democratic opponent. Like his father, he's showcased fundraising prowess -- his campaign has $1.8 million in the bank.