This November may not turn out to be as dull and depressing as it once appeared. Ralph Nader’s charmingly quixotic bid for the White House, based on getting the United States out of NAFTA, GATT, and Bosnia, will doubtless add some substance to the presidential contest, but the most exciting race this November will occur outside the presidential arena. In a recent political upset, former Congressman Ron Paul soundly defeated the influential and well-connected incumbent Greg Laughlin in the Republican congressional primary in Texas’s 14th district.

William S. White, an early biographer of Senator Robert Taft, devoted a chapter to what he called “the two OOP’s,” and the race between Paul and Laughlin placed this persistent division in stark relief. Paul, a medical doctor and a member of Congress from 1976 through 1984, is a man of the Old Right. A free trader, Paul opposes NAFTA and GATT as left-wing schemes that have more to do with entrenching supranational bureaucracy and undermining national sovereignty than with international trade. His position on foreign policy is one of strict nonintervention abroad. In domestic affairs, Paul is so opposed to wealth redistribution that he has consistently refused to vote for pork even for his own district. His record in Congress, in fact, earned him the highest National Taxpayers Union rating ever.

Laughlin’s voting record also speaks for itself. Over the past few years, he has voted against the family tax credit and for the Clinton tax increases, the Brady bill, racial quotas, and Goals 2000. An organization called the Campaign for U.N. Reform even named him a “global statesman,” an honor he presumably earned by voting to place American soldiers under foreign command, and through his faith in the internationalist trinity of NAFTA, GATT, and the Mexican bailout.

For traditionalists who cling to the belief that the GOP has their interests at heart, the Republican leadership’s unanimous endorsement of Laughlin must have been particularly sobering. The guilty parties can scarcely claim ignorance of Laughlin’s liberal past; shortly before the 1994 elections. Newt Gingrich observed that Laughlin, then a Democrat, “has a 78 percent voting record with Bill Clinton; that tells you where he stands.”

In June 1995, Laughlin changed his party affiliation but insisted that “I’m not changing my personality. I’m not changing my philosophy, not the way I vote nor the way I represent this district.” Yet in a contest pitting Laughlin against Paul, Gingrich and Texas Senator Phil Gramm endorsed Laughlin without hesitation. A disillusioned Paul called the endorsements “typical of our current political system to back down from principles.”

To the chastened and cynical conservative, however, the COP establishment’s decision was predictable, to say the least. When presented with a choice between a “global statesman” on the one hand, and a true man of the right with a proven record of opposing the welfare-warfare state, Republican heavies will take the Clintonite in a heartbeat. As the primary season demonstrated, these men hate and fear nothing more than the genuine article.

With his impressive record in the House and his name recognition among conservatives in Congress, Paul could easily become the de facto leader of the congressional right with a victory in November. While Clinton and Dole engage in the most soporific presidential contest in recent memory—no mean feat, that—the real political story will take place in the Lone Star State, in Ron Paul’s race against Democratic nominee Charles “Lefty” Morris. If Speaker Gingrich hates the rebellious Republican freshmen now, wait until they find a leader.