Texas Congressman Ron Paul maintained his trademark consistency at Monday night's Republican debate in Florida, but he was largely overshadowed by the barbs traded between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams asked Paul his first question about 15 minutes into the televised matchup, which also featured former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"I don’t sit around daydreaming about [being in the White House]," Paul responded when asked about his true ambitions and path moving forward. "[Getting the] delegates is what counts."
Paul said he is still not "an absolutist" when it comes to declaring whether he'll run as a third-party candidate, but he noted that he went back to Congress in the late 1990s after a long hiatus to concentrate on his medical practice in Lake Jackson.
At one point Monday, Paul joined Romney in criticizing Gingrich, who resigned as House speaker in 1998 amid a slew of political losses in Congress and questions about his ethics.
"He didn’t have the votes [to win] ... so this idea that he voluntarily reneged? That’s just not the way it was," Paul said.
Surprisingly, Gingrich did not respond to the attacks. In an effort to appear more statesmanlike before an audience that's been told he's erratic and unpredictable, Gingrich nodded while Paul spoke at several points — and agreed with the Texas congressman's criticism of the Federal Reserve and support for reinstating the gold standard.
"[Gingrich] talks about the Fed and gold. If I can change his mind on foreign policy, we might be able to talk business!" Paul said in jest.
And though Paul's foreign policy has often been labeled "isolationist," he told the audience at the University of South Florida that he would take a diplomatic approach while cutting overseas defense spending.
"It’s time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to China and the Russians … now we trade with them," Paul said.
He drew some instant criticism on the issue of Iran's threat to close off access to the Strait of Hormuz, an important waterway for oil transport in the Middle East. Paul said the U.S. provoked the threat by blockading the area, a charge some say isn't true.
"There’s no interest for Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz. They need it as much as we do," Paul said. "We don’t have any money. We have too many wars ... the most foolish thing in the world is to take on Iran.”
Asked about the conservative platform, Paul was frank. "Our rhetoric is good, but when we’re in charge we expand government. Government's job is to protect liberty, not to run a welfare state."
Paul has said he plans to appear in the next GOP debate Thursday in Florida. The event will be televised on CNN. The candidate has indicated he's not campaigning aggressively in the Sunshine State, where the winner of the Jan. 31 primary takes all delegates. Instead, he is running television ads in smaller caucus states.
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