In 2007, I was just a conservative commentator who was lucky enough to have a weekly column in the Charleston City Paper and regular segments on 1250 AM WTMA’s The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd. I believed in the GOP of National Review contributors like Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, politicians like Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater, and political commentator Pat Buchanan, who I’d supported for president in both 1996 and 2000.

My brand of conservatism was the small “r” kind that defended the Constitution and stressed limited government, at home and abroad. It was anti-state, anti-authoritarian, and antiwar. To my fellow conservatives who defended torture, a power-hungry executive branch, the Patriot Act, and the Iraq War, my perspective certainly seemed peculiar. Truth be told, the age of Bush and Cheney was a dark one for traditionalist conservatives like myself. Our numbers were few and influence was nearly nonexistent. Then Ron Paul ran for president.

Rep. Ron Paul’s ideas about the Constitution, individual liberty, and limited government were rooted in America’s founding days and conservatism’s origins. When the Texas Congressman emerged on the national scene, his ideas seemed fresh and exciting to a new generation, and that generation flocked to his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Before Paul, I didn’t mind that my brand of conservatism seemed antiquated. I was more interested in the fact that it was true. Paul took the same ideas — views he’d espoused since he was first elected to Congress in 1976 — and popularized them amongst wandering conservatives, neglected libertarians, disaffected liberals, apathetic voters, and throngs of young people who’d never heard a politician speak like him.

A million people voted for Paul in the 2008 primaries and that number doubled to two million in 2012. The early Tea Party sounded the same anti-government siren Paul had been blaring for decades, only this time as a mass movement. Today’s changing attitudes about social issues were uniquely fitted for Dr. Paul’s decentralized, constitutional approach. People were fed up with partisanship disguised as principle. They were tired of war. They feared mounting debt. They sensed an increasing loss of liberty.

Thanks to Paul, my once seemingly peculiar and ghetto-ized right-wing point of view now has a national audience. People often ask me how I became a Ron Paul supporter. In a way, I felt like he arrived to support me. He came to rescue what I had long considered true conservatism from the wilderness. Politically, we had long been on the same page. Now, thanks to him, there was a page — and millions have joined us.

When the time came, I enthusiastically joined Team Paul. Today, I live in Washington, D.C. I’m a former member of Ron Paul’s campaign staff and a current staff member for his son, Sen. Rand Paul. My days and weeks are a flurry of writing, traveling, speaking, thinking, and promoting the same conservative ideas I held dear in 2007.

The difference today is that there is a large and growing audience of people wanting to hear these ideas. The difference today is that there are candidates running at local, state, and national levels who are winning their elections and who are determined to turn these ideas into policy. The difference today is that many conservatives are second-guessing their former big-government positions, which they only tolerated because they were promoted under a Republican brand. The difference today is that there is a large, organized, and enduring movement that promises to continue to transform our politics for years to come. The difference today is that I can actually make a difference, and I owe it all to Ron Paul.

There have been many things written about Paul’s influence. Those things will continue to be written. But as he retires from Congress, I’d like to thank him for changing my entire life, for the better. Where I reside, my friends, my career trajectory, my everyday thinking about political principles, job opportunities, even something as intimate as my love life has been revolutionized in some way by the remarkable achievement of Dr. Paul.

I have said on a few occasions that Ron Paul is the most important political figure of our time. This is something that history must judge. But he is unquestionably the most important political figure of my time. He changed the country. He continues to change history. And if our constitutional republic survives, it will be due in no small part to the heroic efforts of this humble man.

I’m proud to have served you. I’m even prouder to call you my friend.

Thank you, Ron Paul.

Jack Hunter was the official campaign blogger for Ron Paul and co-wrote Rand Paul’s The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

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