With his strong showings in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary in early January, for a moment, it appeared that Ron Paul would be a major player in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now, almost three months later, Paul continues to retain the backing of his devoted supporters, but he simply did not emerge into the political force his proponents hoped and his foes feared. Even in the debates, which Paul made memorable back in 2008 with his clashes with the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee, the Texas congressman often seemed content to remain on the sidelines.
Paul pulled in the single digits or the low teens in many of the primaries held in March. Polls of future states offer his supporters little hope he will do better down the road -- though it is conceivable especially if Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum bows out of the race, essentially handing the nomination to Mitt Romney.
With Pauls campaign essentially stalled, his supporters are kicking over various paths the congressman from the Lone Star State can take to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Insisting that he has no interest in leaving the GOP, Paul has been downplaying speculation that he would continue his campaign as a third party candidate.
That has not stopped supporters from launching a website urging the maverick Texas congressman to go third party. A group called Grassroots for Libertyis petitioning Paul to go third party -- much like he did in 1988 when he was the Libertarian Partys nominee.
Please run on a third party ticket until Nov. 6, 2012, to be the next president of the United States of America and to ensure you'll have the biggest stage to spread the message of liberty around the world, the Paul supporters urge.
So far, the petition has had little success. With 311 signatures, Grassroots for Liberty has a long way to go until they get to its stated goal of 100,000 supporters, despite having garnered some media attention and the notice of prominent libertarians Lew Rockwell and Justin Raimondo.
While some supporters think Pauls only chance is to go third party, others think he can still emerge with the Republican nomination.
Earlier this week, Robert Wenzel, the editor and publisher of Economic Policy Journal, insisted that Paul could win the Republican nomination at a deadlocked convention in Tampa. Noting that a Gingrich supporter insisted that his candidate would be in a better position than Warren G. Harding had been when he went into the Republican convention back in 1920, Wenzel maintained that the same thing could be said of Paul.
Whatever his moral failings as a man with his weakness for women and cronies, Harding is not a bad model for Paul. Harding cut taxes and government, which helped launch the economic prosperity of the Roaring Twenties. The Harding administration also reversed some of Woodrow Wilsons segregation policies in the federal service and offered a humbler foreign policy than his predecessor. While there are some differences obviously -- Harding was nowhere near the constitutional scholar that Paul is and our 29th president was not the free-trader the current candidate is -- its natural for Paul supporters to take some inspiration from Harding.
But Paul backers should not be counting on following the Harding game plan to get to the White House.
The 1920 Republican National Convention in Chicago was deadlocked between a host of strong candidates -- General Leonard Wood, who was hated by party regulars; Gov. Frank Lowden of Illinois; Sen. Hiram Johnson of California, who had bolted the GOP to be Teddy Roosevelts running mate in the Bull Moose bid of 1912; progressive darling Herbert Hoover and others.
The GOP leadership in the Senate, which had just scored a major victory over Wilson in the battle over the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles, essentially turned to Harding as the least objectionable candidate in the field, especially over the rigid Wood, who had little political experience, and Lowden who had alienated the supporters of some of the other candidates. Essentially the GOP establishment of its day put Harding over the top.
Its almost impossible to see the Republican establishment turning to Paul, who has broken with them on many issues ranging from tax policy to foreign affairs, in the unlikely event that the convention in Tampa come August is deadlocked. If the Republicans feel they want or need an alternative to Mitt Romney, Pauls name would be at the bottom of the list.
There are many reasons that Paul will stay in the GOP fold. His son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Romney and, more likely, a future GOP presidential hopeful down the road. The Libertarians are set to nominate their candidate, most likely former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, in the first week of May, giving Paul little time to make the jump back to that party.
In the unlikely event that Paul goes third party, Americans Elect would seem to be a decent fit. More than 7,000 supporters are looking to draft Paul for the Americans Elect nomination -- almost three times as much as former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, the top candidate currently running for it, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, the top draft candidate besides Paul. But Paul has repeatedly said he has no intention of going third party.
Despite the early successes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul simply did not develop into a major contender for the Republican nomination despite his passionate supporters and a fairly unimpressive field. He has not won a state primary (though he did win in the U.S. Virgin Islands) and, going into the primaries this week, he has won 10 percent of the total votes cast -- less than half of what Gingrich has taken and far behind Romney and Santorum.
While he did better this time around than in 2008, Paul simply has not emerged as a major player this election cycle in what appears to be his last hurrah. The door to a Paul presidency appears shut, despite fantasies about a desperate GOP turning to him in a deadlocked convention and third party bids.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.