Maggie, not only do I think Ron Paul deserves to be taken seriously right now, I think he’s right when he says that he is the long-fabled “anti-Romney.” You don’t come in around 20 percent — in a crowded field, with electorates as divergent as Iowa and New Hampshire — on a goof. I get that Paul is pulling in a lot of independents and some Democrats, but you know what, any Republican nominee will need to do the same to win in a general.
Look, I don’t think Paul has a serious chance to win the nomination, but to my surprise he has run a quite serious campaign. Watching his speech last night confirmed this. Paul knows he is a million-to-one shot to win, but he also knows that if it comes down to just him and Romney, with the vote floor he’s established early, that he could run as high or higher in a lot of states, and come to the convention with a non-trivial number of delegates and an agenda. His holding his fire on, and even defending, Romney from Perry/Gingrich attacks confirms the strategic sophistication of his campaign. Paul’s defense of free enterprise is certainly a principled one. But it also supports his interest in seeing the field winnowed down. It might also reflect a desire not to do damage to the presumptive party nominee — whom Paul has suggested he prefers to Obama — if he can build a strong position without doing so. Either way, Paul has shown a level of rationality and maturity that contradicts the caricatures.
By contrast, Newt Gingrich, the would-be anti-Romney who flew higher and fell farther than all the others, is looking ever more like an embittered fringe candidate running on pure spite, caring but little about the damage he may be doing to the party or the chances of defeating Barack Obama.
So which is the serious Anti-Romney, and which is the nut?