Watch What You Wish For, GOP

Ron Paul Could Wind Up As Man Behind Mitt's Curtain

Ron’s Role: Despite Mitt Romney’s dominance, or perhaps because of it, Ron Paul and his controversial views on Israel could play an outsized role in the Republican presidential race.
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Ron’s Role: Despite Mitt Romney’s dominance, or perhaps because of it, Ron Paul and his controversial views on Israel could play an outsized role in the Republican presidential race.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 12, 2012, issue of January 20, 2012.
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Now that the New Hampshire GOP primary results are in, pro-Israel Republicans might want to sit back, take a deep breath and do some long, hard thinking. As much as they’d like to see President Obama booted from the White House next fall, they’d be wise to be careful what they wish for. Especially if they were watching television on victory night.

The operating assumption on the pro-Israel right — and, to be fair, in a healthy chunk of the center — is that Obama is no friend of the Jewish state. If Israel’s vulnerability keeps you awake at night, it’s natural to want a president who knows how to back our friends and oppose our enemies. That’s certainly how the Republican field presents itself, with the obvious exception of Ron Paul. The narrowing of the field, therefore, has to be a welcome thing for opponents of Obama.

If you’re accustomed to voting for Democrats, it’s probably a relief to see Mitt Romney emerge as the clear front-runner, given his background as a pro-choice Massachusetts moderate. Conservative Republicans still suspect he has adopted their language for marketing purposes and remains at heart the liberal he was in the Massachusetts governor’s mansion. If so, that should help disaffected Democrats feel comfortable with him.

After New Hampshire, though, the picture is getting a bit murkier. True, Romney appears all but unbeatable. He’s won twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, a one-two punch that no non-incumbent Republican has ever achieved before. None of his rivals seems even remotely positioned to overtake him.

On the other hand, he remains a weak favorite, disliked by his party’s powerful evangelical and conservative wings. The fact that he couldn’t break the 40% mark in New Hampshire, right on his home turf, after four years of nonstop campaigning, suggests he’s going to remain the candidate of last resort right up to the convention. A lot of Republicans just don’t like him.

Which brings us back to Ron Paul. Romney’s weakness gives Paul an unexpected measure of clout. For all his eccentricity, he’s been the surprise of the campaign, electrifying crowds of adoring young enthusiasts and crusty independents who’ve never followed politics before. His impressive showings, a strong third-place in Iowa and second-place in New Hampshire, prove he has the strength to stay in the race racking up delegates until the end. He’ll come to the convention in Tampa next summer well positioned to make demands.

Romney will ultimately win the nomination. Republicans will decide they have no alternative. To win the general election, though, he’ll need some enthusiasm from the party base. He’ll need his defeated rivals to bring their followers around and unite behind him. Most acutely, he’ll need Paul not to mount a third-party run, as he did in 1988. An independent Ron Paul campaign would guarantee Obama’s reelection.

In other words, Romney will need to appease Paul with platform planks and perhaps promises of administration positions for his allies. A stronger Romney could simply ignore Paul’s surge. But Romney isn’t strong.


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