Long before the tea party movement grabbed half a dozen Senate seats, before its early proponents ever even dreamed of wearing Colonial-era garb in public, there was longtime Texas Republican Ron Paul, the one guy in Congress trying to abolish the Federal Reserve and shrink the government into near nonexistence. Paul won a devoted-bordering-on-cultish following during his 2008 presidential run, one which, obviously, didn’t work out. But now Paul is telling the Times that “it’s at least 50-50” that he’ll try again in 2012, and this time, with the movement built largely on his libertarian philosophy now a real force in American politics and expected to be decisive in the Republican primaries.
Paul didn’t win a single state in the 2008 primaries, but he did achieve impressive showings in certain contests. In the important early battlegrounds of Iowa and Nevada, for example, Paul secured 10 and 14 percent of the vote respectively. That’s not a huge amount, but it’s impossible to tell how many more votes Paul can capture with tea partiers active and engaged this time around. It’s not that anybody thinks Paul could actually win the nomination, but tea partiers generally aren’t overly concerned with electability (see Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle). They care about purity, and nobody is more dogmatically aligned with core tea-party beliefs than Paul.
Which is why a Paul candidacy would be pretty bad news for other candidates who hope to thrive off of a tea-party base — specifically, Sarah Palin. Even siphoning a few extra points away from would-be Palin supporters could mean the margin of difference in some states. And that would be a blessing for Mitt Romney, who seems to be the leading candidate for the business-minded, more moderate wing of the party, the one that wants to actually beat President Obama — and may have a better chance of doing so if Paul runs.