Last night, as the Super Tuesday numbers rolled in and journalists scribbled furiously on their keyboards, little energy was wasted on the prospects of America’s favorite gold-loving goober, Ron Paul. He won 47 delegates in all, just a tad shy of the 1,144 needed to seal up the nomination. He made his end-of-the-night speech against the backdrop of a white curtain, with no smiling supporters or even a stage to aid the visual. His best finish was in North Dakota, where he came in second with 28 percent of the vote; he also secured third place finishes in Idaho and Alaska, with 18 and 24 percent of the vote, respectively.
With the Mitt Romney/Rick Santorum showdown being framed as a gladiator duel for the nomination—a somewhat farcical setup for two guys who seem pretty into pleated khakis—Paul has been left on the fringes. But his outlook post-Super Tuesday is perhaps more intriguing than either of the guys leading the race. The one thing that is clear to everyone, Paul included, is that he is never going to be the president of the United States. But that doesn’t mean that the train is going off the tracks.
The Paul campaign has invested significant time and resources into, for lack of a better term, hustling caucuses in order to up its delegate count. Using rigorous knowledge of the minutiae of state party rules, Paul supporters might be able to game the system in certain states and set their candidate up with a chunk of delegates come convention time in Tampa. In Georgia, for instance, Paul supporters have attended county precinct meetings en masse to ensure that pro-Paul delegates are sent to the state-wide convention in April that will officially nominate national delegates. While Paul isn’t threatening an independent bid—that would damage his son Rand’s political future too much—he is looking to bend the ear of the party.
Paul has enough support behind him that those ideas once laughed off as fringe—like reverting to the gold standard—are now gaining traction, and according to a recent poll, Paul does better among independent voters than any of the other candidates.
Why? He’s also got youth on his side. Okay, not his own, but he’s doing quite a job of capturing the energy of young people, particularly those on college campuses. The reason why independents favor Paul and why his supporters are so passionate is that the man believes what he says with every ounce of his being. It’s both admirable and frightening to watch when you’re on the other end of the belief spectrum, but you’ve got to give him credit for consistency, which has also allowed Paul to call out candidates on inaccuracies and flip-flops over the course of the campaign. In the most recent Republican debate, he donned his OB/GYN hat to clarify that Plan B is not an abortifacient, but rather an amped-up dosage of birth control. He’s also been hard line about his non-interventionist stance on foreign policy, which isn’t easy in a Republican field that treats the notion of bombing Iran as the hottest idea to hit since we decided to add Lycra to blue jeans.
It’s this passionate support that will serve him well in the days, weeks, and months after Super Tuesday. While Ron Paul is often compared to a kooky uncle, it might be more apt to call him the Justin Timberlake of the GOP—he’s bringing sexy back. Sexy being grassroots support for ill-advised ideas in this scenario.