This was supposed to be the year of Ron Paul. Sure, no one outside his band of misfit supporters expected Paul to come anywhere close to winning the Republican nomination, but he was on a path to be the spoiler of the race. His baseline support had apparently ticked up since 2008—the rise of the Tea Party brought new love for his career-long opposition to the Federal Reserve—and the Texas congressman had used those intervening four years to develop the most ruthlessly efficient organization combined with an enviable budget of any of the candidates—except for maybe Mitt Romney.
His path was set: Paul could consistently finish somewhere around 20 percent in most state primaries, rarely enough to win but still respectable. That's a low enough total to push most candidates out of the race eventually, but Paul is committed to his ideological purity, not the Republican Party. He'd likely carry on past the outcries from the Grand Old Party's establishment. While that might not secure the nomination, Paul would be positioned to threaten a third-party run or extract concessions from Romney at the convention in Tampa this summer.
Voters haven't exactly lined up behind this scenario. Paul invested everything in Nevada's caucus this past weekend only to finish in third place behind Romney and Newt Gingrich. His 19 percent showing was only a slight improvement upon the 14 percent support he had in the state four years ago.
Paul's campaign bypassed Florida last month to concentrate on the upcoming caucus states where they hoped to exploit an enthusiasm gap to game low turnout elections. Nevada was particularly enticing; Paul had finished in second behind Romney in the state last time in a more crowded field. A Mad Max desert landscape paired with legalized gambling, medical marijuana and prostitution, Nevada is fertile ground for building a libertarian revolution. Paul's campaign was hopeful that the low turnout rates in the preceding elections would carry through to Nevada, boosting their candidate even further. Turnout was indeed significantly lower–around 34,000 a drop of 10,000 votes from 2008—but to no discernable benefit for Paul.
It now looks like Paul's second place finish in New Hampshire will be the only notable achievement for him this cycle. He couldn't even break double digits in Florida last week. Paul is in Minnesota campaigning today ahead of tomorrow's nonbinding caucus, but polls have him running at a distant fourth place, the same spot he is in for Colorado's Tuesday caucus according to Public Policy Polling. These are his last opportunities to take advantage of the smaller, local elections where organization can make a true difference before the campaign turns into a national affair with Super Tuesday at the start of next month.
Without any outright wins under his belt and reaching second just once, the GOP will continue ostracizing Paul as their loony fringe. An independent presidential run for Paul will likely become a media meme at some later date, but his failure in the Republican contest shows there won't be much appetite among voters. And with so few delegates selected from the Ron Paul revolution, Romney's camp can safely schedule Paul for some early morning speaking spot in Tampa, the proper place for the kooky uncle the Republican Party barely tolerates.