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- If Paul's campaign gathers no momentum, his impact on the
presidential race will be minor and salutary.
- If Paul's campaign gathers momentum, he will be swiftly and horrifyingly destroyed by brickbats hurled from every bunker in the 2008 field.
We can shorten this to one sentence: The success of Ron Paul's message is inversely proportional to the support his campaign receives.
It's a looming crisis and I'm not sure anyone--maybe not even the oppo-research arms of the big campaigns--is ready for it. But having endured the first round of exposes, it's worth debating what Paul has done for the profile of anti-war libertarians. The knock on the candidate from hecklers like Saul Anuzis, the chair Michigan Republican Party who briefly launched a petition against letting poor Paul play any more reindeer games, was that Paul "would have felt much more comfortable on the stage with the Democrats." One revelation from that statement: The people who run the modern GOP no longer consider isolationists part of their party. The other revelation: They have forgotten that the Libertarian Party exists. Libertarians didn't have a political standard-bearer that the media cared about, and now they do.
So far Paul's parlayed the new media attention into a decent level of prominence. When Paul first appeared on Bill Maher's Real Time series, the self-described libertarian host wasted five minutes quizzing him about the Civil War, happily pigeonholing him as a kook. After the Fox News debate, Maher called Paul "my new hero." Tonight, Paul will be on Maher's show aside P.J. O'Rourke and Ben Affleck, debating politics on the in-studio panel. His campaign can thrive with this level of attention. But if it starts showing up in the polls, and Paul becomes worth "exposing," you know what to expect.
David Weigel is an associate editor of reason.