The either unexpected or totally predictable (in the "anyone but Romney"-o-rama we've seen in the past couple of months) rise of Ron Paul has many choking on their cornflakes or desperately trying to distract voters from what's in front of their own lying eyes.

A sampler from around the Web:

*Super poll analyst Nate Silver at 538 has Ron Paul with an over-50-percent chance of winning Iowa.

*Politico sums up the establishment take on this: If Ron Paul wins, the Iowa caucuses are absurd and meaningless.

Leading Republicans, looking to put the best possible frame on a Paul victory, are already testing out a message for what they’ll say if the 76-year-old Texas congressman is triumphant.

The short version: Ignore him.

“People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third,” said Gov. Terry Branstad. “If [Mitt] Romney comes in a strong second, it definitely helps him going into New Hampshire and the other states.”

The Paul rise comes at a moment when many Iowa GOP elites are already angst-ridden about their beloved quadrennial franchise. The fretting began four years ago when long-shot Mike Huckabee cruised to an easy caucus win, only to lose the nomination to John McCain, who finished fourth in Iowa after ignoring the state for much of 2007.

*National Review is having none of it, with Rich Lowry hat-tipping to the fact that, yes, Ron Paul is actually serious about all that small government stuff the Right is supposed to like:

 the Texas libertarian stands much closer to the emotional center of gravity of the party in his condemnations of government spending, crony capitalism, the Federal Reserve, and foreign intervention. He brings 100-proof moonshine to the GOP cocktail party. It can be invigorating and fun...

And yet, Paul is unacceptable because he actually recognizes and discusses the malignancy of American foreign policy and has some (powerless and unimportant) associations that believe weird things, so, well, that trumps actual considerations of reining in American government from the overspending, overtaxing, overextended brink it stands on, in Lowry's mind.

*Daniel Larison at American Conservative contextualizes and defends Paul from Lowry's characterization of Paul's characterization of an American war on Muslims.

*Dave Weigel at Slate predicts the storm that will strike Paul if he really becomes the anointed frontrunner, on both policy and unsavory past associations, and says that Romney will be delighted with a Paul rise, as his people are confident he's the Republican that Romney can definitely beat when it comes down to just the two of them.

*Tim Carney at the Examiner for more on the anticipated GOP assault on Paul if he starts winning.

*Jack Hunter (who works for the Paul campaign and co-wrote Rand Paul's book) tries to explain to Republicans at Daily Caller why his foreign policy should be something a good conservative likes the most:

As the Founders understood well, it is hard-to-impossible to preserve limited government at home while maintaining big government abroad. History and experience tell us that one always begets the other. This certainly rings true as we spend trillions of dollars on domestic programs that we match with trillions more overseas. The Founders’ talk of “entangling alliances” requiring “standing armies” was recognition of the inherent dangers of war — and especially permanent war. “Mr. Republican” Sen. Robert Taft would echo similar sentiments a century and a half later in his battles against New Deal liberals. President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the “military-industrial complex” reflected the same concerns within a 20th-century, post-WWII context.

Almost alone, Ron Paul today carries on this important Republican tradition. Like every other conservative, Paul believes that America must have a strong national defense — he simply believes we can no longer afford our current irrational offense.

Unfortunately, unlimited Pentagon spending remains the big government too many Republicans still love...

*Iowa Christian right radio man Steve Deace slams Paul for not signing a "Personhood USA" pledge defining life as beginning at conception, and for having supporters who run abortion clinics.

*The Village Voice assembles many right-wing voices raised against the rise of Ron.

*Rachel Maddow, starting around 4:00, collects a sampling of Fox News denying Ron Paul's importance.

*Nationally syndicated right-wing radio host Jerry Doyle, with 3.75 million weekly listeners, endorses Ron Paul.

*Jewish web mag Tablet thinks Paul power in the GOP is bad for the Jews:

we need to start talking about what Jewish Republicans will do if he is the nominee. Which means we need to start talking about the potential for a third-party run, perhaps involving someone Jewish Republicans would find more palatable. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

*Bumper Hornberger defends Ron Paul from Jonah Goldberg's assertion in the LA Times that his lack of proven ability to effect change in Congress means he's a bad leader. Hornberger writes:

Here’s what Goldberg’s argument boils down to: Congress is filled with statists, both conservatives and liberals. They all love big government. They all love the warfare-welfare state. They are incorrigible. They love America’s vast military empire, the invasions and occupations and endless war, torture, infringements on civil liberties, military detention, socialism, interventionism, the drug war, and so forth.

Therefore, Goldberg’s argument apparently goes, the only thing American voters can do is elect a statist to the presidency—that is, a person who can work with Congress—which, it seems to me, guarantees even more statism!...

What Goldberg fails to recognize is that most members of Congress are not ideologues. They are instead chameleons. If the color of their environment changes, their positions change. Their primary objective is to get reelected, and if that means flip-flopping, then they’re going to be doing lots and lots of flip-flopping as public opinion shifts.

Indeed, an America in which Ron Paul can be, even for a while, the GOP frontrunner in even one state is a very different America than Goldberg, Congress, or I thought we were living in, and the Republican Party at least will have to change in reaction to it--if not in 2012 then down the line. You better get more libertarian or you'll sink like a stone, etc. 

CNN talks to Paul about his rise. Paul isn't declaring himself the winner, but admits his "freedom philosophy is very attractive."