If he has proved nothing else, Ron Paul—the last of the GOP's not-Romneys to drop out of the campaign—has proved Calvin Coolidge right when Coolidge said "nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." Every other challenger to Mitt Romney pulled an Icarus—soaring into the stratosphere only to crash and burn. Paul, meanwhile, just kept plugging along below the radar.
Two weeks ago he won 21 of Maine's 24 delegates to the Republican Convention. He did the same in Nevada, taking 22 of the state's 25 delegates. He may have a majority of Iowa's delegates as well.
Paul still has fewer delegates than either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich did when they dropped out of the nomination contest. The Republican Party's baroque rules also require many delegates to vote for Romney on the first ballot, which makes it unlikely there will be a second round in which Paul's devotees can switch their votes.
Nevertheless, former McCain aide Mike Dennehy recently said Romney is "being very careful because he knows how important the Ron Paul voters are….They are the most passionate and the most frustrated of any voters." And that's one thing Paul would bring to the Romney ticket which it lacks now: intensity.
How much intensity? Well, the Las Vegas Sun says Paul supporters spent the past four years infiltrating the GOP apparatus in Nevada; media reports routinely refer to Paul's "army of enthusiastic and determined backers"—many of whom proudly sport "Ron Paul Revolution" bumper stickers and T-shirts.
Contrast that with the general GOP attitude toward the front-runner, which humorist Andy Borowitz correctly sums up thusly: "POLL: Majority of Republicans Guess They Have to Support [Expletive] Romney." Picking Paul as his running mate would enable Romney to draft the Texas congressman's revolutionary army—or at least a good portion of it.
It also would give the ticket something else it has lacked up to this point: spine. Romney is notorious for changing his positions on the issues. Paul is widely admired for sticking to his (mostly) libertarian principles.
Those principles will offend some members of the conservative base—especially when it comes to foreign policy, where Paul sounds more like liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich than Dick Cheney. Going up against Obama/Biden, Paul would be the only candidate of the four to have opposed the Patriot Act. Nor will many right-wingers approve of Paul's position on the war on drugs ("a detriment to personal liberty"; "why is it we can't put into our body whatever we want?") prostitution (legalize it) or gay marriage (ditto). But they will like his tough stance on immigration, his longstanding opposition to abortion, and his reputation as "Dr. No" for voting against legislation not expressly authorized in the Constitution.
And if Paul is Kucinich on foreign policy, then he is Paul Ryan on federal spending. Make that Ryan on 'roids: In February, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget released a report showing that only one GOP presidential contender's policy proposals—Paul's—would actually reduce the deficit. Paul would cut taxes by $5.2 trillion over a 10-year span, but he would slash spending by $7.2 trillion—and eliminate five Cabinet-level departments (Energy, HUD, Commerce, Interior, and Education)—in the process.
From Romney's perspective, there are naturally some downsides. Paul comes from a reliably Republican state, so unlike Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida or Rob Portman of Ohio—or Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell—he adds nothing to the Electoral College count. Unlike Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, he doesn't diversify the ticket. And unlike New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, he lacks star power.
But that last characteristic is a feature rather than a bug—at least if you believe Mike Murphy, a GOP operative who used to advise Romney and who cites what he calls the "Hollywood agent" rule. He puts it this way: "If I'm Robert Redford's agent and the studio calls up and says, 'hey, we're going to do a Redford movie and we know he's old, but…there's a sidekick. And guess what? Good news. We're thinking of Brad Pitt.' If I'm Robert Redford's agent, I'm going to say, 'we're thinking of Ernest Borgnine'—because it's all about Redford, not the up-and-coming star next to him."
Of course, all of this could be looking at the question through the wrong end of the telescope. It's not hard to come up with a few reasons Romney might want to ask Paul to the prom. But what reasons would Paul have to say yes?
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.