I have long said, and continue to believe that Ron Paul has little-to-no chance to win the GOP nomination. In 2008, I viewed his chances as far closer to "no chance" than to "little chance." For the 2012 election, his chances are closer to "little" than they were 4 years ago. That said, he remains a long-shot, with less of a chance of winning than most of the others on the stage.
The reasons why Paul has little chance are clear and can largely be attributed to the fact that he stands for and votes for what he believes, and that what he believes is not the same in terms of military and foreign policy as what most GOP primary voters believe.
There are, however, several factors in Paul's favor this year that were not 4 years ago. As a result, Paul does actually have a small chance to win, and his potential path to victory deserves some analysis. First, here are the things working in Paul's favor:
1. Paul's was right. 4 years ago when running for office, Paul was the singular candidate who stood opposed, not only to the TARP (which many opposed), but also to the interventions of the Federal Reserve. Paul stood opposed to more-or-less the entire set of government programs which were sold to Americans as a solution to the financial crisis. Republican and Democratic leaders all supported many of these actions and believed that the various stimulious plans would result in an end to the crisis and a better economy today. While some politicians objected to parts of the plan, only Ron Paul objected to any government actions being taken to stimulate the economy by increasing the debt. The state of the economy today stands as proof that Paul was right. Furthermore, the fact that nearly the entire GOP now agrees with Paul proves that he has won public opinion to his views also. New legislation was passed for the federal reserve to be audited, and Paul's views have been adopted as mainstream.
The same is true about Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people opposed Paul's possition on these issues in 2006, and today troops are leaving. The country now agrees with him. GOP primary voters are not automatically opposed to Paul based on his foreign policy as they were 4 years ago.
2. Paul polls better. In 2008, Paul did not poll very well for a general election. Now, we polls well against Obama.
3. Paul has been talking a long time. In 2008 his views were now and appeared radical. 4 years of listening to him, and listening to many in the GOP move to his views has resulted in Paul appearing more mainstream.
4. Voters have changed. They want someone new, outside of Washington, and even somewhat radical. Bachman's early surge, and Cain's current surge shows a willingness of GOP primary voters to back a less credible candidate than in prior years.
5. Paul almost won the AMES straw poll. This signals several things. First, that Paul can be expected to get more supports than folks who poll for him. His supporters have a strong intensity, and will turn out in greater numbers. Second, Paul has increased Iowa organization and support. Third, the primary field is more crowded than in 2008.
Although a long-shot, here is how Paul could win the nomination:
1. Paul needs to win Iowa. If he loses Iowa, he will continue to get 10 - 15% support in the remaining states and lose. A win in Iowa is a game-changer for Paul. Iowa is also the best state for Paul to compete in because it will be the only state where every other candidate will compete in. Santorum, Bachman, Cain, and Gingrich all need to win Iowa to stay in the game, and it is to every advantage for Huntsman to compete. In the case of Perry, as his poll numbers are dropping it is looking more and more like he needs to win or place well in Iowa. In Romney's case, as his poll numbers remain strong, it makes sense for him to play for Iowa with the hopes of winning than and winning the nomination. This means Paul will be playing in a crowed field--something to his advantage. The winner in Iowa will likely only need about 25% of the vote to win. For Paul, he starts with a base of 10%. With strong organization and interest, that base will turn out in high numbers relative to his actual support, meaning he starts with 15% support in actual likely primary voters. He thus needs to only close a gap of 10%; or convincing 1 in 10 new voters to support him.
How Paul gets that 10% remains a challenge. At best he can squeek out a few percent with better organization. He has the money and energy for that, but that will not fully close the gap on its own. He needs to target voters who are winnable, which is somewhat difficult. Pure social conservatives are not going to be with him. Nor could he ever win the pro-big-military voter group. This leaves him fighting to win the tea-partiers. That is the group he could target. The tea partiers who are not already in support of Paul are the same people who first supported Bachman, and now support Cain. It is about 20% of the likely primary voters, and he has to win 1/2 of their votes to win the nomination. It is that simple.
The typical tea partier is not interested in a big military, and is not focused only on social issues. Paul is socially conservative enough to win their vote. That said, Paul does need to explain what he thinks the role of the military is, and show some support to a military to defend the country.
Paul also needs to come out with a clear economic plan and tax plan. One that gradually implements his ideas and is mainstream enough to win over people who are conserned that Paul is too far to the right. Paul needs to explain what parts of government he would cut and how. Does he plan to simply eliminate the department of education on day 1? Or does he have a transition plan. Does Paul plan to just abolish the income tax on day 1? or does he have a plan to gradually reduce it.
If Paul is to win, he needs to have a pragmatic real-world plan that recognizes the world we live in. He needs to show that his head is not in the clouds and that he has a real-world plan that would gradually and incrementally make the changes he proposes. If not, he will be limited to his 15% of the vote, and will not be able to win over enough tea partiers to win Iowa.
2. Paul needs to follow a win in Iowa with a win in NH. That is a long-shot since he will be fighting against Romney and Hunstman. The good news is that if Paul wins Iowa, he will get a huge boost and have a shot at NH. The downside is that, even with a win in Iowa, Paul faces still a much harder chance in NH. NH requires Paul to get 35% or more of the vote to have a chance (in the best case senario). Likely he will need 40% or more to win. This would require full tea party support for Paul and great organization.
3. Even if Paul win Iowa and NH, he is still in trouble. Romney has the money and organization to stay in such a race. Perry may or may not. If Perry drops out and it is Romney v Paul, Paul would need over 50% of the vote in each state to win. Paul can ONLY do this if he can win the support of social conservatives as well as tea partiers. Paul has no chance at the pro-military neocons. Paul would need to be able to make the case that Romney is not trust worthy; that Romney is a flip-flopper and essentially another Obama. That is not going to be an easy task; however, Paul cannot win with his supporters alone; he would need to go on the attack to beat Romney. We would need to make Romney appear to be a sleeper liberal. Only then would Paul face a chance to get over 50% of the vote. If Perry stays in this helps Paul in that the threashold of votes Paul needs is fewer. Plus, Perry wins in FL and SC could take some states away from Romney.
4. Paul, however, faces a hard path and is an unlikely candidate to win votes from other candidates at convention. While it may help him in some ways if Perry stays in, a 3-way race is a hard one for him. His best shot is to go into convention with a delegate lead over Romney and then cut a deal with Romney to be his VP in exchange for his voters. This would still require Paul to somehow get 40% of the delegates or more and it is much easier to see Romney and Perry making a deal than Romney with Paul. This is almost impossible for Paul since Perry is also from Texas. The president and VP cannot be from the same state. So the only person either Perry or Paul could deal with would be Romney. Perry is sitting governor of TX, and it is hard to see him showing any interest of anything short of VP. So there is no deal Paul could make with Perry to result in Perry supporting Paul. He cannot offer him VP since they are in the same state. Paul could offer Romney VP, which would be the same offer that I'm sure Romney would make him. Romney could choose to be a king maker between Perry and Paul, or could insist on being president and offer VP to both of them saying that they first to accept gets it. The are many possibilities; however, in terms of a 3-way negotiation when 2 parties (Perry and Paul) cannot serve together on a ticket, means the Romney comes in with the strongest hand. So, Paul's unlikely, but still best chance at winning the GOP nomination is to come in with 40% plus of the vote and to make a deal with Romney as his VP. Romney's people vote Paul, and there you have it.
As can be seen, such a situation is unlikely at each step. It is unlikely Paul will win Iowa. Unlikely he will win NH. Even after those unlikely wins, it remains even all-the-more unlikely that he will win the most delegates in future states. His best chance to win is for multiple other people to run, but even then, it is unlikely he would fair well if he goes to convention needing to make a deal. When analysed, his path is extremely difficult and chance of winning the nomination remains slim to none. Unlike other candidates, Paul could win Iowa and NH and still be the underdog.