Well, regardless of how things shake out tonight (and I don’t think anyone has a very good handle on that), all conservatives have something to be thankful for tonight. One way or another, this is the high-water mark of the insane Operation Chaos-style freakshow that is the Ron Paul campaign.
The Democrats and those too far out to identify with either party who make up the base of Ron Paul’s support may well embarrass the GOP tonight and the state of Iowa as a whole by catapulting a guy who coddles truthers, racists, and is a bona fide conspiracy theory nut in his own right into first place in the first contest for the GOP nomination. This far they might come, but no further. In this first contest, with seven campaigns still active on the trail, Paul might well win with 25% or so of the vote. But Mitt Romney has a commanding and growing lead in NH. And after NH, this will effectively be a 3 or at the most 4 candidate race; and the exceptionally high number of Republicans who find Ron Paul to be unacceptable under any circumstance will prevent him from seriously contending for first place in any other state.
I fully expect that Paul will continue to hang on long past Super Tuesday racking up meaningless delegates and refusing to concede long past the point where the election is effectively decided, just like he did in 2008. But thankfully, neither Republicans nor the media will need to pretend that any of the crazy things that he says matter anymore, at least unless and until he shows himself finally to be as faithless as I suspect and he runs as a third party candidate after using the GOP brand to gain himself media exposure and debate time for months. But at least as far as Ron Paul’s claim to being a successful Republican, tonight will be as high as he rises. And for that we should all be thankful.