Of course, it’s true: Ron Paul is very unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination. With that obvious admission out of the way, here’s why it’s plausible that he could at least over-perform this time around, relative both to the 2008 race (in which he placed fourth) and to some of the other candidates who’re receiving vastly more attention.
The most important reason has to do with changing attitudes toward foreign policy in the Republican electorate. When Ron Paul ran the first time around, his non-interventionism was taken (rightly) as a stinging rebuke to George W. Bush, and this did not play well with most primary voters — many of whom still had an emotional, horse-race oriented attachment to the incumbent administration. But those days have long passed, and I don’t know if you’ve also noticed this, but there aren’t many Republicans who’re publicly pining for the era of hasty preemptive wars, exploding defense budgets, and a Dick Cheney/Bill Kristol-led direction for the party.
Interventionism can now be framed as a policy fully adopted by the Obama administration, and thus Paul’s position won’t necessarily be interpreted as some kind of affront to deeply-held Republican orthodoxies. It’s become an anti-Democrat view. If his fellow presidential aspirants are put in the position of defending American involvement in Afghanistan or Libya, Paul could become the candidate most willing to take on the administration. This will likely prove felicitous in a Republican primary.
Some other reasons: He’s become a nationally-known figure over the last four years, considered by many to be the Tea Party’s ancestral father. If Gallup is to be trusted, Paul’s polling in *third place* right now, ahead of Gingrich, Pawlenty, Huntsman, and Bachmann. His son has also managed to get himself through a Republican primary and general election in Kentucky, and is now a prominent voice in the senate.
Again, he’s a long shot for sure, but Paul’s presence in the race is still likely to have some effect on the outcome, at least enough to warrant a level of media coverage comparable to what the aforementioned people — who are currently trailing him in the polls — regularly receive.