Texas Rep. Ron Paul knows he can't win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, but that was only part of his end game.
Sure, winning the nomination would have been a plus, but Ron Paul's strategy for years has been to bring his libertarian, anti-debt, anti-inflation views square into the mainstream of American politics.
In that light, the 2012 election is just a means to an end.
That's why Paul is determined to stay in the presidential primary race until the Republican national convention is held in August.
Rather than create a schism within the Republican Party or mount a third party challenge – a tactic that never works in American politics — Ron Paul wants to infuse his philosophy into the GOP by working within the existing system.
Toward that end, the Paul campaign has stepped up its delegate-collection efforts in recent weeks, taking advantage of often-arcane rules unique to each state's selection process.
Last weekend, Paul won 21 out of 24 delegates in Maine and 22 out of 25 in Nevada. A week earlier Paul won 20 out of the 24 delegates in Minnesota and 20 out of 40 in Missouri.
The sticking point is that convention delegates are bound by party rules to vote according to primary or caucus results on the first ballot. That means many of Paul's hard-won delegates will have to cast their first vote for former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.
But it also means a lot more supporters at the convention than Paul would have had otherwise. And those delegates will be free to vote as they wish on other issues, such as the official party platform.
"We want to have a strong, respectful presence that says 'We are here, we are going to participate, and we are ready to talk about the party platform with you if you take our issues seriously," Ron Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton recently told Business Insider. "We're going to send a message that the liberty wing of the Republican Party is strong, and that it isn't going anywhere."
The Romney campaign has begun to take notice, sending a top lawyer to the Maine GOP convention, though it did little to stop the Ron Paul juggernaut.
Romney, who still should easily surpass the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination, may be better served letting the national Republican Party try to rein Paul in while he tries to negotiate for the support of Paul's energized legions after the August convention.
In fact, some sort of deal between the two camps almost certainly is already in the works.
The Ron Paul-Mitt Romney Connection
There's plenty of evidence for a tacit, if not explicit, Romney-Paul alliance.
The men – and their wives – became friends during the 2008 presidential campaign, in which both sought the nomination ultimately won by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ.
During the often rancorous Republican primary battles, Romney and Paul noticeably went easier on each other than their other opponents.
And despite loud and frequent denials of cooperation from both campaigns, word from insiders has time and again said otherwise.
As far back as early February, a Republican adviser who had worked with the Romney campaign told the Washington Post that Romney's aides were "quietly in touch with Ron Paul."
Another anonymous source told Business Insider in early April that "the courtship has been underway for a long time."
It's easy to see why. Both have much to gain.
Although Paul almost certainly won't run as a third-party candidate, Romney nevertheless will need the support of Paul's enthusiastic backers to beat President Barack Obama in what is expected to be a close race.
But Paul's supporters have little love for Romney. Many won't be all that eager to vote for him, much less campaign on his behalf.
So the key question becomes, what could Romney offer Ron Paul that might change their minds?
An obvious plum would be a prime time speaking slot for Ron Paul, or possibly his son and heir apparent, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY. Still, that probably wouldn't be enough to excite the Paul acolytes to campaign enthusiastically for Romney.
A voice in the official Republican platform would carry more weight. Priority issues for the Paul camp include reform of the Federal Reserve, reducing federal spending and the national debt. Romney is already fairly close to Paul on these issues, so a compromise here would be easy.
Still, Romney has one ace in his hand that could truly inspire the Paul camp.
Vice President Rand Paul
Romney could offer the vice presidential slot on his ticket – not to Ron Paul, but to his son, Rand.
It's true that Rand's resume is light – he's only been a senator since January 2011 – but it's not that much shorter than that of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in 2008 or North Carolina Senator John Edwards in 2004.
While some of Ron Paul's true believers would prefer the father on the ticket, Rand is the better option for Romney. Less eccentric than his father, Rand would appeal to a wider swath of moderates and independents in a general election.
Much closer to evangelicals than his father, Rand Paul could help reassure a Republican constituency that has many doubts about Romney's Mormon faith.
What's more, Romney knows as well as anyone that the libertarian element of the Republican Party is growing in both size and influence. He's far better off embracing it than fighting it.
"Structurally, there is something that is happening inside the state Republican parties that will have to be dealt with politically," David Lane, a politically influential Christian conservative, told Business Insider.
And when you think about it, Rand is also the better option for the Ron Paul-inspired libertarian movement.
At 76, Ron Paul is nearing the end of his political career. Without a successor, much of what he's achieved through the 2008 and 2012 campaigns would be lost.
But the Paul camp already has Rand, and will never get a better opportunity to launch him into the national spotlight than as the 2012 vice presidential nominee.
Putting Rand Paul on the 2012 Republican ticket would set the Kentucky senator up for a presidential run himself in either 2016 or 2020, and would be a major step toward the long-sought libertarian conversion of the party.
Still, even if Romney can't quite bring himself to make Rand Paul his running mate, the Ron Paul revolution is going to make its presence felt in the 2012 election.
"It would be very foolish for anybody in the Republican Party to dismiss a very real constituency," a senior Republican aide familiar with both camps told the Washington Post. "Ron Paul plays a very valuable part in the process and brings a lot of voters toward the Republican Party and ultimately into the voting booth, and that's something that can't be ignored."
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