RENO, NEV. — The remaining candidates in the winnowed Republican presidential field are attacking one another with abandon, each day bringing fresh headlines of accusations and outrage.
They never do.
Despite deep differences on a range of issues, Romney and Paul became friends in 2008, the last time both ran for president. So did their wives, Ann Romney and Carol Paul. The former Massachusetts governor compliments the Texas congressman during debates, praising Paul’s religious faith during the last one, in Jacksonville, Fla. Immediately afterward, as is often the case, the Pauls and the Romneys gravitated toward one another to say hello.
The Romney-Paul alliance is more than a curious connection. It is a strategic partnership: for Paul, an opportunity to gain a seat at the table if his long-shot bid for the presidency fails; for Romney, a chance to gain support from one of the most vibrant subgroups within the Republican Party.
“It would be very foolish for anybody in the Republican Party to dismiss a very real constituency,” said one senior GOP aide in Washington who is familiar with both camps. “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.”
To ensure that they are heard — not just now but after Election Day, too — Paul and his followers are working to gain a permanent foothold in the Republican Party nationwide. One state at a time, Paul’s supporters are seating themselves at county committee meetings, and standing for election as state officers and convention delegates, to make sure their candidate’s libertarian vision is taken into account. The goal is a lasting voice for an army of outsiders that has long felt ignored and sees the nation headed toward ruin if things don’t change.
That is just fine with the Romney campaign, which would be happy to bring Paul’s constituency — perhaps the most intense and loyal in the country — into the fold.
Romney’s aides are “quietly in touch with Ron Paul,” according to a Republican adviser who is in contact with the Romney campaign and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its internal thinking. The two campaigns have coordinated on minor things, the adviser said — even small details, such as staggering the timing of each candidate’s appearance on television the night of the New Hampshire primary for maximum effect.
One advantage for Romney is that Paul’s presence in the race helps keep the GOP electorate fractured. But there is also a growing recognition that the congressman plans to stay in the contest over the long term — and that accommodating him and his supporters could help unify Republican voters in the general election against President Obama.
“Ron Paul wants a presence at the convention,” the adviser said — and Romney, if he is the nominee, would grant it.
What Paul and his supporters would demand, and what Romney would offer, are subjects of some speculation. One Paul adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, said prime-time speaking slots for Paul and his son Rand, the junior senator from Kentucky, are obvious goals. On the policy front, Ron Paul’s priorities are reforming the Federal Reserve and reducing federal spending. So promises to audit the Fed and to tackle deficit reduction seriously could appease the congressman and his supporters, the adviser said.