There is a distinct possibility that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) will win the Iowa GOP caucuses. He is now leading in the state in the RealClearPolitics poll average and has a ground game with energized followers that is like to produce results on caucus night.

This seems bizarre to those who can’t comprehend that any candidate who, as Texas Gov. Rick Perry argued, defends Iran’s aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons and embraces the most strident anti-Israel propaganda would be viable in a national primary for a major political party.

It’s appalling to those familiar with his racist and anti-Semitic newsletters. As Jamie Kirchick reminds us, his lucrative newsletter business in the 1980s and 1990s was filled with pure rubbish and hate-filled conspiracy theories:

No conspiracy theory was too outlandish for Paul’s endorsement. One newsletter reported on the heretofore unknown phenomenon of “Needlin’,” in which “gangs of black girls between the ages of 12 and 14” roamed the streets of New York and injected white women with possibly HIV-infected syringes. Another newsletter warned that “the AIDS patient” should not be allowed to eat in restaurants because “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva,” a strange claim for a physician to make. . . .

No foreign country was mentioned in the newsletters more often than Israel. A 1987 newsletter termed it “an aggressive, national socialist state,” and another missive, on the subject of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, concluded, “Whether it was a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects, or was truly a retaliation by the Islamic fundamentalists, matters little.” In 1990, the newsletter cast aspersions on the “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok [sic] for the Mossad in their area of expertise.”

So what does it say if such a figure could win?

For starters, it should be an object lesson to the party in general and to the other candidates specifically about treating him respectfully, as if he were simply a friendly libertarian with an ax to grind against the Fed. Having failed to call him out for his racist newsletters and his anti-Israel vitriol, his rivals are in a poor position to claim he has no place in the GOP. While his views on Iran are now the subject of barbs by several opponents, the magnitude of his divergence from respectable opinion, on blaming the U.S. for 9-11 for example, has largely been ignored. Shame on them.

If he should win, Iowa caucus goers will rightly be the target of widespread anger and disdain from the mainstream and conservative media as well as a great many in the party, both from establishment and Tea Party quarters. An Iowa state operative, rather defensively, insisted to me that it would be wrong to take a Ron Paul win out on Iowa or strip it of its first-in-the-nation status. “Ron Paul proves a point — if you run the three-pronged traditional caucus approach: advertise here, send mailers and visit often — anyone can do well — EVEN Ron Paul. Iowa isn’t a place that ‘wins’ the nomination it’s a place that ‘winnows’ the path to the nomination.” That’s just not going to fly when the flogging of Republicans begins, labeling Iowans as a bunch of racist loons. If Iowa can’t sniff out such characters, why put it in charge of the winnowing?

As far as the race itself goes, it will certainly burst the Newt Gingrich bubble, suggesting that his 15 minutes (four or five weeks?) of fame are over and casting down on his organizational abilities. For the candidates who finish back in the back (e.g., Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum), Iowa would be a reprieve, allowing them to argue, in essence, that the whole thing was an aberration, before they move on to “real” contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

From Romney’s perspective, any defeat for Gingrich is a plus, and if many contenders aiming for the same segment of the base continue on, he’s probably quite pleased. (It is perhaps only in a Romney vs. Paul face-off that the conservative base would rally to Romney’s side before the nomination is decided — or perhaps plead for another entrant.) So long as Romney finishes strongly in Iowa, he will still enjoy momentum going into New Hampshire, which then becomes the first contest the party will consider as a serious reflection of the Republican electorate’s views.

There will be time enough to argue about Iowa’s future status in GOP presidential contests. (Relegate it to February? Require a primary to preserve its placement?) But in the short term, Iowa will make the contest and the people who participated in it the laughingstock of the country. Perhaps it is time for the Iowa’s governor, as a service to his party and the state, to issue an “anyone but Paul” endorsement. It might be the best thing he could do for his state’s continued political influence.