Ron Paul isn’t a major factor in either the Arizona or Michigan primaries tonight — he gave his “victory” speech before the polls in either state closed — but a look inside the exit polling in the Wolverine State makes clear why the Texas Congressman remains a relevant factor in the presidential race.
Here’s why: Just one in four Paul supporters in Michigan say that they will definitely vote Republican no matter who the GOP nominates this fall. Those numbers are far below the 78 percent of Romney supporters who say they will vote for the GOP nominee no matter what and the 60 percent of Santorum backers who say the same.
What those numbers make clear is that Paul retains a not-insignificant following that is loyal first and foremost to him — not to the Republican party. And that means is that if Paul did decide to run as a third party candidate in the fall, he would take lots of the people currently supporting him with him.
Paul is — as we have written before — a very dangerous man to the Republican party. If he runs as an independent in the fall, every poll we have seen suggests that he would hand President Obama a second term.
Republicans need to find a way to bring Paul and his supporters under their tent — and soon. The problem? The party is struggling to coalesce behind a nominee, a chaotic situation that makes it difficult for the establishment to focus on the Paul problem.
But make no mistake: Ron Paul presents a major hurdle for the GOP’s chances of winning the presidency in November. And they haven’t gotten their steps right to clear it just yet.