Ron Paul: Third-party power or GOP kingmaker?

Wouldn't you rather I write about Ron Paul than about Herman Cain, who will soon flame out, or Rick Perry, who has already flamed out? The new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggests Ron Paul would win 18 percent as a third-party candidate running against Obama and Romney!

The other underestimated factor in the Republican race is that proportional representation will give Ron Paul potentially major influence in choosing the nominee at the convention, and major leverage because he certainly would be a powerful third-party candidate if he does run.

The GOP nominating process has turned into a debacle for the conservative wing of the party. Donald Trump was a joke. Rick Perry self- destructed, as I predicted he would. Now conservatives are reduced to making excuses for Herman Cain as woman after woman emerges with charges of abuse. Frankly it is pretty sad that certain conservatives, including some highly visible conservative Republican women, were reduced to invoking Clarence Thomas, high-tech lynching and the bogus race issue as woman after woman emerges with charges against Cain.

The next question for Republicans will be whether Mike Huckabee, who would be a formidable candidate, sees a boomlet for him to jump in. And whether Jon Huntsman makes a serious bid to be a viable alternative to the "well-lubricated weather vane,” Mitt Romney.

If the final choice is Obama versus Romney, the campaign would be purgatory for true liberals and true conservatives, with the final choice of Romney and Obama being a battle of two Rorschach tests. Can anyone imagine Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain raising Mitt Romney's hand in triumph at a convention where a Romney nomination would leave many conservatives appalled and disgusted?

Ron Paul has been the constant of the 2012 campaign. If he entered a general election as a third-party candidate against Romney and Obama with 18 percent, that number might well rise after presidential debates between the three of them.

There is another scenario. Mitt Romney is obviously having big trouble rising above 25 to 30 percent of Republican support. If Perry and Cain both drop out early in 2012, as I predict, Ron Paul's numbers would rise for the Republican battle.

Could Ron Paul win a direct two-candidate contest of Paul v. Romney? I would like to see a poll about that race. Alternatively:

With proportional representation, Ron Paul could have potentially decisive influence at the convention, if Romney does not have enough supporters to win the nomination. What would Ron Paul do? This is a very interesting question.

My wild guess today is that Ron Paul could either help lead a dramatic move to entice a new true conservative to challenge and defeat Romney (such as Huckabee), or Dr. Paul could emerge as a third-party candidate equal to or stronger than Ross Perot was.