The experts have been both perplexed and amazed by the response to Rep. Ron Paul’s candidacy and his ability to raise bags of money from small contributors.

When Joe Trippi partnered with an obscure former Vermont governor four years ago and stimulated a successful Internet organizational and fundraising operation it was the story of the cycle, led to the spectacular rise and fall of Howard Dean and made Trippi something of a celebrity.

This time around, the folks around Ron Paul have built on the methodology Trippi first used so successfully and have achieved results for a very different sort of candidate that no one a year ago would have dreamed possible. In the introduction to a book he wrote after the Dean campaign crashed and burned, Trippi bragged that Dean’s Internet fundraising success enabled him on one occasion to raise $400,000 simply by sending out an e-mail.

Former Rep. Tom DeLay told me a few weeks ago that his fellow Texan has yet to send out an e-mail that hasn’t brought back at least $600,000. Moreover, his friends have mounted Internet fundraising efforts on his behalf that have produced $4.5 million and $6 million days. Indeed, Paul’s campaign has raised more than any other presidential campaign in the last quarter and done it among folks who have given him an average of $55 each.

It is tempting to suggest that Paul’s success is simply a result of his people’s superior use of the technology available to all candidates, but that would be a mistake.

Paul’s fundraising success is a sign of the rather remarkable appeal his unvarnished small-government libertarianism has to many conservatives and Republicans around the country. The man himself is consistent, if not exciting, and doesn’t give an inch on principles that appeal to many Republicans.

If one recalls the various Disney movies depicting a main character nagged by his conscience in the person of a little fellow sitting on his shoulder and reminding him of what he should be doing or saying, it’s possible to begin to understand Paul’s appeal. He seems to be standing there at the podium in the various debates simply to remind the other candidates and those who support them that we all got into this game because we believed in small government and individual freedom.

Many of his policy pronouncements may strike us as naïve, but they resonate somewhere deep within us anyway. He won’t get that many votes, but his opponents would be wrong to dismiss him as cavalierly as they are wont to do or to simply use him as a foil to make other more “realistic” points during the debates.

Many in the media suggest that it is his truly naïve foreign policy views that are propelling his candidacy and that because he opposes both the Iraq war and U.S. adventurism in general, his support comes mainly from left-of-center Democrats. Maybe, but I’d be willing to bet that much more of his support comes from conservatives and Republicans who may prefer the political equivalent of blended whisky, but admire the straight stuff when they get a whiff of it.