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Plain 'Ole Vanilla

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The GOP primary process has been chaotic, resulting in ups and downs for candidates and voters alike. Dreams were dashed when Mitch Daniels, then Sarah Palin, then Chris Christie announced their intentions to sit this one out. Mitt Romney emerged as the establishment favorite early on, but failed to – and still fails to – excite the Republican base. The grassroots desire for a popular hero gave rise to the overnight ascendancy of Michelle, then Rick, then Herman. Each of these candidates has experienced the dizzying highs of front runner status only to suffer the depressing doldrums of plummeting poll numbers.

If past is prologue, then Newt Gingrich's star will also soon begin to fade. Already the media and Newt's opponents are sharpening their long knives. Stories about his infidelity, his rank opportunism, and his volatile temperament have long been legendary in Washington and are now emerging on front pages and newsfeeds in tabloid-like fashion. The tongues of the chattering class are wagging and the pundits are pontificating about how soon it will be before Newt engages in some spectacular act of self immolation. Only time will tell if they are right, but if they are, then who stands to capitalize from his demise?

If fundraising and organization are any indication, that person could very well be Ron Paul.

Evoking an image of the Tortoise and the Hare or the Little Engine that Could, Paul is neither flashy nor fancy. He does not pander or preen, and it is unlikely that his sex life will become a topic of public conversation. With Paul, what you see is what you get: steady, predictable, plain spoken... vanilla. He is above all a humble, self-effacing candidate who maintains a consistent and constant focus on the issues, not himself. He doesn't thump his chest or have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. He has a coherent and consistent world view, and his philosophy of government is strikingly simple: He thinks we should be governed by the Constitution. Following the path where his largely libertarian logic takes him, he believes that the ever burgeoning federal government should be pared back dramatically so that the people and the states can exercise the degree of self-government envisioned by our forefathers. He thinks the U.S. is overextended economically and militarily and has a concrete vision for correcting the problems on both fronts.

While Paul's refusal to play the game of politics as usual precludes a warm embrace by Republican blue bloods, he is remarkably well-financed (having raised over $12 million from mostly small donors) and has a devoted band of followers. As a recent Politico article explains, he also has a shrewd game plan:

The Texas congressman's long-haul approach is designed to take advantage of new GOP proportional allocation rules that enable candidates to amass delegates without finishing in first place, and to leverage the unique attributes of his campaign ? an intensely loyal following and a steady flow of money that will likely enable him to continue for as long as he chooses.

Paul has already put teams in place in 12 caucus states through March 6, when about a dozen Republican primaries and caucuses will take place. On Wednesday, the campaign announced five office openings: Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington.

Whether or not this long-term strategy for success will bear fruit remains to be seen, but the beltway talking heads are beginning to recognize that it would be folly to dismiss Paul this early in the game. The polls are bearing this out. Having indulged themselves on everything from vichyssoise to bananas foster, it may well be that American conservatives are finally ready to cast their vote for plain 'ole vanilla.

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