I usually wouldn't spend half as much time focusing on the presidential election, but having a candidate like Ron Paul makes it far more interesting for libertarians to watch.
A few months ago, I was predicting that the Republican nomination was down to 4 players: Romney, Perry, Bachmann, and Paul. With that said, I must have sensed that Herman Cain still had some hope because I was attacking him before he became the talk of the town. I have also attacked his 9-9-9 plan more recently.
While Cain's chances have certainly improved, I still don't see a high probability of Cain being the Republican nominee, despite his current status as a front runner.
Ever since Michele Bachmann barely beat out Ron Paul in the Iowa straw poll, she has taken a beating in the polls. She is in the single digits in most national polls now. She is down, but I am not counting her out yet. She seems to be a bit better than most of the other candidates on economics, but she still does not offer much in the way of specifics. My biggest fear about Bachmann is that she turns out to be like Reagan where she speaks libertarian rhetoric on economic issues, but her policies don't reflect it.
Newt Gingrich has had a bump in the polls. He is certainly a good performer in the debates and a lot of conservatives like him, even though they should know better after his record as Speaker of the House. I still think it is highly unlikely that Gingrich will get the nomination because most people, even Republicans, sense that he could not beat Obama in the general election. I think this is one thing where most everyone is right in that he wouldn't beat Obama.
I don't see Huntsman, Santorum, or Gary Johnson being major players at this point.
That leaves us with Romney, Perry, and Paul. Romney is the establishment's choice. He is pro big government across the board, but he will say what he needs to in order to appease the conservative base, or at least not anger them too much. Romney is the founder of Obamacare. If there is one thing that virtually all Republicans agree on, it is their hatred of Obamacare. And yet the nominee for the party is going to be the inventor of Obamacare?
I am not saying that Romney can't get the nomination. He is not being attacked by Sean Hannity or any of the other popular conservatives with big influence. These people might be afraid to attack him in case he does get the nomination. Another good possibility is that they really don't mind his message too much. Regardless, most Tea Party people are not Romney supporters. They see this as a fight for the Republican Party and a Romney nomination would mean a loss for the Tea Party.
A lot of people are starting to write off Rick Perry. I am not. The fundraising numbers are coming out for the third quarter and Romney and Perry have the biggest numbers by far. Ron Paul is in a distant third. While Romney is the choice of the establishment, Perry is probably the next choice (not counting Herman Cain). Perry has some big backers and I would not be surprised to see him make another surge in the polls. Regardless, don't count him out. I actually would put him as the favorite to win the nomination right now, despite his poor showings in the last month.
If there is one thing to say about Ron Paul, it is that he does not lose many supporters. His support stays steady. Nationally, he is polling in the low double digits. It varies from poll to poll, but I would put him at about 12% right now. Remember that you don't have to win over a majority.
I still put Paul's chances fairly low at getting the nomination, only because the Republicans are too in love with war. Paul has definitely changed some minds on this issue and others, but it is hard to say if it is enough at this point. The educational outreach from his campaign has been phenomenal and it will make a major difference in years to come.
I think the only way for Ron Paul to get the Republican nomination is for a major event to happen in the near future. If there is another major economic crisis (which isn't far fetched at this point), then perhaps we could see a change in the tides. Again, the good news is that he will continue to have a solid 10% that will back him no matter what. This means he can really only go up in the polls.
There are more debates coming and the primaries are moving up. There should be a lot of action in the next few months. Libertarians should enjoy the moment, regardless of the outcome. Did you ever think you would hear Austrian economics mentioned so much on national television?