Proverbial Bedfellows, As In, Strange

Not trying to juice my traffic by writing about Ron Paul. Promise.

I am writing about Ron Paul though, because this is all really interesting, and on a number of levels. The thing that interests me right this moment is the clear working arrangement between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Before getting into that, I should perhaps draw the distinction between allies and cobelligerents. An ally is someone fighting the same adversary that you are, and roughly for the same reasons. A cobelligerent is fighting the same enemy, but for completely different reasons. America and England were allies in the Second World War, and America and Russia were cobelligerents. The only reason Stalin was fighting Hitler alongside us was because Hitler had double-crossed him early in the war, back when he was an ally.

No one pretends that Romney and Paul are allies. But they are clearly cobelligerents. Something is going on here. They get along well on a personal level, and they have not been attacking each other at all, in a campaign full of attacks. On paper, the Paul camp believes the whole Republican field is made up of RINOs, and yet the greatest and most manifest RINO of all is being left entirely alone.

Let us grant for the sake of argument that all the conservatives that Ron Paul has gone after are not true blue in the highest and most rarified sense. But all of them have been more conservative than Mitt Romney is, and most of them on a principled basis. Paul has gone after them all except for Romney, and he has done this very effectively when Romney is the frontrunner, at least when it comes to delegates. This has had the direct and clear result of helping Romney get to the nomination.

But why?

Why would Paul go after all the candidates who are more conservative than Romney, and leave Romney entirely alone? Without getting into heart motives (which we cannot do), it seems clear to me that being more conservative than Romney is, according to Paul, no virtue. Being “more conservative” is not a selling point. He does not see the political world on a dimmer switch, with Romney on the other end, and the other more conservative candidates as being closer to him as the switch is being turned to the right. Paul represents another self-conscious worldview entirely. Conservatism is the big foe, and he knows that Romney is not a conservative. We all know that too. He is being “not a conservative” in a different way that Paul is being “not a conservative,” but for Paul, the conservatism of the Republican Party is the clear problem — not the pretend conservatism. In other words, the attacks on phony conservatism are actually attacks on anything that approaches or resembles real conservatism.

At the same time, because of public perception, he also has to know that his version of libertarianism and the “more conservative” campaigns are fishing for supporters out of the same general pond. Paul is not going to get Romney supporters, or precious few of them. But because Paul’s math is good, and because he understands the monkeyshines of the Fed, many who inhabit the conservative world are prepared to grant that he has a point. Attacks on conservative inconsistencies in the leaders is very effective during this Tea Party season, which is all about eliminating such inconsistencies.

Now all of this is fine during a campaign. Such arrangements are not rare, and “strange bedfellows” was a phrase coined to deal with circumstances just like this one. The high wire act will come later when Paul comes to cash in. He is trying to build a movement, and this movement will have to get something in return for all these valuable services. Depending on what that return is, the whole arrangement could blow up in his face. It had better be either really valuable, or really subtle, and ideally both. Otherwise, a number of Paul’s supporters, who were attracted to him precisely because he was not playing the same old game, will discover, to their chagrin, that he was playing a different version of the same old game.

A VP slot for Paul would cause both the Romney and Paul constituencies to blow sky high. Valuable, but not subtle enough. A speaking slot at the convention? Subtle, and not very valuable. Make Paul the Secretary of the Treasury? That would be way fun, but I can see Romney setting his hair on fire before that. A VP slot for Rand Paul? Valuable, subtle, but kind of beside the point. Rand Paul is more of a conservative than his father is, and if the whole point is to advance hard line libertarianism then this would actually be counterproductive — familial affection notwithstanding.

All this is to say that I confess myself baffled. I don’t know what the pay-off is going to be. If Paul gets nothing, then he will have been played by the Romney camp for a chump. If he gets something, then what, oh what, could it ever be?

Whatever else is happening, they now have my attention.