The New York Times, By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr., February 16, 2012 –
LAKE JACKSON, Tex. — Once there was a challenge of a softball game from the Ron Paul clan to the Mitt Romney clan. “They didn’t show up,” Mr. Paul says. “We didn’t schedule it. We really razz them about that, ‘You guys chickened out!’ ”
When Mr. Paul’s campaign jet broke down last year in Wolfeboro, N.H., Mr. Romney’s wife, Ann, offered to let Mr. Paul, an aide and one of his granddaughters stay the night at their summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee. When Mr. Romney arrived later, he offered his jet to take them home to Texas. Mr. Paul, not wanting to impose, was grateful but declined both offers.
In a Republican presidential contest known for its angry rivalries, the Romney-Paul relationship stands out for its behind-the-scenes civility. It is a friendship that, by Mr. Paul’s telling, Mr. Romney has worked to cultivate. The question is whether it is also one that could pay dividends for Mr. Romney as he faces yet more setbacks in his struggle to capture the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination.
Ideological similarities among supporters of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich suggest that if Mr. Gingrich dropped out, many of his backers would coalesce behind Mr. Santorum. But as Mr. Paul steadily collects delegates, one thing that remains to be seen is whether his affinity — at least on a personal level — for Mr. Romney could help the former Massachusetts governor as the fight drags on.
Mr. Paul, a 76-year-old congressman from Texas, sees his three Republican rivals as more or less the same politically. He can be tough on Mr. Romney, whom he describes as a flip-flopper with a dubious political core.
“He’s been all over the place on some of this stuff,” Mr. Paul said in a recent interview near his Texas home. But he seems to segregate those views from his personal feelings for Mr. Romney, whom he sees as a steady, dignified personality whose devotion to wife and family reflect his own values.
“I talk to Romney more than the rest on a friendly basis,” Mr. Paul said. ”I throw Romney’s name out because he’s made a bigger attempt to do it. The others are sort of just real flat.”
In an interview on CBS this past weekend, Mr. Paul volunteered that since his rivals were largely identical in policy substance, “when it comes down to those three, it’s probably going to be management style more than anything else.” According to one person close to the Paul campaign, it would be accurate to infer from that phrasing — “management style” — that Mr. Paul has a willingness to listen to overtures from Mr. Romney, who has been trying to sell himself to voters as a proven manager.
The relationship between the two men is rooted partly in the fact that they are veterans of the 2008 nominating fight. And that has translated into growing bonds between their families after dozens of debates, primaries and caucuses.
The candidates’ spouses, Ann Romney and Carol Paul, “know each other better than any of the other wives,” Mr. Paul said. He and Mr. Romney talk “all the time” and “we’ve met all their kids.” Once he telephoned Mr. Romney just as Mr. Romney was calling him. “Sometimes I’m never sure who issued a call,” he said.
Mr. Paul has already provided some tactical help: When Mr. Romney began to flounder in South Carolina and was under attack over his career in leveraged buyouts, Mr. Paul came to his defense, suggesting that his critics were anticapitalist. His campaign even issued a press release assailing other rivals for, in Mr. Paul’s view, taking Mr. Romney’s quote about firing people out of context.
What is not clear is how much, and under what circumstances, Mr. Paul might ever provide any more tangible help to Mr. Romney. His aides say publicly that Mr. Paul is committed to winning the nomination. And the two camps are at odds right now over the outcome of last weekend’s Maine caucuses, in which state Republican Party officials declared Mr. Romney the winner by a relatively small margin over Mr. Paul even though some places have yet to cast ballots.
Short of the nomination, Paul aides say, the Texan wants to influence the party, the platform and its nominee on a range of issues, like scaling back the Patriot Act and bringing more scrutiny to the Federal Reserve. But it is unclear how far any nominee might go toward meeting Mr. Paul halfway. A number of his positions, like ending foreign wars, are anathema to establishment Republicans.
In the meantime, Mr. Paul has slowly been collecting delegates, and is now threatening Mr. Gingrich for third place on that front. And his supporters plan to pack state party conventions to grab more delegates in states like Iowa, Maine and Minnesota, which will probably give Mr. Paul more leverage as the nominating battle progresses.
There are also Mr. Paul’s formidable financial resources, which he can deploy as the other candidates struggle to raise money for an extended nominating fight. Jesse Benton, his national campaign chairman, said the campaign was on track to collect more than $10 million in the first quarter of 2012, in daily amounts of $30,000 to $50,000 augmented by occasional “money bombs.” That is less than the $13 million raised in the fourth quarter but more than the $8 million in the third quarter.
Mr. Paul’s feelings for some other candidates who have competed this election season are more complicated. He served in the House when Mr. Gingrich was speaker in the late 1990s, but they never had a particularly close relationship. “Personally, it’s never been bad, with cross words, but he’s never been supportive of my campaign efforts when I ran for office,” Mr. Paul said. “But I never took it personally.”
Once, though, when Mr. Gingrich was speaker he paid him a compliment of sorts, Mr. Paul said: Mr. Paul and other recalcitrant Republican congressmen were in a meeting where Mr. Gingrich leaned on them to pass the budget. Mr. Gingrich “laid down the law” to the other lawmakers, Mr. Paul recalled, but he added, “The only person who won’t have to vote for it is Ron Paul.”
Mr. Gingrich then offered one reason he would not force Mr. Paul to vote for it: “I don’t want his people pestering me,” Mr. Paul recalled Mr. Gingrich as saying.
Whether “his people” would ever do anything on Mr. Romney’s behalf, should he emerge as the nominee, remains an open question.