Ron Paul's new ad: Is he attacking his 'wingman'?

The latest Ron Paul ad goes after all three of his rivals in the GOP presidential race. But it's not as hard on Mitt Romney. Maybe Rick Santorum is on to something with his 'wingman' comment.

Paul Sancya/AP
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, speaks at Michigan State University during a rally in East Lansing, Mich. on Feb. 27.

The Ron Paul campaign released a new ad Wednesday, and it’s getting some buzz because it appears to attack Mitt Romney. Before this, Mr. Paul and Mr. Romney seemed to get along pretty well – Rick Santorum at one point last week called the white-haired Texas libertarian Romney’s “wingman.”

That would make Romney Paul’s wingman, too, in air-power parlance. A “wingman” is somebody who helps out a fellow pilot in combat.

Over at the liberal-leaning Think Progress blog, Judd Legum has rooted through debate transcripts and pronounced that in 20 debates, Paul has not attacked Romney once. But Paul has jabbed at his other rivals at least 39 times, according to Mr. Legum.

“Paul is effectively acting as Romney’s on-stage surrogate during the debates. The key question is: what is Paul getting out of it?” Legum writes.

Some commentators have speculated that Paul is aiming for a good speaking slot at the Republican National Convention if Romney wins. Others suggest he might want his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as VP on the ticket. In any case, that’s the context in which the new ad is set.

The spot is called “Three of a Kind,” and it goes after all the remaining non-Paul GOP candidates. It starts off with Newt Gingrich, calling him a “serial hypocrite” and Washington insider who lobbied for Freddie Mac before the housing crisis. Then it hits Mr. Santorum as a “counterfeit conservative” who has voted to increase US spending and fund Planned Parenthood. Lastly, it gets around to Romney, saying he’s a “flip-flopper” whose Massachusetts health plan provided the blueprint for "Obamacare."

“Three men – one vision. More big government. More mandates. Less freedom,” says the ad’s apocalyptic-sounding narrator.

Wow. Tough, huh? Does this prove there’s no collusion between the Paul and Romney camps?

Well, we don’t think they’re actually working together. But neither do we believe this ad is nearly as tough on Romney as it appears to be at first glance.

For one thing, Romney gets off easy. What’s worse, a hypocrite or a flip-flopper? Especially when the flip-flopper’s been called that for so long it’s practically his Secret Service code name? The ad goes after Gingrich and Santorum on personal terms. Romney, not so much.

For another, as some conservative commentators are pointing out, the ad isn’t new. It first went up on YouTube in January. Then the campaign posted it again Wednesday, for some reason.

“My guess: The Paul campaign uploaded and circulated the ad again to convince campaign reporters that they are not colluding with Romney,” writes Mike Riggs on Reason.com.

The real reason Paul and Romney don’t attack each other is they have no real political reason to do so. Paul has a committed base of supporters that is larger than his 2008 base, but it isn’t big enough to threaten Romney in any noncaucus state. That’s true even in Virginia, where they’re the only two on the ballot for the state’s GOP primary March 6.

Romney, meanwhile, knows that he needs Paul inside the GOP tent if he (Romney) ends up winning the nomination. As Chris Cillizza notes Wednesday on the Washington Post “Fix” political blog, Paul’s voters are intensely loyal to him, not the Republican Party. He’d take them with him to a third party, if that’s where he goes.

“If [Paul] runs as an independent in the fall, every poll we have seen suggests that he would hand President Obama a second term,” writes Cillizza.

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