Does Ron Paul want to be president, or a prophet?

Judging by how Ron Paul has gone after his rivals, he does in fact want to be president. But his 'Not really' in response to a question about seeing himself in the Oval Office did raise eyebrows.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Republican presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul speaks during a campaign stop Tuesday at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Does Ron Paul want to be president, or a prophet of libertarian ideology?

We ask the question because ABC reporter Terry Moran yesterday got Representative Paul to say something shocking (by mainstream media standards, anyway). He asked the Texas congressman whether he sees himself in the Oval Office when he lays his head on his pillow at night. Paul’s answer: “Not really.”

Wow! We bet Mitt Romney sees himself in the Oval Office when he lays his coif down for the evening. Also when he’s having breakfast, driving to campaign events, counting his money, flossing, and pretty much everything else. He probably has a replica Oval Office built in one of his homes, and is already practicing how he’ll arrive on the first day of the Romney Era.

To be fair, in his full answer to the visions-of-the-Oval-dancing-in-his-head question, Paul added, “I think it’s a possibility. Sometimes I kid about it. It’s a risk I take.” But on the whole he sounded, well, diffident about the whole thing.

ABC’s Moran used the “prophet” line, saying that at times Paul appears more interested in warning college crowds about the dangers of government spending, the Fed, foreign interventions, the fence along the Mexico border, and so forth, than in asking people to, you know, vote for him.

“Young people are more open to consistency and principle,” said Paul, when Moran asked why he appeals to younger voters.

Well, Paul is certainly somebody who sees getting his message out as a mission, perhaps as important a mission as getting himself elected. But he’s not just cruising along here like Yoda in a suit. He’s running to do well, if not win – more so than he did last time he ran for president. How can you see that? By the way he treats his rivals. He’s run some of the hardest-hitting negative ads broadcast in the 2012 campaign.

Yes, the super PAC allied with Mr. Romney has tons of money, so you’ve heard about their anti-Newt Gingrich ad buy in Iowa. But Paul was among the first to hit Mr. Gingrich for his lobby-like Washington activities. His “Serial Hypocrisy” ad on the former speaker is just brutal, and it has almost one million views on YouTube.

Perhaps this is why Gingrich has returned the favor, saying he wouldn’t vote for Paul if Paul wins the GOP nomination.

More recently the Paul camp has been taking after Rick Santorum, perhaps because the two at this point are neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in the Iowa polls.

Paul’s campaign web site currently features on its front page a short piece titled “Santorum’s Liberal Record on Gun Rights.”

Its main point is that Mr. Santorum helped then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in his 2004 reelection bid, and that Senator Specter is a “radical anti-gunner.” Well, we don’t know about that, but it is true that Specter turned Democrat in 2009 in a futile effort to win another term.

Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has gone even further, saying on CNN Monday that Santorum is a “very liberal” candidate who voted for too much spending during his time in Washington office.

Hmm. Outflanking Santorum on the right might not be the most obvious strategy to pursue. After all, the former Pennsylvania senator is vehemently pro-life, and backed by some of Iowa’s most prominent evangelicals.

Santorum himself is pretty worked up about it. He’s blamed Paul’s campaign for what he (Santorum) says are robo-calls running Tuesday in Iowa that describe him as pro-abortion and anti-gun.

“Ron Paul is disgusting,” Santorum told a handful of reporters.

For his part, Paul over the weekend in a Fox News appearance said this of his rivals for the GOP nomination: “They come and they go, and they all belong to the status quo.”

Do they talk of Michelangelo? Just asking.

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