The GOP is in serious trouble. They have tried with all of their might to marginalize Ron Paul, and they have been only marginally successful. This is inadequate. The GOP must be able to make Ron Paul a non-person, an almost impossible feat unless Paul is caught in bed with "a dead girl or a live boy". Not bleedin' likely.
So, what's the trap? It's this: Ron Paul supporters — by and large — will desert the GOP if Ron Paul is not the party's candidate. 'Big deal,' you say. 'Big deal,' I repeat. Yes, it is a big deal.
If Iowa can be believed, Ron Paul owns twenty-something percent of likely GOP voters, and over the course of time (if things go as they have been going) this will grow. The problem for the GOP is that most mainline Republicans simply want to beat Barack Obama in 2012. Ron Paul's supporters want Ron Paul to beat Barack Obama in 2012. These goals are at serious cross-purposes. If Ron Paul isn't the GOP's choice to cross swords with the incumbent, Paulistsas will either stay home on Election Day or vote Libertarian. What if, on Election Day, 20% or more of Republican voters don't show up? (I'm here positing that voting for some other party is, as far as the GOP is concerned, the same as not voting at all.) In order to make a decent showing, whoever is the GOP candidate will need every available nominally-GOP voter plus a smattering of nominal Democrats. A GOP candidate who cannot pull that off cannot defeat the incumbent President. Cannot.
Ron Paul can. Romney may if he sucks in a noticeable chunk of Democratic voters; don't bet on it. Santorum and Gingrich cannot, nor can any of those candidates who have dropped out of the race.
To summarize: the GOP seems intent on having Romney go head-to-head with Obama, but he will do so without twenty percent or more of the voters he's counting on, the voters he's depending on. Romney, no matter how good he looks the morning of Election Day, will lose to Barack Obama. Ron Paul may also lose to Barack Obama; it's possible a large chunk of Republicans will desert the GOP if Ron Paul is the candidate; it's possible. Walter Williams has already suggested that this election is a waste of money and air time. Ron Paul is, however, the only Republican who has a prayer of unseating Obama. That's going to be hard for mainline Republicans to handle. Can they do it? My money is on Obama.