The principled, antiwar, Constitution-obeying, Fed-hating, libertarian Republican congressman from Texas stands firmly outside the bounds of permissible dissent as drawn by either the Republican establishment or the mainstream media. (Disclosure: Paul wrote the foreword to my 2009 book.)
But in a crowded GOP field currently led by a collapsing Newt Gingrich and an uninspiring Mitt Romney, Paul could carry the Iowa caucuses, where supporter enthusiasm has so much value.
If Paul wins, how will the media and the GOP react? Much of the media will ignore him (expect headlines like "Romney Beats out Gingrich for Second Place in Iowa"). Some in the Republican establishment and the conservative media will panic. Others will calmly move to crush him, with the full cooperation of the liberal mainstream media.
For a historical analogy, study the aftermath of Pat Buchanan's 1996 victory in the New Hampshire primary. "It was awful," Buchanan told me this week when I asked him about his few days as the nominal GOP front-runner. "They come down on you with both feet."
The GOP establishment that week rallied to squash Buchanan. Just after New Hampshire, Gingrich's hand-picked group of GOP leaders, known as the Speaker's Advisory Group, met with one thing on their minds, according to a contemporaneous Newsweek report: "How to deal with Buchanan."