I'm on record predicting a relatively easy GOP nomination for Mitt Romney. I have also forecast a credible third party/Tea Party general election candidacy. It appears to be shaping up that way.
Romney is alone at the top for lack of any serious competition. The GOP field is poor by any standard. The gaffes of Perry, Cain and Bachmann would have caused early exits when their party was more serious. Donald Trump would never have been atop the polls in the party of Eisenhower, Nixon or Reagan. Mitt Romney is going to get the 2012 nomination nearly by default.
Ron Paul has stated that he will not run for re-election for his house seat. He has also refused to necessarily endorse the eventual Republican nominee. He is in this thing to win - not the White House, but a permanent place at the table for the Libertarian movement. He does not see much daylight between Romney and Obama and he simply cannot stand by and allow such limited choice two years after the Tea Party was at maximum influence. If ever his beloved movement could make solid inroads into the system, it is now. His son, Rand, stands ready to pick up the baton. Ron Paul will simply not walk away in 2012 with only a whimper. A prime-time slot at the convention will not impress Dr No.
Would such a move potentially delivering re-election to Obama engender lasting GOP hostility? Absolutely - but he doesn't care much about the party and has said as much. Those in his movement would be fully supportive and - to his way of thinking - he might find a place in history for his efforts.
Is it dirty pool to participate in primaries and, having failed to win, go independent? Yes. It's a real bridge burner. It usually fails, as Charlie Crist can attest. However, Lisa Murkowski is evidence that sometimes a primary loser can ending up winning the job after all. Should Romney get the nomination, Tea Party candidate Ron Paul has nothing to lose.