So now what?

Ron Paul said for months he'd stick out the primaries through Super Tuesday.  Now it's over.  So now what?

There were a handful of bright spots in the results — breaking past the 20% barrier in Montana and North Dakota, for instance.  Too bad they're both winner-take-all states when it come to delegates.

Paul supporters can take heart in outlasting Fred "Dead Man Walking" Thompson and Generalissimo Giuliani.  But the fundraising machine is starting to run dry.  After smashing all previous fundraising goals, the most recent one has come up woefully short — a $5 million target set in the middle of last month with a deadline of yesterday ended up $3.2 million shy.  Paul's campaign is justifiably proud of raising more money than McCain and Romney combined in Q4 of 2007 — and doing it with a far greater percentage of "small" donors ($200 or less) than any other campaign, Republican or Democrat — but those donors appear to be tapped out, and there aren't enough new ones coming online to maintain the momentum.

The campaign is putting on as brave a face as possible, invoking Tom Paine and George Washington, but again — what next? 

On the one hand, Paul has no campaign events scheduled between now and Sunday, when he'll have a rally in his Congressional district.  ABC News points out that candidates ending a presidential campaign often do so on home turf. 

And yet, there are no overt signs of the campaign packing it in — naming top-notch foreign policy advisers just five days ago, and a book coming out at the end of April, his first in two decades that's not just a compendium of his Congressional speeches.

So what's the strategy here?

It's worth bearing in mind that Paul is also running for his seat in Congress, as allowed under a decades-old Texas law written to favor the likes of Lyndon Johnson and John Connally.  The primary is in four weeks.  And he has a more orthodox Republican challenger who might well have been put up to the task by Karl Rove.  Assuming Paul wins (and he can't draw on any of his presidential campaign money to do so), what then?

In other words, what's the best way to grow a movement that will outlast Ron Paul?  Is it for Paul to remain a singular voice in Congress, or is it to launch a third-party or independent presidential bid?

The latter possibility raises all sorts of arcane legal questions I can't even begin to wrap my mind around:  Can he run for Congress as a Republican and for president as an independent at the same time?  Can he spend the money raised for the primaries in a general election campaign before the Republican convention if he's not running as a Republican?  The mind boggles.

If the general election race ends up being McCain-Clinton, Ron Paul could draw a Perot-sized protest vote.  Even some orthodox Republicans who can't stomach McCain (or Romney or Huckabee) might go for him out of sheer frustration.  (Many of them, I suspect, will just stay home.)  And disillusioned young Obama voters might well come Ron Paul's way if Obama is not Hillary's running mate.  (Most of them would probably just stay home, too.)

But even that would be an uphill climb; the odious organization that runs the debates for the general election has a steep polling threshold of 15% for any third party/independent candidates.

Whatever happens, much has been accomplished already, as the ABC story concludes:

Paul dominated the foreign policy portions of several GOP forums,
notably the ABC News/Facebook-sponsored debate before the New Hampshire
primary, and effectively made his anti-military involvement plea to
bring the troops home at a debate sponsored by CNN in Los Angeles.

Paul's popularity among military members in fundraising should
give pause to the other Republican candidates, all supporters of the
Iraq war. With the economy nearing a possible recession, even Paul's
economic ideas – his constant warnings about inflation, his complaints
about the Fed's manipulation of the credit markets and the Treasury
Department's manipulation of the dollar – have gotten a second look,
even if his solutions to those problems, like doing away with the IRS
and returning to the gold standard, seem eternally relegated to the

Hey, it's a start.  And it's a lot more than I'd have expected when he launched the campaign a year ago.

Update:  Nick Bradley, younger in years than I but much closer to the campaign's ground operation, comes to similar conclusions, via a different route.