Mitt's new friend? (photo: Flapa blog/flickr)

With Mitt Romney now on a glide path to the Republican Party’s nomination, there is one thing that could completely doom his chances of becoming President and that is Ron Paul. Paul’s dedicated base might not be large enough for him to win the nomination, but it is large enough to destroy Romney’s hopes in the general.

Romney currently stands a good chance of winning the general election. A recent Democracy Corps poll has him basically tied with Obama, Obama 47 – Romney 46. But the main reason Romney stands a chance at winning is because the American people are disappointed and unhappy with President Obama. The American electorate has not become pro-Romney or pro-Republican. If anything since 2010 the American people have turned strongly against the GOP brand.

Since disappointment with the incumbent president is mostly trumping unhappiness with the GOP, the current dynamic could still work to Romney’s favor as long as he is the only alternative to Obama. Romney’s hopes of winning go out the window if voters disappointed with Obama have the additional choice of a candidate to vote for to express both their disapproval of Obama and Romney.

That would require a candidate with the money, a large number of volunteers and a base of support to run an independent presidential campaign. As it currently stands Ron Paul is the only person who has proven he fits that profile. If Paul ran as an independent the same Democracy Corps poll found the race would be, Obama 43 – Romney 34 – Paul 18. Given another option of where to cast an anti-Obama vote a huge part of Romney’s support deserts him.

While third party candidates almost always end up doing worse than their polling, even if Paul only held 4-8 percent that should be more than enough to keep Romney out of the White House.

Of course there are all sorts of reasons for Paul not to run as an independent. It is a lot of work to spend on a likely hopeless pursuit and it could hurt his son’s long-term political prospects. But Paul’sĀ  almost unique in having the power to destroy Romney’s hopes if he decided he wanted to. At this moment Paul has some serious leverage if he feels like exploiting it.

The Romney campaign, and to a lesser degree the Republican establishment, has a very good reason to be start being very nice to Paul, or at least respectful enough, to prevent him from going nuclear and destroying the GOP’s hopes of defeating Obama.

If I were Romney I might even consider using the excuse of “reaching out to Paul’s base for the sake of party unity” as a convenient way to justify tacking to the left after basically securing the nomination.