Nothing definitive about what he’d do if his dad bolted, but at least he’s willing to acknowledge the implications. John McCormack at the Standard:

Following an interview at a Des Moines radio station, I asked Rand Paul if he has encouraged his father to stay in the Republican party if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination. “I’m encouraging him to try to win the Iowa primary. It’s kind of hard to think about leaving your party when you might be the nominee,” he said.

Asked if he would support his father as a third-party candidate, Paul replied: “I’ve always said I think the Tea Party movement is best and most effective within the Republican party. The Tea Party movement as a separate movement would divide some of the Republican vote.”

“I have not been publicly in favor of a third party candidate and I have not been in favor of the Tea Party splitting off,” Paul said. “But I think people really need to rethink that question when a guy’s leading the polls in Iowa–to be asking about running as a third party when we’re still talking about winning the Republican nomination.”

Has anyone seen a poll of what tea partiers would do in a hypothetical three-way race between Obama, Romney, and Ron Paul? Some segment of the TP surely would split and follow Paul into independence as a protest against Mitt, but I don’t know that that’s where most of Paul’s support would come from. Rand likes to push the tea-party connection because that’s his brand and because it keeps voters’ attention turned towards Ron’s record on spending, but as noted last week, Paul’s not the top choice in the field among tea partiers. WaPo’s national poll before Christmas had him in fifth place in that demographic, in fact. He did better than that in PPP’s new Iowa poll, but not dramatically better:

Third behind Santorum and Gingrich, and he ended up finishing better among non-tea-partiers — which was also the case in WaPo’s poll. Makes sense: If you believe the pollsters, he’s cleaning up among Democrats and indies who intend to caucus tomorrow night but lagging among conservatives. Presumably most of those Democrats and left-leaning independents would abandon him for Obama in a three-way race, but … I don’t know. Most of the tea partiers who prefer him in the caucus would probably abandon him too in the interest of defeating Obama. Are we sure he’d do significantly greater damage to Romney than to Obama as an independent, especially when every tea-party icon except Rand Paul would be pushing the base hard to line up behind Mitt? Maybe, but I’d like to see that poll.

BuzzFeed has a nice piece today on how Paul’s team is strategizing, a la Obama four years ago, to sweep up a bunch of delegates in caucus states to maximize his leverage at the convention. The headline is “Ron Paul’s Secret Plan to Actually Win” but it’s really more “Ron Paul’s Secret Plan to Play Kingmaker or At Least Influence the Platform.” I wonder what the RNC could do for him, realistically, in terms of the latter. They could insert some language in the foreign policy section about America needing to be more mindful of budgetary constraints in its military endeavors and they can include plenty of small-government rhetoric on domestic spending to please libertarians, but social issues stuff like ending the drug war or letting the states decide on gay marriage is a nonstarter. I wonder what happens if Santorum quickly becomes overwhelmed organizationally after Super Tuesday and the race settles into a Romney/Paul dynamic. Romney would end up with many more delegates, for sure, but would we see strategic or protest voting for Paul to try to deny Mitt an outright majority of the delegates? That probably wouldn’t deny him the nomination but it sure would make the convention more interesting.