(For more on the 2012 campaign, see ELECT <GO>.)
Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas predicts a first or second finish for himself in the Iowa caucuses and said he likely couldn’t support Newt Gingrich as the Republican presidential nominee while offering qualified praise for Mitt Romney.
“I’d probably have trouble,” Paul said when asked specifically about supporting Gingrich’s candidacy. He added that he wouldn’t be able to back any Republican nominee in the general election who didn’t call for dramatic change in foreign and domestic policy.
“If the policies of the Republican Party are same as the Democrat Party and they don’t want to change anything on foreign policy, they don’t want to cut anything, they don’t want to audit the Fed and find out about monetary policy, they don’t want to have actual change in government, that is a problem for me,” he said.
Paul, 76, said he anticipates a winning or second-place showing in the Jan. 3 Republican caucuses that start the 2012 nominating contests.
“I’m gonna come in, I think, first or second,” he said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
Paul has moved up in polls in recent weeks, attracting voters seeking an alternative to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Romney vs. Paul
A NBC News-Marist poll of likely caucus-goers released today showed Romney leading the Republican field in Iowa with 23 percent, followed by Paul at 21 percent.
Paul offered limited approval for Romney in the interview, yet he wouldn’t commit to supporting him as the 2012 Republican candidate.
“I think he probably understands how the market works as a businessman a little bit better than a guy like Gingrich does and the people who have never been in business,” he said of Romney.
Paul also suggested that he sees Romney as being more presidential than some of the other candidates.
“I think he has a decorum that’s different,” he said. “He’s a little bit more diplomatic, I think, in the way he handles things.”
Still, Paul said he doesn’t think Romney has “convictions that come close to mine,” and that he views all of his rivals as being political insiders.
“I put them all in the same category,” he said. “They all are part of the status quo.”
Asked why he has been less critical of Romney than some of the other candidates, Paul said he’s targeted his fellow Iowa front-runner for attacks on occasion.
“We’ve accused him of this vicious term that he flip- flops,” he said. “We could call him a serial flip flopper.”
Paul continued to suggest any third-party run by him is unlikely, while refusing to rule it out. He ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988, and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination four years ago.
“I can’t imagine it happening,” he said of a third-party candidacy.
The libertarian-leaning congressman said his Republican rivals are too tepid in their approach to the shrinking the federal budget and deficit, while he would make dramatic cuts.
No ‘Actual Cuts’
“I don’t see any actual cuts,” he said of the spending plans put forward by his rivals.
Paul said he isn’t bothered by the criticism he’s received from Gingrich and other candidates in recent weeks.
“After you’ve been in this business for a while, you don’t have time to be offended,” he said. “Of course, nobody likes it.”
Paul defended his writings that suggest people who are sexually harassed in the workplace ought to simply quit their jobs, instead of always pursuing legal action.
“Well, maybe,” he said. “That’s a vague, vague thing, sexual harassment, and these are abused. I think it’s - it shows real bad behavior. I’m not sure. If I was working in a place and people were ridiculing me and they were -- that was the boss --I don’t think I’d want to work there.”
Paul said the telling of a bad joke in front of someone shouldn’t automatically become a harassment case.
“I think political correctness is -- is something that has gone -- gone wild,” he said. “It’s out of control.”
Paul declined to distance himself from friends and supporters who have made controversial statements, including racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
“Well, if I regretted all the associations with everybody that said something dumb or something I disagreed with, it might eliminate a lot of associations,” he said.
Iowa Republicans, from Governor Terry Branstad on down, have called Paul’s organization in the state the most robust of any of the Republican presidential contenders. Even if few predict he will ultimately be his party’s 2012 nominee, his campaign apparatus has fueled expectations in Iowa.
Hoping to halt Paul’s rise, his rivals have worked to paint him as a fringe candidate unable to beat President Barack Obama in the general election.
Gingrich, in an appearance on CNN on Dec. 27, said: “I think Ron Paul’s views are totally outside the mainstream of every decent American. There will come a morning when people won’t take him as a serious person.”
In an interview with Bloomberg News on Dec. 29, Gingrich also criticized Paul, suggesting that a win for him in Iowa could weaken the future importance of the state’s caucuses in the nominating process.
“It would be very good for the future of the Iowa caucuses for somebody other than Ron Paul to win,” Gingrich said.
--Editors: Mark Silva, Don Frederick
To contact the reporters on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org