His platform has some serious flaws, but Paul is the only candidate standing up for individual liberties.
"At least he's not crazy," Democrats observe, explaining why they'd rather lose to Mitt Romney than any other any Republican in the 2012 presidential race. Some are comforted as well by Romney's willingness to say anything or be anything to please his target voters. "At least he's not an ideologue." A cynic merely pretending to embrace ideas or opinions you disdain is preferable to a true believer.
It has been Romney's good fortune to run against a collection of crazies -- self-promoters with delusions of grandeur (Gingrich and Cain) and ignoramuses (Cain, Bachmann, and Perry.) The Republican Party hasn't exactly put its best candidates forward, or (with a notable exception) its most freedom loving. Today, Romney's most energized opponent is theocrat, Rick Santorum, a conservative religious collectivist. As David Boaz, at CATO points out, Santorum is a stated opponent of individual liberty, a critic of what he calls "the libertarianish right... this whole idea of personal autonomy."
Libertarians, right and left, have no candidate in the race, except for Ron Paul (although Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson could conceivably become a third-party factor on a Libertarian ticket). A most imperfect advocate for individual liberty, Paul favors state laws against flag desecration (core political speech) and federal laws against abortion, and he opposes separation of church and state, which is essential to the religious liberty of minorities. Like many religious conservatives, Paul asserts, illogically and counter-factually, that religious majorities are endangered. Religion is under siege in our extremely religious country, he claims hysterically, and children are not allowed to pray in schools. (In fact, the law is clear: children are free to pray in school, individually or in groups; school officials are prohibited from forcing them to pray.)
But for all his faults, Paul remains the only major candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has taken a stand against our endless wars (including the war on drugs) and the authoritarian national-security state -- the most urgent, dire threat to individual liberty today. It should be but isn't a shock to realize that he is the only major candidate to oppose presidential power to summarily assassinate American citizens.
So it's not surprising that Ron Paul has attracted younger voters than his Republican opponents and the support of the occasional left-wing civil libertarian (notably Glenn Greenwald.) But liberal support for Paul is quite weak, and telling: it reflects the dangerous, anti-libertarian drift of today's liberals and progressives. With some exceptions, liberals tend to focus on Paul's alleged bigotry, his newsletters, and his opposition to anti-discrimination laws, while ignoring his lonely support for fundamental liberties.
You don't have to overlook or make excuses for Paul's weaknesses on civil rights or his apparent courting of virulent right-wing extremists to appreciate and applaud his support for liberty, where it arguably matters most. After all, Paul poses no threat to racial and religious tolerance, civil rights, or entitlements; he has virtually no chance of becoming president and his own alleged intolerance is, to say the least, unpopular. (It demonstrates the declining respectability of overt bigotry.) But he has an opportunity to organize and perhaps empower voters who oppose the Bush/Obama security state. If only that were a priority, for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Presidential candidates, like nominal frontrunner Mitt Romney, aggressively advertise their patriotism, their embrace of American exceptionalism, and their love for this titular land of the free. They characterize Obama as anti-American: Santorum has accused him of siding with our "enemies." Romney asserts he knowingly promotes policies harmful to the country and that he will "poison the spirit of America" (and then they have the nerve to call him divisive). But with the exception of Ron Paul, all the Republican candidates, as well as President Obama, share a decidedly un-American disregard for liberty. The question is, how many voters care?