Ron Paul finally gets around to attacking Mitt Romney

Ron Paul and Mitt Romney’s bromance is over. After months of focusing his debate and advertorial attacks on other presidential opponents, and in fact defending Romney, Paul is now including the endangered frontrunner in his latest round of commercial criticism.

CNN reports that Paul is now running a 60-second ad in Washington State ahead of Saturday’s primary that calls Mitt Romney a “flip-flopper who’s been on all sides, supported TARP bailouts and provided the blueprint for Obamacare.” The other current candidates aren’t left out of the commercial, called “Three of a Kind:” Paul’s camp again calls Newt Gingrich a “serial hypocrite”, while Santorum is described as a “counterfeit conservative.” But it’s the anti-Romney inclusion that sticks out.

Paul and Romney have both worked to avoid attacking one another, and in fact have come to one another’s defense at various times during the campaign. Paul famously called Rick Santorum a “fake” during the last debate and targeted Gingrich in December for deferring his 60s-era draft and taking money from Freddie Mac. Conversely, Paul made sure to defend Romney’s “not concerned about the very poor” gaffe by saying Romney was simply “a victim of his own economic theories, rather than him being cold and heartless.”

And Romney, who worked overtime last week to defend Paul, clearly wants people to think he and the congressman are chummy. He told Fox News yesterday, “We like each other! We don’t know each other extensively but we have seen each other on the trail couple times. We have introduced our wives to one another. We get along just fine.”

All this political love had both Paul’s opponents and the press wondering if the Texas Congressman and his rival were in cahoots. “You have to ask Congressman Paul and Governor Romney what they’ve got going together. Their commercials look a lot alike and so do their attacks,” Santorum said after the debate.

There’s plenty of reason to think Paul and Romney were at least subconsciously coordinating their campaigns. With Mitt Romney in the race, Ron Paul can scoop up some split Tea Party voters, and then use his potential delegates to get a great spot on Romney’s hypothetical team. Romney, meanwhile, could rely on Paul’s small yet devoted support to win over Tea Partiers and youth. But with 419 delegates at play during next week’s Super Tuesday, Paul needs to start being more aggressive in making a dent in the race, thereby increasing his bargaining power.

As it stands, Paul has only 18 delegates. Romney has 147 out of the 1144 needed to win the nomination. Ron Paul would need probably about 15-25% of the delegates, about 172 delegates, to demonstrate his usefulness and to prove his libertarian politics have a place in the GOP as a whole. The only way he can achieve this is to further distinguish himself from Romney and the others, and hope voters will be convinced the candidate has a unique vision that is simultaneously best for the country and can win the election.

Maybe next he’ll start calling Mitt Romney “plastic pretty boy” again?