Ron Paul – the candidate this website enthusiastically endorsed (and for whom our founding editor enthusiastically voted) – lost big in South Carolina this weekend.

Or did he?

Let’s take a look at the raw numbers …

With a handful of ballots left to be counted, Paul finished in fourth place in the Palmetto State with roughly 13 percent of the vote – trailing Iowa winner Rick Santorum (17 percent), New Hampshire winner Mitt Romney (27.8 percent) and runaway South Carolina winner Newt Gingrich (40.4 percent). Paul finished 3 percent below his top polling performance in the Palmetto State – and right around the 13.8 percent polling average predicted during the final week of the race by Real Clear Politics.

Bummer, huh?

Yes and no.

Paul grew his percentage of the GOP electorate in South Carolina by more than 261 percent from 2008.  In fact at last count, Paul received nearly 80,000 votes in South Carolina on Saturday – five times the 16,000 votes he received here four years ago.

Not enough to matter, obviously … but not a bad showing in a state where he consistently polled in single digits until the final few weeks of the race.

And while it’s disappointing to see so many “Republican” voters in South Carolina continue to swallow the pablum they’re spoon-fed by establishment politicians like Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney – it’s reassuring to see that there’s a growing movement in this state that isn’t being duped.

We’re part of that movement … which is pretty amazing when you consider that five short years ago this website was making fun of Ron Paul and his backers.

“We’re sure Dr. Paul is a decent guy, but from everything we can tell his supporters are pretty much the extras from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” we wrote in August of 2007.

Now we’ve proudly joined the asylum.

Here’s the thing … as we pointed out in our endorsement of Paul (and as Paul himself acknowledged on the debate stage in North Charleston, S.C. last week) he is hardly the perfect messenger for the movement he is now leading. We’ve referred to him repeatedly as “Uncle Fluffy” for his rambling, at times incoherent method of message delivery – and that’s being charitable.

“Ron Paul is like if Grampa Simpson was a real person,” former Palmetto political blogger Adam Fogle tweeted on election night.

Obviously our love for Paul knows no bounds … but it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

And while there’s no doubt that the mainstream media has done its best to ignore Paul’s candidacy – the flip side to that coin is that Paul hasn’t exactly done his best when the bright lights were pointed in his direction.

More substantively, there are things he says that we simply don’t agree with. For example, while we approve of America adopting a much more isolationist (and less expensive) foreign policy, Paul’s contention that there ought to be a “golden rule” regarding international relations is incredibly naive, if not downright dangerous.

As we’ve noted on many occasions, America should reserve the right to exercise its military might preemptively so long as there is a compelling national interest at stake, a declaration of the Congress in support of that action, meaningful military objectives and a clearly-defined exit strategy so that our troops don’t get bogged down as they have in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hell, we even subscribe to the “Spies Like Us-bad guy” doctrine of nuclear weapon deployment – which holds that “a weapon unused is a useless weapon.”

Anyway, our point is that Ron Paul – an imperfect messenger advancing numerous controversial and out-of-the-mainstream views – has somehow managed to take a major step forward during the current election cycle, giving us hope that Republicans may one day yet nominate a candidate who actually subscribes to the ideals on which their party claims to stand.

The only question is whether our Republic will survive long enough to see that happen …

Pic: Nancy Mace