When Rush Limbaugh warned last summer that Ron Paul “is going to destroy” the Republican Party, it was not as if he feared Paul had a chance of winning the 2012 GOP nomination. The fulmination was more forward-looking. Rightly, Limbaugh sensed that the success or failure of Paul’s campaign ought not to be measured merely in terms of electoral traction, but rather to what extent his presence could shift the underlying dynamics of conservative politics.

Here in New Hampshire, bushels of Paul supporters are chanting on street corners, merrymaking, and coordinating with Occupy demonstrators to stage actions at Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich events. At a debate-watching party on Saturday night hosted by “RevPac,” a trio of acoustic guitarists belted songs of liberty as college-aged Paulites debated the merits of voluntaryism and Murray Rothbard. As one attendee remarked in amazement: “Think about it … these people have all come out to participate in a Republican primary.”

Yesterday, during an appearance at the Timberland corporate headquarters in Stratham, an employee asked Paul what he’d do as president if Iran closed down the Strait of Hormuz. “What they’re doing is trying to exert themselves, because they’ve been threatened,” Paul said. “They better be ready. In the next few weeks, they’re liable to get bombed.”

“They’re just trying to say, please please, we can defend ourselves. So that’s trying to wake us up to what they’re facing,” he continued. “There’s no benefit for them to do that. They’re not going to attack one of our ships.”

“All we need to do is back off a little bit,” Paul said.

Whatever Paul’s ultimate delegate count relative to Mitt Romney, there is a sense here that Limbaugh was correct: the Paul phenomenon has already gone a long way in planting fissures within the GOP infrastructure — some of which are yet to be fully realized.