Unless my political instincts have completely disappeared, I expect Ron Paul to run as a third party candidate in 2012. The conventional wisdom is that this run will hurt the GOP, but the Virginian disagrees.
Here’s the point that I believe Henninger misses. “These people” who are fuelling the Paul boomlet, and before that the Bachman/Perry/Cain/Gingrich boomlets, are not just the Republican protest vote. Since Obama has no Democrat rivals, there’s no real opportunity for a Democrat protest vote. The only way for Republicans and the unaffiliated middle-of-the-roader who voted for Obama in 2008 to show their opposition to Washington policies is the Republican primary. And who are they? They are the broad middle class who are unemployed or have family members, neighbors and friends who are losing their homes, their jobs and their hope for a better future while Washington lives it up on their dime.
This is an interesting point to consider, especially when Paul’s support in Iowa draws disproportionately from younger voters, ironic considering that Paul at 76 is the oldest candidate and his foreign policy isolationism and belief in the Gold Standard are some of the oldest political ideas in the Republic. Like most libertarians, his ideas cross the traditional Right/Left divide. His hatred of the Fed, distrust of fiat currency, and fetishistic hatred of federalism plays well with old school Conservatives, but his anti-Israel stance and his belief that American intervention is the root of all evil in the world joins him at the hip with Chomskites on the Far Left.
It is difficult to predict for certain who will be damaged the most by Ron Paul’s run, but we can get an idea by asking the question, “Who did you vote for in 2008?” Although Ron Paul did run that year, he withdrew from the race early, and so far I haven’t been able to determine where his supporters went after that. But looking at the statistics of his current supporters, in 2008 Obama captured 66% of the youth vote. With the youth vote not expected to swing Obama’s way in 2012, defections to Paul could hurt Obama even more in the Democratic Party’s most supportive age group.
Like many in the GOP I have been concerned over Ron Paul’s rise. While I sympathize with some of his libertarian positions including the call for smaller government and the legalization of drugs, I disagree with him on all his other stances especially towards Islam, Iran and the state of Israel. I’ve worried about his impact on the GOP when he goes rogue, and have said that it would guarantee Obama’s election.
But given the make up of Ron Paul’s supporters, I’m beginning to doubt that many of them voted for McCain in 2008 or Bush in ‘04. I suspect that many haven’t voted at all, or more likely voted for Obama and Kerry. At this point I’m not foolhardy enough to switch my opinion completely that Paul’s independent run wouldn’t benefit the Democrats, but I’m starting to reconsider.
Paul can only damage the GOP if he pulls voters who would have voted for another GOP candidate. How many of his supporters would jump ship if Sarah Palin entered the race? How about if Chris Christie did? Who would they vote for if Paul quit the race completely? Paul’s supporters can only damage the GOP if they were going to cast their votes for another GOP candidate; in that respect they are taking away a vote from the presumed GOP candidate next November. If they would have sat out 2012 if Paul quit or would have voted for Obama, then Paul’s defection from the party won’t hurt the GOP and could even damage Obama’s reelection chances.
As a registered Republican who believes Obama is the worst president since Carter, I plan to vote for whomever the party selects next November. I will admit though that if by some long-shot the nominee is Ron Paul I will have a very difficult time voting for him, but I will nevertheless do so. How many of his supporters could say the same if Paul isn’t the GOP standard-bearer?
Update: Allahpundit writing at Hotair also questions the conventional wisdom on a Ron Paul 3rd party run:
Has anyone seen a poll of what tea partiers would do in a hypothetical three-way race between Obama, Romney, and Ron Paul? Some segment of the TP surely would split and follow Paul into independence as a protest against Mitt, but I don’t know that that’s where most of Paul’s support would come from. Rand likes to push the tea-party connection because that’s his brand and because it keeps voters’ attention turned towards Ron’s record on spending, but as noted last week, Paul’s not the top choice in the field among tea partiers. WaPo’s national poll before Christmas had him in fifth place in that demographic, in fact. He did better than that in PPP’s new Iowa poll, but not dramatically better.
One thing’s for sure: a 3rd party run would hurt his son Rand’s career. Ron Paul should consider Rand as a serious “plan B” for his libertarian ideas. If he goes rogue, he can expect the GOP to attack his son instead of him since he’s already announced plans to retire from his congressional seat. Of the two I much prefer Rand given the little I know of him. Ron Paul must recognize that there is a serious chance his son may eclipse him in the decades to come. Not a bad thing for a son to do from my perspective…