Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Q Day 4: Ron Paul, 3rd Party Candidate?

A bunch of questions about libertarian third-party runs, including:
Do you see a Ron Paul third-party run happening next year? how do you imagine it would effect the race and the national conversation? I'm hoping you'll tell me it's inevitable and that it'll give Obama a landslide
Would Paul jump? That goes back to the earlier post: it's hard to get inside their heads. What we can say is that on the one hand, Paul certainly hasn't displayed long-term loyalty to the GOP (since he ran as a libertarian before), and he doesn't have a political career to lose by doing it, especially since he's already announced his retirement from the House. On the other hand, a jump would presumably hurt his son's status within the Republican Party. Hard to know how much he cares about any of that.

If he did it...well, he'd be a poorly financed general election candidate with a very strong but very small base of supporters, but the advantage of a ballot line everywhere (presumably strong Paul supporters would secure a spot in those states in which the Libertarian Party doesn't already have a line). 5% plus or minus 4% seems like as good an estimate as any -- but of course there's a huge difference between a candidate who takes about 9% from one side and a candidate who takes 1%. At the end of the day, I'd suppose that he would be unlikely to cost Republicans the presidency. If the election appeared close, Republicans, even the most libertarian-leaning of them, would drift back to Mitt Romney or whoever the nominee was. Meanwhile, if Obama is generally unpopular and getting clobbered, some liberal civil liberties fans might drift to Paul, but that will dry up if Obama is popular enough to have a fighting chance.

I guess what I want to say that how many votes Paul would get is probably a function of what else is going on. If the election is winnable for Republicans, the Republican nominee will wind up popular enough among Republicans that most will come home, and same for Obama and Democratic voters. Of course, if the election is very close, then it's certainly possible that the difference between a Paul at 2% or 3% vs. a no-name libertarian at 1% might turn a key state or two, but once the contest is that close then all sort of stuff can flip it.


  1. There is one other, rather obvious rational for trying to figure out if Paul will jump from the GOP ship, he has a son who clearly wants to be president. The likelihood that if Ron Paul jumps ship would help or hurt Rand Paul in the near future might matter a lot. If Obama wins reelection, than in 2016 Rand Paul would have been a senator for a whole term. He is obviously a more mainstream candidate than his father, with a less sordid history. It is hard not to imagine him using the fund raising system created by his father, with a much higher ceiling.
    I'm not sure if this matters, but it might be enough to keep Ron Paul from a quixotic third party race (as much as I might hope to see it).

  2. The Paul camp has already made significant headway towards his goal of establishing a libertarian movement within the GOP. The youth energy is clearly on his side (tomorrow's Congressmen) and he even has a toehold in the Republican establishment in some places (5 of 17 on the Iowa state committee are Paul supporters). It's still possible that GOP insiders could provoke him to go third party (and he's clearly holding that over their heads), but I think it's unlikely. It's probably telling that Romney and Paul have had a mutually respectful relationship so far.

  3. Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcherDecember 21, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    "If Obama wins reelection, then in 2016 Rand Paul would have been a senator for a whole term."

    Paul will have been a senator for a whole term by 2016 regardless of who wins the Presidency next year.

  4. "If the election appeared close, Republicans, even the most libertarian-leaning of them, would drift back to Mitt Romney or whoever the nominee was."

    I keep thinking of Ralph Nader in 2000. If he hadn't been on the ballot in Florida and, say, half of his supporters got mad that he wasn't there and stayed home but the other half voted for Gore, Bush would never have been president.

    Roy Perkins,

    True, but if Obama wins, then Paul will be finishing a term at a time when there's no incumbent president running.

  5. Even if Paul polls at just 5% through the spring and summer, that's going to depress the GOP nominee's numbers almost exclusively. So it's going to be something like this (the Gallup Poll 2008 undecideds averaged 8% from March to Nov.):

    Obama 46%
    Romney 41%
    Paul 5%
    Undecided 8%

    Obama 48%
    Perry 40%
    Paul 5%
    Undecided 7%

    Those kinds of numbers are not going to appear close, especially if they are fairly steady. The conventions may provide a chance for a change of dynamic, as will the debates. But I doubt Paul's core fanatics are going to vote for anyone else.

  6. According to the Washington Post last week, Paul is presently polling 21% as a third party candidate where the major party nominees are Obama and Romney. The Republicans cannot win without Paul, which is what scares the crap out of the party machine.


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