ron paul: the good and bad news for libertarians
So what have we learned from Ron Paul’s run this year? Let’s start the good news for Paul. By dropping the irrelevant Libertarian party and running as a Republican, Paul got be a Congressman, got a national following, got into various nationally televised debates, and came close to winning the Iowa caucus. Paul’s son is now a Senator in Kentucky. How have his comrades in the third party fared? Bob Barr – a former Congressman – ran as the LP presidential nominee and got .4% of the vote. Worse than Ralph Nader. Bottom line: third parties suck, defecting to a major party works.
Here’s the bad news for Paul. The 2012 campaign has shown that when given three distinct choices, libertarians are still wildly unpopular among Republicans. The way I see it, the GOP had three streams of competition: establishment/big business Republicans (Romney, Hunstman, Cain), social conservative (Bachmann, Santorum, Perry), and libertarian (Paul, Johnson). Gingrich is sui generis, but has recently attached himself to the social conservatives.
The result of the match up so far? Every social conservative has enjoyed a surge over Romney and two states went to social conservatives (SC, IA). The business Republican, Romney, has enjoyed a first or second place position in polls throughout the cycle. He actually did well in 2008, winning 11 states against McCain. He’ll win the nomination. The libertarians? Paul had a surge in Iowa in December, but dropped to third on election day behind one of the most understaffed and underfunded campaigners, Rick Santorum. Paul has yet to win a state and he is now polling behind Gingrich. Gary Johnson, the hard core libertarian governor of New Mexico? No one cared.
Even though Paul shows that major party strategies yield better results than third parties, there is a limit. The GOP doesn’t have much of a libertarian streak. One might argue that the libertarian may have a bright future within the GOP, but it is hard for me to believe that the young libertarians who are fueling the Paul campaign today can outnumber the social conservatives of tomorrow.