Bryan Caplan  

Can Ron Paul Ensure a Democratic Victory? Will He?

Pathological Individualism?... Of Mayas and Markets...

Ron Paul is highly unlikely to be the next president. But could he become the Republicans' Nader? Suppose after being knocked out of the primaries, Paul runs on the Libertarian Party ticket. He's got a big war chest, and enthusiastic supporters. It seems quite possible that he could get 1-2% of the vote, enough to make sure the Republican nominee loses.

Note that given Paul's anti-war platform, this would not merely be a spoiled gesture. He could actually sharply increase the chance of a pull-out from Iraq by running as a third party candidate. Nader tipped the scales in favor of his perceived greater evil; Paul would tip the scales in favor of his perceived lesser evil.

My only doubt about Paul's ability to ensure a Democratic victory is that he might actually steal some far-left anti-war votes, preventing him from tipping the scales.

Convinced? OK, next question: If Ron Paul knew he could be the Republicans' Nader, would he do so? He already ran as the LP candidate in 1988, so it seems pretty likely. Does anyone who has been following Paul's candidacy more closely than I have have any insight to offer?

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COMMENTS (22 to date)
mgroves writes:

Paul stated during one of the debates that he would not run as a third-party candidate.

Ross Williams writes:

Paul would have a problem running on an LP ticket if he wanted to keep his house seat. I believe the rules would force him to resign his membership in the GOP if he ran on the LP ticket for pres, and would thus have to do the same in the house. Running under LP in the house he would lose funding from the GOP and alienate voters who vote the party line. Plus it would open up the GOP running a pro-war candidate in his district, in which case he could easily lose.

maryinohio writes:

it's an interesting idea, but i don't think so. the right is getting more and more extreme (and religiously interested) that he just doesn't represent the gop by any stretch and they can't vote for him, and he's not going to pull a nader - givnig the wh to the other guy - becaus ehe's not running as an independent. (it's my theory that's WHY he's not running as an independent.)

but you know, we'll see. if you guys haven't checked out, you should though: they've got all this coverage of the NH primary that no one else has. they're trying a live feed from various reporters they haveon the ground up there - if it works, it'll be like the democratic journalism cnn SHOULD be. they do a lot of RP analysis, so i wonder what they'll say.

happy primary seasaon!

Troy Camplin writes:

I don't see him doing it. I think he's primarily trying to get his ideas taken seriously by the party. I wish he weren't such a purist though -- wouldn't it be nice to see a VP Paul? I doubt it would be offered, but he should be open to the possibility. VP's do well in followup Pres. elections, after all.

Gary Rogers writes:

I think it is a definite possibility and I am struggling with my own strategy if that scenario comes about. Right now the Republican party has one Marxist (I want to look like the person you work with not the one who might offer you a job), one liberal, three moderates and only Ron Paul taking the conservative position of smaller government. The government, meanwhile, continues its unsustainable policy of deficit spending. My concern is that when the day of reckoning comes, the person in the White House will take full blame for the whole mess just like Hoover did back in 1929. In Hoover's case it allowed FDR to take credit for coming to the rescue, even though his policies threw the country back into recession in 1937 and never did bring about the promised recovery. Because Hoover received all the blame, we still live with many of the bad policies that were never recognized as having bad outcomes.

Our country is headed the wrong direction, but the situation is still salvageable if we can instill some fiscal discipline into the government. If we do not have the right people to get the job done, though, a Democratic victory may not be the worst alternative.

John Thacker writes:

the right is getting more and more extreme (and religiously interested) that he just doesn't represent the gop by any stretch and they can't vote for him

It's difficult for me to say so, considering that all of the major Republican candidates this year are notable for rejecting part of the traditional conservative/"right wing" ideas in order to agree with Democrats. Huckabee, for example, sounds much like a populist or conservative Democrat of old. Populism is a lot of things, but it's rarely considered extreme right. Rudy, McCain, and Romney's history all have quite a few moderate or liberal positions.

About Dr. Paul, while it's true that one can regard Huckabee as "extreme" in a certain way, though not a traditional left-right way, surely the same is true of Ron Paul. Is not some of Ron Paul's appeal because to fusionists and libertarian conservatives the Republican Party has been *less extreme* in recent years in many ways, moving towards the center on issues like spending and entitlements? Also, if you think that being "religiously interested" is a problem for Ron Paul, then I wonder just how familiar you are with his rhetoric and views. He is, after all, some one who wrote:

"The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers."

Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few. The ultimate goal of the anti-religious elites is to transform America into a completely secular nation, a nation that is legally and culturally biased against Christianity.

Or, in a piece also denouncing the war in Iraq:
Liberals also routinely denounced the Pope for maintaining that Catholicism, like all religions, has rules that cannot simply be discarded to satisfy the cultural trends of the time. The political left has been highly critical of the Pope’s positions on abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, feminism, and contraception. Many liberals frankly view Catholicism as an impediment to the fully secular society they hope to create.

"Extreme" does not, to me, mean "any position I dislike personally." Did not Goldwater say "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice?" I can't deny that Ron Paul is extreme in many ways, even though (some elements) of his extremism I certainly prefer to the "moderate" consensus views of the majority.

Cindy Ricca writes:

If the Democratic nominee is Hillary, versus any other Republican, Ron Pual runs third party.

Regardless of who wins (other than Paul) nothing changes with the war, but Democratic Hillary haters join Paul's base. In the next four years, the left wing of the base will learn that you can't hate war but love big government.

It doesn't get anymore big governemnt than war.

If the Democratic nominee is Edwards, Paul stays on the sidelines if it's John, Rudy, Huckabee or Fred for the Repblicans.

Edwards versus Mitt, Paul runs and comes in second.

If the nominee is Obama, Paul sells him the mailing list and hits the campaign trail for him, in Alaska.

8 writes:

Depends on the nominees and what they stand for. Also, I don't know if 1-2% is accurate. A chair can get 1-2% in a Presidential election. Paul seems like he could do significantly better. He also might decide to run as an independent; with his volunteers he probably could get on the ballot in every state.

The best he could hope for is to deny the winning party a mandate, which could ensure gridlock. I think if Hillary is the Dem nominee he can do a lot better, because he would be the only anti-war candidate in the race. If the Republicans then nominated a more liberal Republican, like Huckabee or Giuliani, I could see Ron Paul winning upwards of 20%.

Dan Weber writes:

There seems to be a lot of overlap between Paul supporters and Obama supporters. He could pull a lot of supporters from Clinton and make sure that neither candidate gets a majority, but I think his left-leaning supporters would go for Obama over him.

I think an independent run really depends on who wins the Democratic nomination.

(The prediction markets have given Obama a 2/3 chance of getting the nomination, Clinton at 1/3.)

Morgan writes:

He could easily get more than 10% just by bringing in disenfranchised voters from the 45 states in which your vote makes no difference whatsoever in the election.

Paul might run third party because it would give him almost another year to spread his ideas. It might also cause Republicans to mouth free market ideology again, to win back his supporters.

On the other hand, it would allow Republicans to blame their loss on him rather than their failed policies. And it would be more difficult for him to build a liberty-oriented coalition within the Republican party. My impression is that Nader became less powerful within the Democratic party after his run against Gore. Although perhaps the Dem's run Greener now?

Ron H. writes:

70% of the American public is against the war. Voting for a democratic Congress proved that. The dems are foaming at the mouth, just waiting for us to pick a war-monger like McCain or Guiliani. THEY ALREADY KNOW, WE'RE TOAST, if we do that. Contrary to what your initial position is, when you think it through, Ron Paul is the only, LOGICAL candidate who can beat the Dems. It's already over if we nominate McCain or Guliani.

Brent M writes:

I apologize if this sounds a little masochistic, but if Ron Paul isn't the Republican nominee, I seriously hope his supporters write him in for president anyway instead of abandoning him for whoever winds up as the Republican contender. If that means Ron Paul spoils the Republican nominee's chances at winning the election, then so be it. If the US has to suffer more under a heavy-handed Democrat president in order for the Republican party to get its head out of its behind, then I'm all for it. Not only can Ron Paul do it, I hope he does if Republicans don't chose him as the nominee.

Floccina writes:

I do not expect Ron Paul to even come close to getting the nomination and I do not expect him to run as the Libertarian or as an independant candidate so I plan to write him in.

John Thacker writes:

70% of the American public is against the war.

Perhaps, but 70% of the American public is also against libertarianism. If Ron Paul faces a nearly equally antiwar Democrat, then the Democrat would also win handily under the same argument. Ron Paul versus a prowar Democrat might be more interesting, sure.

Also, I don't think that 70% were against the war the whole time, merely that 70% are against the war run badly-- the percentage in favor has even crept up. McCain has a certain amount of credibility to run on "if he had invaded, would've done it better."

Rick Stewart writes:

Ron Paul will not run except as a Republican. But he will probably continue to run for the nomination beyond the point where all is lost. His presence will cause many Republicans to at least think again about what their party stands for. If Obama gets the nomination, as he probably will, the Republicans have zero chance in the election no matter who they nominate, so perhaps they will spend some time sorting out their house for the future. In this internal debate many of Ron Paul's ideas will be seriously considered, some of them adopted.

Morgan writes:

A better question is can a Big Government pro-business corruption incompetent Bush ensure a Democratic Victory in 2008?

H writes:
I seriously hope his supporters write him in for president anyway instead of abandoning him for whoever winds up as the Republican contender.

Would this not have the same effect as him running 3rd party?

And is this even the case anymore, can we still write in candidates with electronic voting booths?

John Fast writes:

Why do you believe that -- in a third-party or independent run -- he would get more support from Republicans than from Democrats? (Or, to be more precise, that he would get more votes that would otherwise go to the Republican candidate than to the Democrat?)

I'm not disagreeing with you, merely saying that I don't see any reason to expect one more than the other.

Ross Levatter writes:

Does anyone really think write-in votes are seriously and accurately counted?

Robert Veit writes:

I would think that the overall effect would be to take away more democratic votes than republican votes. I don't think the libertarian wing of the republican party is as libertarian as Ron Paul (though they may tend his way if the Republicans go for a religious populist). On the other hand, the antiwar left is quite large and likely to forgive all else in favor of the candidate most supportive to their cause.

John Fast writes:

(quoting from two different people in this comment:)

I do not expect Ron Paul to even come close to getting the nomination and I do not expect him to run as the Libertarian or as an independant candidate

Neither do I.
so I plan to write him in.

I plan to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, as I always do, rather than a write-in.
the antiwar left is quite large and likely to forgive all else in favor of the candidate most supportive to their cause.

I think all the Democratic candidates are almost as antiwar as he is, so I expect antiwar leftists to vote for the Democrat.

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