Politics

Why Ron Paul matters as a Republican.

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Leading a third party? Not so much.

I often get post ideas after responding to comments in Donklephant. So it is with this post, and while I may be covering some old ground, bear with me. I am going to pull on a few different threads, then try to knit those threads back together and try it on for size.

After adding my two cents (well actually $100) to the Ron Paul “money bomb”, timed for Guy Fawkes day I had an entertaining exchange with commenter Dos in Justin’s Money Bomb post earlier this week.

While much of the reaction in the blogosphere and MSM to Paul’s fund raising effort was amusing and interesting, none was more entertaining than the sniping between Andrew Sullivan and David Frum.

Sullivan:

“A $4.3 million haul in 24 hours. Good enough to rattle Frum. Frum tries to belittle the achievement by comparing it to Ralph Nader’s $8 million fundraising in 2000. But over half that in mere hours? The Ron Paul phenomenon is real. The Christianists and neocons will decry it because it affects their power over the GOP. And because when a conservative stands for freedom again, it resonates and threatens them.”

Frum:

“Just noticed that Andrew Sullivan opines that I am “rattled” by Paul’s haul. Personally, I think it is Andrew who has been “rattled” by being caught in yet another of his careless or reckless errors and inaccuracies. But for the record, he’s [SIC] my view on the Paul candidacy… It would be interesting to know how many of today’s Paul donors were Nader donors then… Of course I am saddened to discover that many thousands of Americans have rallied to a candidate campaigning on a Michael Moore view of the world… Ron Paul is Nader, not Perot.”

Frum’s post is one of the odder things I’ve read in a while. In a short post he manages to compare Ron Paul to Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, and Howard Dean, but draws a distinction between Paul and Ross Perot. Well, I guess I have to be happy with the last. I always thought Perot was a few bricks short of a full load.

FrumFrum apparently thinks that anyone who is against the Iraq war, regardless of their views on other issues like constitutional protections, fiscal responsibility, and individual freedom, is a Nader/Moore liberal Democrat. It is an absurd assertion.

David Frum is either confused or deluded about who is supporting Ron Paul. I am one of the very Ron Paul supporters that saddens Frum, and no – I never contributed to or voted for Ralph Nader. I don’t particularly agree with Michael Moore either (although I enjoy his movies). Howard Dean does nothing for me. Fact is, Paul is as close to a polar opposite of a Nader/Moore liberal as one can get. And, as I have stated here before, this particular Ron Paul supporter is committed to voting for the Republican nominee regardless of who the GOP eventually nominates. I’ll even vote for Frum’s favorite – Giuliani, although he does not even make my top 10 stack ranking, and personally would prefer not to pull that lever.

My rationale is familiar to readers of my blog and occasional posts here. I vote for objectives like good governance and fiscal responsibility. Those objectives are documented to be accomplished by divided government, and divided government can only be maintained into 2009 by electing a Republican President. A crap Republican president with a Democratic majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate, will govern better than a great Democratic President and a united Democratic Congress (see LBJ). So on February 5th, 2008 – I’ll be voting in the California Republican primary for Ron Paul, and hoping for the best.

Let us dig a bit more into the mind of Frum. This from a Cato Unbound series six months before the midterms, initiated with a David Frum essay and concluding with his summary:

Future of the GOP: It’s Up to the Democrats

Ross’ question about the future of “fusionism”—the longstanding alliance between libertarians and social conservatives—is a very profound one. Let me suggest a couple of thoughts that may help us think it through together.

  1. While strict doctrinal libertarians have always been a vanishingly small minority in America (cocaine vending machines anyone?), the libertarian disposition or tendency is large and strong.
  2. So long as the Democrats (or anyway the Democrats’ northern leadership) remained effectively a social-democratic party, libertarian-leaning voters had no choice but to support the GOP.”

Not really. As documented in a prescient Cato Institute Policy Analysis and post-midterm election observations, the libertarian swing vote did indeed have a choice. The study quantifies the “libertarian swing vote” at about 12%, and we did see it swing just enough in 2006 to elect a Democratic Congress and a divided government. As Frum correctly points out, the “libertarian disposed” swing vote is small. It is, however, more than large enough to swing national elections with our evenly divided polarized political electorate.

In a couple of recent posts, Justin returns to a favorite theme, promoting the thesis that Ron Paul can have a bigger impact by forgetting the Republican Party and launching a 3rd party effort. I think this notion is mistaken and was glad to hear Paul repeatedly say he will not take that path. He ran for President on The Libertarian ticket in 1988. The result “On the ballot in 46 states and the District of Columbia, he placed third in the popular vote with 431,750 votes (0.47%), behind Republican Bush and Democrat Michael Dukakis.” wikpedia. Justin thinks this grassroots fund raising prowess would translate into a powerful 3rd party movement. It won’t. That sub 1% total represents the hard core voting upper case “L” LIbertarian Party vote. If he ran as a Libertarian again, he’d be close to the same total.

My best guess is that 80% of the electorate are reliable partisan voters. That includes self deluded styled “independents” who nevertheless always vote for one party or the other. The maximum available pool of independents who will actually switch parties between elections and consider voting a 3rd party for President is no more than 20% of the electorate. Perot pretty much set the high water mark in recent history when he tapped virtually all of the independent vote in 1992. A wildly successful third party can only act as a spoiler. Perot elected Bill Clinton. If the electorate is polarized and balanced enough, even a pathetic third party failure, like Ralph Nader in 2000, can have the same effect. Nader elected GWB.

What I think we are seeing, is that 12% moderate, independent, libertarian swing vote documented by Cato beginning to coalesce around Ron Paul. Frankly, my quixotic hope, was that exact vote could organize around a principle of voting for divided government, thereby supporting practical libertarian objectives. That hope is dashed. The libertarian swing vote is organizing around Ron Paul. It is not big enough to get him the nomination. It is big enough to cost the Republicans the White House, if the “Cato libertarians” (now Ron Paul Republicans) do not stay in the Republican fold. Ed Morrisey got it absolutely right:

“What does this tell us? The libertarian impulse may have stronger legs than anyone recognizes. It certainly seems more individually vibrant than the “values voters” segment of the Republican Party, which hasn’t even produced a candidate in this election, let alone this kind of impromptu grassroots effort… Beyond Paul and his flaws, the Republicans had better start paying attention to these voters. Like it or not, they represent a passion that seems to have left the GOP in recent months, and even if they skew young and may not vote as promised this cycle, they will eventually. Rather than continue to write them off, Republicans have to find a way to address them…”

I’ll be more explicit. Republicans cannot win the Presidency without the libertarian swing vote. The libertarian swing vote is coalescing around Ron Paul. If the Republicans alienate the libertarian swing vote by continuing to make bonehead moves like banning Paul in Iowa – they lose the White House. If Republicans find a way to retain most of that vote regardless of whether Paul wins the nomination – the Republicans keep the White House. The way to retain that vote is for the Republicans to move in a libertarian direction and find their inner “Ron Paul”. This is the meaning of Ron Paul – Republican.

So, let’s correct David Frum’s essay title –

“The Future of the GOP? It is up to the libertarians”

x-posted and x-cerpted and completely re-written from Divided We Stand United We Fall”