As we all know, the mainstream media has made a big deal out of Ron Paul’s refusal to rule out a third-party or independent run for the Presidency. He has all but given a Shermanesque statement, but the media still remains unsatisfied because he refuses to absolutely shut the door on a run from outside the GOP. His answer, while leaving little doubt about his intentions to stay within the party (for now), seems to frustrate the party establishment to no end. There is, however, a strong case for why his “almost no” answer is the best strategical answer he could give.
- It will force the Republican Party to take him more seriously. With the odds favoring a Paul victory in Iowa, the establishment is starting to take him seriously, but as more of a one-trick pony than a major contender for the nomination. The simple fact, however, is that the GOP cannot defeat Obama without Paul’s supporters, and they will not turn out for anyone else who is running. Some people have asked about Paul’s true ceiling for support now that he has surpassed the 10% mark where he was during the months when several other candidates surged and fell, given that he holds several positions that are anathema to the party establishment, such as allowing drugs to be legalized and having a non-interventionist foreign policy. That ceiling is probably somewhere around 70-80%, as 20-30% of the GOP, mostly the establishment neocons, will find him so unpalatable as the nominee that they will refuse to support him. Newt Gingrich, for example, has already said as much. This is not a problem, however, as there are more than enough independents, anti-war voters and disaffected Obama voters from 2008 who never got the hope and change they wanted to make up for them. Remember that these groups are ultimately more important than winning the base, because it cuts into Obama’s base of supporters.
- It will greatly increase his influence at a brokered convention. The possibility of Paul winning a significant number of delegates and then breaking from the party for an independent run strikes fear into the hearts of the GOP establishment. Rush Limbaugh, among others, has spoken of the possibility that this will destroy the Republican Party. This possibility will give Paul a large amount of influence at the convention, regardless of whether he has the delegates to win outright. He can simply say, “Nominate me or I take my supporters and delegates and leave.” One can argue that this is an underhanded and dishonorable tactic, or a very dangerous form of political brinkmanship, but we are in an ideological war for the future of the nation, and in war, nothing is more important or more honorable than victory.
- It will frustrate the establishment by putting America first rather than putting a political party first. A lighter effect of this element of Paul’s strategy is that it makes the establishment pundits go crazy. In their mindset, the idea of splitting from the party is on par with high treason, because to them, the good of the party is more important than good of the country. Obama is correct to call for Americans to put country before party, even though he does this while promoting his own partisan agenda. By running against an establishment GOP candidate like Romney or Gingrich, Paul would be putting country before party by giving Americans an opt-out from big government.
- It leaves the door open to an alternate path to victory. That’s right, folks. With Ron Paul, a third-party or independent victory is a possibility. No third-party candidate in American history has had the sort of appeal across the political landscape (as well as outside of the normal landscape) that Paul has. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken from December 15-18 shows Paul winning 21% support in a three-way race against Obama and Romney, or against Obama and Gingrich. He has improved in this measure since November, when he had 18% support versus Obama and Romney. This level of support would guarantee him a place on the Presidential debate stage, which he could use as a platform to expand his support even further. This is the primary reason why Jesse Ventura was able to become the governor of Minnesota, and it is the primary reason why Ron Paul will be able to become President as a third-party or independent candidate. Furthermore, if this 21% vote for Paul were to be the result on Election Day, he would be the second most successful third-party candidate in American history, behind only Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. However, a significant number of Paul supporters are the sort of people who are not well represented by traditional polling methods. It is likely that he would perform even better than the polls indicate. His broad support would possibly create a situation in which no one would win a majority of electoral votes, thus forcing the House of Representatives to decide the election for the first time since 1824. Since the House is controlled by Republicans, this would ultimately give the GOP establishment what they keep clamoring for, “Anyone But Obama,” even if it isn’t Paul. But combine a better than expected turnout with some strong debate performances, and Ron Paul can win a majority of electoral votes in a three-way race and be the first President without a party since John Tyler 170 years ago.
As you can see, there is a good case for why a refusal to rule out a split from the GOP is actually in Paul’s best interest. Of course, the GOP can make this entire discussion a moot point by nominating Paul, but they may not be intelligent enough to do this.