Ron Paul: to Run Third Party or Not to Run Third Party
As it is now clear that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, chatter has intensified about what Ron Paul and his supporters should do. For a representative sample, here is a recent article from Justin Raimondo urging Ron Paul to run third party. Here is a reply to Justin from Ron Holland.
I am familiar with the work of both men, and I respect both men, but I am unable to agree with either even though they are making opposing cases. I agree with Ron Holland that Ron Paul should not run third party but disagree with the bulk of his reasoning as to why.
While I would love to have someone I could enthusiastically support in November, especially with the Constitution Party likely to nominate Virgil Goode who is not a clear cut non-interventionist and the Libertarian Party likely to nominate cosmotarian favorite Gary Johnson, I hope Ron Paul doesn’t run third party or independent.
I have expressed before my general wariness of candidates who compete in a major party primary who then jump ship to a third party when they fail to win the nomination. I make an exception to this if there were blatant shenanigans by the major party to keep the candidate down that could be exploited by jumping to a third party in which case the party switch could be viewed as a form of just punishment or payback, but in general I think it is a bad strategy and bad form. I say this because it strikes me as bad faith to go running to another party if you weren’t successful in the major party. It also reinforces the perception that third parties are for major party castaways and malcontents. If a losing candidate is unhappy enough with the major party nominee then he should refuse to endorse the major party nominee and endorse the nominee of a third party, not be the nominee of a third party. Also for the third party they need to do less waiting around for defectors and more recruiting of credible candidates of their own.
Ultimately, unlike Raimondo, I think if Ron Paul were to run third party it would diminish his standing in the long run the same way that Pat Buchanan’s Reformed Party run diminished his standing. Paul would very predictably start out impressively in the polls but would very predictably fade as the election grew nearer and the “don’t waste your vote” mentality set in. Ron Paul does his movement more good in the future as an ex-Congressman and an ex-GOP presidential candidate than he does as the/a poorly performing nominee of a third party or independent.
That said, the major case against a Ron Paul third party run in Holland’s essay isn’t really about a Ron Paul run in particular, it is about the electoral futility of third party politics in general. This is where I disagree with Holland. I readily concede that third party efforts are almost certainly destined to fail electorally, but that is only the measuring rod of success if you naively believe that the purpose of third parties is to win elections. As I have stated before, that is not the purpose of third parties or third party involvement.
Don’t get me wrong. I support and frequently counsel third party voting. I am the Constitution Party correspondent for Independent Political Report, one of the largest sites on the web for third party news and information. I attended the Constitution Party convention in 2008. I have supported the Constitution Party nominee in every presidential race since 1996 and regret to this day that I didn’t vote Constitution Party in 1992, its first year in existence. But I don’t believe that I am voting third party so that my candidate will win. I am voting third party as a way to register dissatisfaction with the status quo and either of the big two.
If you get past the notion that third party politics is actually about winning elections then Holland’s electoral futility argument is not persuasive.
If I hold my nose and vote for the GOP nominee (Romney) in spite of the fact that I have significant disagreements with him on the issues, my vote is still registering as a 100% endorsement of Romney. There are no half votes. There are no three quarter votes. Every vote counts the exact same. My holding my nose vote counts just the same as an enthusiastic “Rah Rah for Romney” vote. Voting third party is the only way I have of registering discontent. A vote for Romney is a vote for Romney and arguably a vote against the Democrat. A vote for the Constitution Party is a vote for the Constitution Party and a vote against the big two parties.
Now maybe this system is screwed up. Maybe there is something to be said for rank order voting or proportional representation or whatever, but this is the system we have. Our first past the goal post electoral system may favor the development of a two party system even though I don’t think this is what the Founders intended, but it also makes third party voting a real way to send a message to the big two and reject the status quo.
Also, Holland seems to contradict himself with his own argument. He says the power of Ron Paul and his supporters lies in their ability to keep the GOP Establishment guessing and anxious about what they are going to do, yet he rules out preemptively one option.
Holland also seems to believe a Ron Paul endorsement of Romney is a possible bargaining chip. That ain’t going to happen. If Paul endorses Romney I will be very surprised. Ron Paul is a man of principle, and he simply won’t endorse an Establishment figure like Romney even with a Rand Paul Vice President selection, a Ron Paul cabinet position, platform language on the Fed, etc. and if he did there would be a massive revolt among his supporters.
So Holland is essentially saying give us a Ron Paul acceptable VP nominee or whatever or we are likely to stay home. First of all, I’m not voting for Romney under any circumstances, and I suspect a lot of Ron Paul supporters feel the same way. I also highly suspect that a lot of Ron Paul primary voters (which is different than Ron Paul “supporters”) will vote for Romney anyway because they will be seduced by the “anybody but Obama” and “don’t waste your vote” argument that seem to be so persuasive every presidential election cycle. So the actual number of voters who might be up for grabs based on Romney’s overtures is possibly not that significant.
But Holland’s alternative if Romney is insufficiently gracious to Ron Paul seems to be to stay home on Election Day. Would someone please explain to me how staying home, which will be interpreted as apathy, is superior to voting for a third party candidate that you know will not win but that allows you to send a message? What communicates better to the Establishment your political will – one additional vote for the CP or LP nominee or one less vote from the total?
Holland and others who make similar arguments need to disentangle in their minds the electoral prospects of third parties from the act of third party voting.
So in summary, Ron Paul should not run third party or independent, but neither should he endorse Romney, and Ron Paul’s supporters should likewise refuse to endorse Romney with their votes and should instead register their dissatisfaction by voting for the third party candidate of their choice on Election Day.
Red Phillips posts articles frequently to Independent Political Report . He wrote this article for an upcoming publication, but allowed us to have it first.