Which presidential candidate has the most enthusiastic supporters? That would be Ron Paul, Republican Congressman from Texas. He has run for President before. In 1988 he quit the House and the GOP to run as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He came third with 0.47% of the popular vote.
In his quest for the Republican nomination he usually scores around 2% in opinion polls that have margins of error of 3-4%. On the other hand he frequently wins straw polls and internet votes. His supporters are willing to turn out. They are willing to vote – multiple times – on websites. His fundraising - $5 million in the latest quarter – is comparable with top-tier, but struggling, John McCain.
Paul’s platform is one of strict constitutional law and opposition to the Iraq war. He will be the only candidate on the ballot in either party who voted against the Iraq war apart from the equally long-shot Dennis Kucinich on the Democrat side. His supporters claim that only an opponent of the Iraq war can possibly win the election, so the GOP needs to choose Paul to have a chance of winning.
Unfortunately this analysis is deeply flawed. The Iraq war is an important issue, but not the only one. In a debate against Hillary Clinton, Paul would throw away millions of votes the first time he said that Social Security and Medicare were unconstitutional. She would be talking about expanding healthcare for children and he would be advocating the end of all the current programs.
Constitutionally, of course, Paul is correct. There is no power for the federal government to run a ponzi-scheme defined in any part of the US Constitution. Furthermore, a phased privatization would certainly leave future seniors better off than trying to maintain the current, bankrupt, system. But there is zero chance of making immediate abolition into a vote-winning policy. Paul is like Barry Goldwater, but much more extreme and not as clear and articulate.
As a general election candidate for the GOP, Paul would greatly exceed the 0.47% he got for the Libertarian Party but fall well short of the 38% won by Goldwater in 1964.
Of course, this isn’t going to happen. He might get a bit of a boost in libertarian-leaning New Hampshire – state motto ‘Live Free or Die’. But this boost is likely to be a surprising third place finish. Paul’s vote will be a measure of failure by top-tier candidates. Coming in behind Ron Paul will be the humiliation that could be fatal to a front-runner.
Then what? He has refused to rule out running as a third party candidate. Unlike the majority in the Libertarian Party, Paul is pro-life. His third party ticket could therefore undermine Rudy Giuliani, if he were the Republican candidate. Some Republicans are clear that they will never vote for Giuliani. But most of those people are hawkish on foreign policy, and could never vote for Paul either. As a hard-line war opponent, he could also undermine Hillary Clinton – who voted for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution in the Senate.
As a third party – possibly with the Libertarians again – he would have little impact. I doubt he would end up taking more than 5% of the vote. Ross Perot by contrast got 20%, and still came second in two states and third in 48.
Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.