The bloggosphere, and now the major media, is awash with discussion about the ramifications of a third party Presidential bid by Ron Paul.
Mr. Paul, a ten-term congressman from Texas, is currently competing in the primaries, seeking the spot as the Republican nominee for President. Despite the astounding level of support that has spontaneously coalesced around him, it remains difficult to imagine that he could actually win the Republican nomination. The reasons underlying this unfortunate prediction have little to do with Dr. Paul, and everything to do with Republican primary voters.
Dr. Paul's positions are based entirely on economics, the lessons to be gleaned through an objective and deep understanding of world and American history, and compelling logic and moral-based political philosophies. Republican voters do tend to have some understanding of economics (at least the economics of the business many of them run, and home economics). This leads to their generally low-tax sentiment. However, they tend to have trouble with logic (they are mostly religious, and religion requires a disciplined, global rejection of logic) and don't do much reading. Their knowledge of political philosophies consists entirely of their preachers' teachings from the Bible. They watch lots of TV. If they home-school their kids, its not to provide a superior classical education, but to indoctrinate them into Biblical notions of creationism and such. They couldn't tell you how Social Security works, let alone explain the convoluted fiat money creation process practiced by the Federal Reserve. They are, by and large, extremely conventional, ignorant, uneducated, and stubbornly unwilling to give-up any of these traits.
This general disposition leads them to be susceptible to a hair-trigger rejection of Ron Paul based on Dr. Paul's desire to send many of their Sacred Cows off to slaughter. For example, they teach their kids that the Civil War was unambiguously good, an indisputable example of America's transcendent goodness. To them, Abe Lincoln is a virtual deity, who only wanted to end slavery. That is, of course, absurd. When Dr. Paul pointed out that the Civil War was likely unnecessary (See Recent Meet The Press Interview), he surely and irrevocably lost a large percentage of the Republican electorate (though most were already Romney, Giuliani, or Huckabee supporters anyway).
Likewise, Republicans tend to believe that an aggressive foreign policy is not only preferable to a non-interventionist one, but the only imaginable course. This is because they believe in the notion that Islamic terrorists could actually take over America or do us significant harm, if we don't maintain a Cold War size military and attack any Islamic country that looks at us wrong. (Could Al Queda, its entire membership massed and armed, even take over Bakersfield from the local population of hicks with their deer rifles? I doubt it.) Dr. Paul's desire to bring our boys (and girls) home seems to them unthinkable, the equivalent of pulling your NASCAR out of the race a few laps early when a thorough ass-kicking victory is all but assured.
These observations constitute the first leg of the three-legged stool that supports the notion that Paul should undertake a third-party run: He cannot be the Republican nominee.
The second leg is based on the notion that Mr. Paul's cause, i.e. rationalism, good economic and monetary policy, non-intervention, free markets, can only be advanced by educating the public at large. The concepts underlying economics often involve multi-step logic, a stark contrast to socialist ideas. Republican and Democrat regulatory-socialists have two step logic. Here is an example: Poverty is bad. Therefore, government must take money from people to give to poor people. As you'll notice, there no serious logic connecting those two propositions. Although the premise is acceptable, the immediate conclusion that government must confiscate money from people is essentially plucked out of the air. Any serious non-biased economist will tell you that this conclusion does not fare well under serious scrutiny, mainly because of the unintended consequences of providing welfare, such as incentivising poverty and fatherless households, which in turn leads to other bad outcomes like drug addiction, with the whole mess regenerating in a generational cycle.
Another example would be Social Security: It's nice for people to have a minimum level of retirement security, therefore the government should confiscate people's money and put it in a retirement fund for each worker. Again, this common wisdom is flawed on several levels. First, there is simply no reason to believe that people would not save for their retirement if left alone. Indeed, Milton Freedman won a Nobel Prize in Economics for proving that they will. Of course, a few will not manage to save enough to survive, but that number would be so small that family, friends, charity or at worst a minimal welfare program could care for them. This is hardly a justification for a full scale compulsory government retirement system. And of course, the government does not "save" the confiscated money, but simply spends it and writes itself I.O.U.s. It's like me spending all my savings, and then when someone asks me how much I have saved, saying "I've got $100,000 in assets, all of it I.O.U.'s to myself!"
Understanding these and most other concepts underlying Paul's libertarian philosophy requires people to have a certain level of knowledge, and to apply that knowledge logically. In short, a high-profile third party run would provide a singular opportunity to begin to educate the public about why libertarian social policy is good economics and good philosophy, and why the socialist/regulatory/populist line is bunk.
Third, and by far most importantly, a third party run by Paul could cause the Republicans to lose. The Republican party was, at one time, a party of vigorous debate, where market economics, protection of civil liberties, and non-interventionist foreign policy concepts were accepted and supported by a strong wing of the party (See Taft and Goldwater). The coming of LBJ and the "Great Society" signaled the demise of this wing of the Republican Party which, although it resurfaced for a somewhat pathetic last gulp of air under Ronald Regan, has now all but disappeared.
Ron Paul has the potential to lead us in establishing once and for all that there are enough of us libertarians to make or break the Republican Party. There is only one way to do it: Make them lose, and lose bad. A devastating loss would, with absolute certainty, force them to adopt our principles and put forth candidates that actually supported them. Why? Because the Republican electoral strategy consists of attracting votes from three main constituencies: Christian whack-jobs, aggressive war mongers, and us libertarians. But the Republicans get the Christian vote simply by acting like they are opposed to abortion. The Christians have nowhere else to go. The aggressive war mongers will, likewise, have nowhere else to go.
At this point, you might be thinking: "Well, we don't have anywhere else to go either." I should thus amend my previous comments to state that any of these groups could theoretically vote for a third-party candidate and get their way too. But they are too stupid to do it. They are told by the television that "Voting for a third party is throwing away your vote." And they believe! The war mongers are just as stupid.
But let's face it: Us libertarians are about ten million times smarter than these other groups, and we know that the "don't throw away your vote" line is a cynical lie. Indeed, it has been clearly established by people who establish such things for a living that, by far, the most powerful vote you can cast is vote for a third party candidate that supports your views.
Ron Paul may not have a chance to win the presidency running as a third party standard bearer. But by simply running, and shaking the establishment to its foundations in the process, he would probably end up effecting the domestic and especially foreign policies of the United States more profoundly than any President in recent history. And who knows? He could just win it.