A third-party candidacy by the former Georgia congressman would complicate election calculus for McCain
By Chuck Muth
I live in Nevada, so gambling isn’t exactly a new concept to me. And were I a betting man, I’d bet that former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia jumps into the presidential race this week as a candidate for the Libertarian Party nomination. And if he does, I bet he wins the nomination next month at the LP’s convention in Denver.
Barr is a credible candidate, and unlike many of the Ron Paul crowd, fully realizes he’s not going to win the White House in November. This alone will cause many a Republican to twist themselves into knots, wailing that a vote for Barr could throw the election to Obama, just as Ross Perot did for Bill Clinton back in ’92.
But as Shane Cory, national executive director of the LP, pointed out in a Washington Times article today, Libertarians “don’t give a second thought to our presidential candidate hurting the Republicans or Democrats,” noting that LPers vote differently. “They’re not going in and voting for the lesser of two evils, as most people do,” Cory wrote.
How dangerous could a Barr run be to John McCain, the GOP’s nominee? “Barr obviously is dangerous,” said David Norcross, a member of the Republican National Committee from New Jersey. Norcross is one of the RNC’s longest serving members, and one of the smartest. If he says Barr is a problem for McCain, take it to the bank that Barr is a problem for McCain.
Barr told the Times that he sees a “significantly deep dissatisfaction with particularly the Republican Party and the Republican likely nominee.” Yep. And any Republican who doesn’t recognize that John McCain has yet to unify the GOP and persuade the conservative wing of the party to rally to his cause is in a serious state of denial. Many have fallen into (lock)step, but many others haven’t. McCain is in good shape for November at this point ONLY because the Democrats are in such lousy shape.
(Side Note: Yes, I’m betting Barack Obama will ultimately be the Democrats’ nominee. It’s right there in black-and-white.)
Then there’s the Ron Paul wing. Paul has said he will not run as a third-party candidate, so those Libertarians dreaming of a Paul/Barr-Barr/Paul dream ticket are, well, dreaming. And according to the Times story, Paul will NOT be endorsing Barr if he jumps into the race. However, that does not mean hordes of Paul voters won’t abandon the Republican Party – which has never been comfortable with them anyway – and rally to Barr. In fact, many surely will.
Republicans will be having multiple cows over the notion of any sane Republican voter voting for Barr and risk the nation’s defense being turned over to Obama and his National Security Adviser, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They’ll also throw in the dire warning about Supreme Court vacancies, which as been used to keep restless Republican voters on the reservation for the last two general elections.
My guess, however, is that Barr will not wear opposition to Iraq on his sleeve the way Ron Paul did, and will instead focus on the need to preserve civil liberties during any time of war when WAY too many Americans are willing to sacrifice essential freedoms for the false sense of additional safety. That will give potential GOP cross-over voters a level of comfort they didn’t have with Paul.
As for the Supreme Court argument, its potency likely will rest on the Court’s upcoming decision regarding the Washington, D.C., gun ban. If the Court tosses out the ban and re-asserts the God-given individual right to self-defense, that decision will help Barr enormously.
Why? Because it will show that the Court is pretty reliably conservative now. Any expected vacancies in the next president’s term will likely be liberal vacancies – probably Lewis or Ginsberg. A Democrat president will only get to replace liberals with liberals, leaving the court leaning to right. The Supreme Court argument for Republicans is nowhere near as powerful now as it was when the likely retirements were O’Connor and Rehnquist. The fear of loss is far more powerful than the hope of gain.
All of this works against McCain, because conservative fear-and-loathing of McCain from many quarters still exists and McCain hasn’t done nearly enough to close the sale for those folks. If they can find a way to register their dissatisfaction with McCain and the Republican establishment WITHOUT throwing the race to Obama, they’re likely to take it. And borrowing a page from Ralph Nader’s playbook, just such an option may evolve.
As my second favorite Republican Party Chairman (followed only by my home-state GOP chairwoman, Sue Lowden) Saul Anuzis points out, the battle for the White House will be waged and won (or lost) in just a few key states: Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. I’d toss in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and West Virginia. And that opens up on the right the opportunity for what has become known as “tactical voting.”
Consider the poor plight of conservative and/or Republican voters in, say, the People’s Republic of Maryland. If every single GOP voter there votes for John McCain, John McCain is still going to lose. Nothing is going to change that reality. Period.
So here’s how vote-swapping/tactical voting works – and this was employed to limited effect in 2000 for the Democrats/Naderites, but only because California’s attorney general sued to stop it and the courts didn’t uphold the arrangement until AFTER the election.
Remember, the LP and the Barr folks are more about making a big splash in the popular vote than they are about actually winning the White House. Their objective this election cycle is to bolster their party’s and their philosophy’s credibility and profile by garnering more votes than they ever have before. They’re looking to break the 1 million vote mark – and they’re not going to be very particular about where they come from.
So a Barr voter in a swing state like Ohio makes a “verbal” agreement – facilitated by an online website – to vote for McCain if a McCain voter in a hopeless state like Maryland agrees to vote for Barr. It’s a win-win arrangement for everyone on the Right, and eminently doable with the Internet technologies out there today. Plus, there’s no longer any worry about whether or not such an agreement between free American adults is legal.
Sure, there’s a lot of speculation in here. But if Bob Barr runs for the LP nomination and gets it, that will not be a “problem” for Republicans, it will be a reality. If they treat conservative Barr voters the same way they treated conservative Ron Paul voters and conservative anti-McCain voters, they’ll only succeed in driving those voters further away from the GOP…maybe permanently. But if cooler heads prevail, it just may be possible for everyone to eat their cake and have it, too.
Let me close by once again pointing out that Republicans have only themselves to blame for this mess they now find themselves in. They let George W. Bush undermine the party’s core philosophical principles with his big-government “compassionate conservatism” for six years before waking up and finally saying “Enough!” And they sat back for 10 years as Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Republican Revolution was sandbagged by their congressional majority spending money like drunken Democrats just for the sake of retaining power.
And they nominated John McCain of McCain-Feingold and McCain-Kennedy infamy to be their presidential nominee.
So conservative voters have every reason to be ticked off at the GOP, and they need to let off a little more electoral steam. Many will be completely deaf to “rational” arguments about turning the government over to Barack Obama and Rev. Wright. Establishment Republicans can berate them ’til they’re blue in the face – and it won’t get them to budge an inch. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it any longer.
With Barr in the race, the GOP’s only hope may well be a new episode of Desperate Vote-Swappers.
Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at email@example.com.