The appalling presidential election campaign
drags on. On Super Tuesday Democrats split almost evenly between Hillary Clinton,
a hawk turned slightly dovish, and Barack Obama, an Iraq war opponent who otherwise
has found no foreign intervention he opposes. A divided Republican electorate
boosted John McCain, an enthusiast of war in the Mideast (Iraq and Iran), Europe
(the Balkans), and Asia (North Korea). Electoral laggards Mitt Romney and Mike
Huckabee match McCain's rhetoric, but their commitment to at least one war on
every continent is less certain.
Amidst this gaggle of warrior wannabees ready to sacrifice American lives
for mostly frivolous national "interests," Ron Paul labors on. The only genuinely
anti-war candidate left in the race, he is largely ignored by the media and
despised by establishment political interests. He obviously won't be winning
the Republican nomination; he now must decide whether to "go independent" in
the general election.
Iraq is the most important issue facing America, but it has largely disappeared
from the political debate. Completely absent has been a serious discussion of
Among the major candidates, Obama seems the least bad, since he opposed
the Iraq war from the start. None of the original Republican contenders – other
than Rep. Paul – got this issue right. Neither did Hillary Clinton, who voted
for the war resolution.
Moreover, her vaunted experience as First Lady includes pushing President
Bill Clinton to inaugurate war against the Bosnian Serbs and then Serbia for
alleged national interests that remain impossible to discern. Indeed, her brilliant
handiwork in Kosovo is about to explode yet again, with potentially dire consequences
for the West's relationship with Russia. On Iran she has attempted to trump
Alas, the Republicans are worse. John McCain – an angry, erratic, and tempestuous
man who cares little for constitutional constraints – is a nightmare for anyone
who believes war, especially aggressive war, is rarely in America's interest.
Mitt Romney talks like an uberhawk, but his rank opportunism allows less militaristic
voters to hope that he would toss his professed belligerence overboard if elected.
Mike Huckabee combines criticism of U.S. arrogance with support for a massive
military build-up, suggesting that he has no idea where he stands.
Making the upcoming contest even more bizarre is the fact that many independents,
who tend to oppose the Iraq war and despise the Bush administration, so far
have rewarded McCain with their votes. Yet McCain is not just George W. Bush
reincarnated. He is Richard Cheney with a heart transplant and on steroids.
The only people who should vote for McCain are those who believe President Bush
to be a hapless wimp who wasted a great opportunity to attack Iran, Syria, North
Korea, and several other countries which proved unwilling to genuflect to Washington's
The prospect of McCain, know as "Senator Hothead" on Capitol Hill, as the
GOP nominee makes an independent Ron Paul candidacy – presumably, but not necessarily,
for the Libertarian Party – imperative. Rep. Paul is the candidate best situated
to provide a home for nominal conservatives who do not want a temperamental
warmonger as president but are unwilling to vote for a liberal Democrat.
Although current polls show McCain running even with both Democrats, he
remains extraordinarily weak within his own party. When asked about conservative
opposition to his candidacy, he responded: "They've made their case against
me and I think the majority of Republicans have stated their view." Indeed,
they have spoken – and so far the answer has been an emphatic no.
On Super Tuesday eight of ten conservatives voted for Romney or Huckabee.
McCain lost 12 of 21 races. Of the nine contests he won, he carried a majority
of the vote only in three Northeastern states, none of which he would likely
take in November. McCain did not even win a majority in his home state of Arizona.
McCain's large delegate lead reflects the fact that the GOP relies mostly on
winner-take-all rules; for instance, he collected all of Missouri's delegates
with 33 percent of the vote. If the Republicans operated with the Democrats'
emphasis on proportionality, McCain's edge would be far less impressive.
Moreover, even though the professionals proclaim the race decided, Ron
Paul continues to draw enough votes to affect the general election. He hit double
digits in several caucus states, including 25 percent (and second place) in
Montana. In the primaries his three percent in California, four percent in Missouri,
five percent in New Jersey, six percent in Tennessee, and eight percent in Colorado
all could tip states in which Republicans hope to be competitive in November.
A Paul candidacy would help undercut McCain's presidential bid in two ways.
The first would be to affirm conservative and Republican activists who could
not bring themselves to support McCain. A Republican congressman would be abandoning
his party to oppose a nominee who no more represents the cause of limited government
than does Hillary Clinton. Leading right-wingers would need only stand aloof
from the presidential campaign, putting their time and money into other races,
to appropriately "reward" McCain for his warmongering, authoritarian, nanny
The second impact of Paul's candidacy would be to provide a way station
for conservative voters who could not bring themselves to pull the lever for
a liberal Democrat. The problem would be particularly acute if Hillary Clinton
wins the Democratic nod – many conservatives would rather undergo multiple root
canals than support her. In contrast, conservatives could vote for Paul in good
conscience, whether their dissatisfaction with McCain was over his support for
promiscuous war-making, attack on the First Amendment, opposition to tax cuts,
or fondness for environmental regulation.
While the most important short-term goal is to keep McCain out of the White
House, the long-term objective must be to educate the public by making foreign
policy an issue. Of course, some liberty advocates complain that Paul is a flawed
messenger. True, but no one better is waiting in the wings – Paul has brought
the mantra of peace and free enterprise to more voters than has any previous
libertarian politician. Only a third party bid by Paul is likely to reach more
than a minuscule number of people. He should be able to attract enough media
attention and raise enough money to make a serious run.
Moreover, he could magnify his impact by targeting closely divided states.
The goal should be not only to make the general case for individual liberty,
including a non-interventionist foreign policy. Another important objective
would be to cost Republicans several states, attracting enough votes to toss
the contests to the Democrats. Only if the GOP realizes that it must compete
for the votes of those who believe in peace as well as prosperity will non-interventionists
gain a voice. (An independent Ron Paul also should bid for Democratic votes,
of course, but a McCain nomination would make it imperative that Paul target
Advocates of liberty have no major party home. Since 2001 the Republicans
have proved to be particularly inhospitable to anyone who believes in both peace
and prosperity. The nomination of John McCain should drive away even more of
those who support constitutional governance.
They need somewhere to go. The GOP doesn't want Ron Paul. Come the fall,
he should dump the Republican Party into the famous trash can of history. It
is time for American politics to offer a choice, not an echo.