Alana’s right when she says there really is no telling what Ron Paul will do once his quixotic run for the Republican presidential nomination is finished. If, as Paul did four years ago, he continues fighting for the GOP nod in primaries across the country long after the race is sewn up by one of the other contenders, he may not have the time or the money to make the transition to a third-party run. But even if he does, I think it is incorrect to consider such an effort as a deadly threat to whichever of the other Republicans gets the nomination. Though Paul has generated some enthusiasm in Iowa, the notion that he could draw off enough GOP voters to re-elect President Obama is based on a misunderstanding about the base of his support.
Were Paul to run next fall as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the main focus of his campaign would inevitably be his isolationist approach to foreign policy and libertarian views on social issues. Though some Tea Partiers looking for a “not Romney” may wind up voting for him in Iowa, the bulk of his support comes from disenchanted youmg voters who like his anti-establishment approach, not mainstream conservatives. That means a Paul third party would present far more of a danger to Obama and the Democrats than to the Republicans.
Paul’s anti-war isolationism is tailor-made to appeal to exactly the sort of young voter who backed Obama in 2008. As anyone who reads the comments from his supporters on websites that run articles critical of the Texas congressman, many of his backers are extremists who would fit in better at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration than a Tea Party protest let alone a Republican parlor meeting. Like the Libertarian Party that once nominated Paul for president, the Paul movement attracts those who are generally more interested in legalizing marijuana and agree with the candidate’s justification of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Islamist terror than in opposing higher taxes and spending. Such people didn’t vote for the Republican candidate in 2008 and won’t do so in 2012 either.
An independent run by Paul would most likely attract votes from disaffected youth or libertarians who normally don’t vote at all. But though it might skim off a tiny percentage of Republicans, it is the Democrats who stand to lose the most. Most Republicans deplore his isolationism and lack of interest in social issues. But the Democrats are counting on mobilizing young voters attracted to an anti-war candidate who is also in favor of the legalization of drugs. Paul might also get a boost from Arab and Muslim voters who share his opposition to Israel and who generally go for the Democrats, not the GOP.
While it is difficult to tell whether Paul will run or how well he will ultimately do, the prototypical Ron Paul voter next fall is someone who would, if they voted at all, be more likely to vote for Obama than any Republican. Far from a revenge scenario against the party that will almost certainly reject him in the primaries, an independent candidacy for Paul stands to do real damage to the Democrats.