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Monday, May 26, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AJC: Libertarians pick Barr as presidential candidate

Georgia’s Bob Barr won a long and tense battle Sunday for the 2008 Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination and now faces the daunting task of doing what no third-party candidate has done: Win in November.

It took six ballots and nearly five hours of voting at the Libertarian National Convention before the former four-term congressman defeated Texas business consultant Mary Ruwart for the party’s bid.

Barr, who until 2006 was a Republican, took 54 percent of the vote after Las Vegas odds-maker Wayne Allyn Root dropped out following the fifth ballot and endorsed Barr. Delegates subsequently selected Root to be Barr’s running mate.

This is all interesting, if anything because it is the first time since the 1988 Ron Paul nomination that the LP has a candidate with any national name recognition. Indeed, one suspects that this year’s LP nomination contest has already gotten more serious press for the LP than the combined coverage of their last several attempts at the White House. Given that the last time the LP got much national play was because one of their Senate candidate was blue (and I don’t mean depressed) this is a good thing for the party.

None of this, of course, means that I think that the LP has now become a major contender nor that I am even of the opinion that Barr will prove to be a “spoiler” in a given state or states this year, but I do think that this situation says something about the Republican Party at the moment. It seems pretty clear that a) there is a great deal of discontent with the GOP at the moment, and b) some of that discontent is being expressed by increased interest in the LP.1

There can be little doubt that the Republicans of late has shattered the notion that they are the party of fiscal responsibility (one need look no further than the last several budgets to figure that one out) and nor are they the party of limited government in terms of intrusion into the lives of citizens (clearly in the post-9/11 world, they have become the party of paranoia, worried so much about “keeping us safe” that they have embraced intrusion into the lives of private citizens and the expansion of executive power under the argument that it makes us more secure).

There have been various responses to these facts. Some are starting the whole “we need to lose so that we can reform” tact that partisans often take when unhappy with their party (a recent example of that would be John Hawkins). Others, like Andrew Sullivan, stung by the failure that is Iraq (amongst a variety of other issues), have turned to Obama. Yet others have, no doubt, have followed the Barr route, finding themselves so distraught over the degree to which the current President has attempted to use fear over terrorism to expand government power that it has ignited latent libertarian views and therefore has caused them to drift towards the LP. That something is up is underscored by the fact that Richard Viguerie (a movement conservative, not a libertarian) was one of the keynote speakers at the LP convention. Indeed, as James Joyner noted a few days ago, “Something really strange is going on with the Libertarian Party” to which he meant the candidacy of Barr, the toying of Tucker Carlson with that candidacy as well, and the presence of Viguerie, as none of them are traditional libertarians (neither of the large nor small “l” variety). I think what is going on is the simply that there are a lot of people extremely displeased with the GOP at the moment and that one of the places to go, if they aren’t willing to sit this round out or willing to jump to the Democrats, is the LP.

At the end of the day all of this is simply a further indication of the problems that the GOP has this electoral cycle and is further evidence that it is unlikely that McCain will win in the fall. I don’t mean this because the GOP is cracking up and about to die, nor do I think that there will be a groundswell for the LP. Rather, like the canary in the mineshaft, these are warning signs about the danger ahead for Republicans, as this much unhappiness will lead to lower turnout in November and a whole lot less enthusiasm from those who do stick with the party. It is only going to take a small percentage of potential Republican voters in a handful of states to do a combination of staying home, defecting to the Dems or going third party to lead to defeat in the electoral college.

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  1. Bold analysis, I know. []
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9 Comments »

  1. I would also think that some of the interest in the LP comes from the prominence in the Republican Party of those who wish to make social issues a big part of the party’s platform. Things like abortion, gay marriage, and “traditional values” don’t have much salience for those conservatives who primarily worry about fiscal matters. Rove and Co. really had a hand in making these issues a major part of recent Congressional and presidential campaigns, while ignoring fiscal issues. I would argue that over the last eight years, the party has really alienated those who do not buy into the notion that the government should act as an arbiter of morality. The aspects of personal freedom in the LP’s platform would obviously appeal more to these people.

    Comment by Brett — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  2. The thing is, with the libertarian party, you’re talking - at best - about a fraction of a percentage point of voters in any given state.

    True, there is discontent in the Republican party. But I would argue very strongly that there is discontent as well in the Democratic party, else we would have had a clear frontrunner early on and the prolonged farse of the Democratic Party Presidential Nomination would not have lasted this long. There is division on both sides as to how to proceed in a variety of arenas.

    The deeply red states - the entire southeast except Florida, most of the west except California/Arizona/New Mexico - these states will go to the GOP. I don’t care how disaffected republicans are. In these places, they will neither stay home nor defect to the Democratic party, because no matter how irritated they might be at the GOP over the last few years, they will find it a far lesser evil to vote McCain than to have either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton Round 2 in the White House. The deep red states will stay red.

    The deeply blue states - New York, California, most of the northeast, Illinois - these states will stay deeply blue, because no matter how disappointed individuals might be about the nomination process, they will not stay home, nor will they defect to the Republican party, because whoever is on the ballot, they will vote for that person because they are not a Republican; making sure that the Republicans don’t have another 4 years in the white house is all that matters.

    So what we will have is an election decided by a handful of states, and not the majority of them - the usual suspects. Ohio, Florida - the states where polling changes on an almost daily basis when the campaigning REALLY gets under way, where both parties will spend 90% of their money, time, and energy, and where the discrete balance of people who are sharply Democrat and people who are sharply Republican means that the small number of people who could go either way - and it is a small number of people - decide where all of those states’ electoral votes will go.

    To think that we can draw conclusions at this point as to how it is going to pan out is - IMHO - a bit presumptuous. I don’t think the hatred of George Bush is going to transfer into this electoral cycle as cleanly as most of the pundits and talking heads and bloggers seem to think it will. As disgruntled as many republicans are - I just don’t see enough of them thinking it’s better to have a Democrat running the show.

    A lot of things can and will happen between now and November. Both sides will campaign viciously in the states that will settle the election, and third-party groups will bring to bear enormous resources on each side.

    And, McCain is not a right-wing Republican. He is seen by many as a moderate and I think that will stack up very well against Obama when the rubber really meets the road in September and October. He’s also quite clever and I don’t think he’s being given enough credit for his skill at campaigning.

    What the polls say now is meaningless. The undecided voters - the ones who are not firmly wedded to a party - in the swing states are a fickle bunch. Exit polls at the last election indicated that many of these people changed their minds about who they were going to vote for multiple times in the two weeks prior to the election. Some changed their minds in the voting booth. These people will be fickle in this election as well, and what they do - that will be determined in the weeks and days before the election.

    The way our electoral system works, what we’re really talking about is a very small portion of the overall population that is notoriously unpredictable. It will be a close election and it could go either way.

    For the folks who know it’s going to go to Obama: I’d like to borrow your crystal ball. The power ball lottery is quite high right now and I’m in the mood to buy a yacht.

    One with a hot tub.

    Comment by Captain D — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 12:43 pm

  3. Just on purely objective indicators–name recognition, prior political experience, etc.–this year’s cast of “minor” presidential candidates could be one of the strongest in memory, if (as expected) Cynthia McKinney gets the Green nomination: Barr, McKinney, and the Nader-Gonzalez ticket.

    Comment by MSS — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

  4. Captain D:

    Allow me to be presumptuous for a moment :)

    While it is true that I am not going to say I KNOW how things are going to work out, the bottom line is that 2004 was very much a turnout election that favored the GOP. If there is any level of serious depression amongst GOP voters (and by “serious” I mean a few percentage points) then that will turn states like Ohio and Florida blue and could even turn states like Virgina that color as well.

    I think you are underestimating the fact that the president is sincerely unpopular (low 30% range) and it isn’t about rabid hatred, but basic (and deep ) dissatisfaction. Add to that the war without end, $4 (or more) gasoline prices, a (near?) recession and a host of other factors, and you have the clear ingredients for a serious GOP loss in November, even if the South (sans Florida) stays deep red.

    Keep in mind: Bush was quite a bit more popular in 2004 than he is now, and Kerry was only a few thousands votes in Ohio shy of being the 44th president of the United States.

    Plus I think you misinterpret the Democratic race—yes, there is some division, but there is also a lot of excitement over the nominees–that will translate into the Fall.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  5. You are right in pointing out that the GOP probably made up for Bush’s unpopularity in 2004 with a 5 million person increase in their turnout over 2000, but I still choose to believe that elections are one and lost in the middle and that Barack Obama’s increasing polarity makes him very vulnerable to a McCain like challenge (i.e. a candidate that isn’t so far to one side of the spectrum). If there turnout to be enough disparity in the GOP to foment a significant third party abandonment,m then this could become a problem. This aside, I think McCain was among the strongest choices in the GOP field and will do well against an Obama candidacy in November. Where Republican disaffection may be problem is down the ticket. This is where you need hardcore turnout from your base. This is what the 3 special elections indicate, not the fall of presidential power for the GOP.

    Comment by Talmadge East — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 8:35 pm

  6. There is no doubt that McCain was the strongest candidate the GOP could have nominated from the given field.

    And the whole median voter model is probably more salient if we elected candidates via a national vote. Again, the issue is going to boil down to a handful of specific states. It may be close in terms of popular vote, but I continue to think it unlikely that the Reps can win in the EC.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  7. Mind you I’m not betting on a Republican win. But I’m not putting it outside the realm of possibility, and I don’t think that it will be a landslide for the Democratic nominee - not by any means.

    My problem with the “GOP disaffection model” (for lack of a better way to explain why 2008 will be different than 2004) is that the Democratic candidate (either one of them, but presuming Obama) is - among every registered Republican I know - about the most deplorable, detestable, and loathesome thing that has ever crawled the earth. They will not be staying home, and they will not be voting for Obama, even though many are deeply angry at the Republican party. Deeply angry. The thing is, they are much more afraid of Obama being president.

    It’s a question of what is the lesser of what are perceived to be two evils. Were Barack Obama perceived to be anything close to a centrist Democrat, it would be a different story; but as much as Bush is hated by the polar end of the democratic party, equally strongly is Obama loathed by the polar end of the Republican party. I’m pretty sure that polar end is going to not only come out in droves, but is also going to mount a strong get-out-the-vote movement.

    I think the numbers right now are not going to tell the story of November. I can be angry at my wife for this or that; but at the end of the day, I’m not going to another woman, and I’m not going to walk out and go it alone either. At the end of the day I stay married.

    Angry as many Republicans may be at their party, they’re not going to risk giving up the White House to a hated enemy.

    Comment by Captain D — Monday, May 26, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  8. [...] BOB BARR IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AS THE LIBERTARIAN CANDIDATE but what does it really mean? [...]

    Pingback by Around The Campaign 2008 Sphere May 28m 2008 — Wednesday, May 28, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  9. Captain D:

    “My problem with the “GOP disaffection model” (for lack of a better way to explain why 2008 will be different than 2004) is that the Democratic candidate (either one of them, but presuming Obama) is - among every registered Republican I know - about the most deplorable, detestable, and loathesome thing that has ever crawled the earth. They will not be staying home, and they will not be voting for Obama, even though many are deeply angry at the Republican party. Deeply angry. The thing is, they are much more afraid of Obama being president.”

    Please note that you’re saying ‘among every **registered Republican**’, i.e., the hardcore of the party. Poll among registered Democrats, and McCain wouldn’t rate highly at all.

    Comment by Barry — Wednesday, May 28, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

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