No Third Party Candidate Can Win the Presidency


Speculation has been rampant for months that, if someone other than Ron Paul secures the GOP nomination by the end of the primary season, Ron may continue his presidential campaign as an Independent or third-party candidate.

This seems to be mostly due to his refusal to deny such a possibility in so many words, despite the fact that he always states, with his refusal to deny, that also he has no plans to do that. I believe he’s sincere, and is weighing his words carefully only because a wise person tries not to make absolute guarantees about the future – no matter how certain he is at the time – because the future is unknowable and things can always change in ways that one can’t foresee beforehand.

However, cynics – and passionate supporters who don’t want the dream of a President Paul to die – remain convinced that Ron has already decided to continue his campaign, and he’s denying it just to not hurt his chances at the GOP nomination.

The GOP Race

Ron has stated that, when people close to him in late-2006 noticed that a "perfect storm" seemed to be brewing for him to possibly be elected – because of such things as growing voter discontent over the Iraq War, the neocons’ belligerent foreign policy and the erosion of civil liberties since 9/11; and the fact that there was no GOP candidate even spouting phony libertarian-sounding rhetoric – and he reluctantly agreed to explore the possibility of running, he intended only to run if he felt that it was within the realm of reality that he could get elected.

He had no interest in running a campaign just to educate people or to make a point, as he did well in 1988 as the Libertarian Party’s candidate. He had even stated repeatedly since that campaign that he had no intention of ever running for president again (see – unforeseen circumstances can cause sincere people to change their minds), and he had refused repeated attempts over the past 20 years to draft him for another run, either as a third-party candidate or as a Republican.

Ron’s latest message should put to rest once and for all any thoughts of him running as a third-party candidate. His message verified much of my speculation in my previous article: Ron believes that there will be a brokered convention, and he clearly has an elaborate strategy in place to accumulate enough delegates to wage a real fight for the nomination at the convention.

One point I forgot in my previous article is that, with all of the attention focused on Super Tuesday, people forget that about half of the states still have contests after that day. If we leave Super Tuesday without a nominee, and especially if we leave without even one front-runner – which seems likely – that point becomes extremely important, because it means the race is still wide open. We’re likely to be down to Romney, McCain and Paul immediately after that day; in that case, Ron will face about half of the state contests with only two opponents – and McCain may not have the money to advertise much in any of those states. It’s even possible Romney or McCain could also quit next week if one pulls significantly ahead of the other, leaving Ron with only one opponent.

Another important point is many states aren’t winner-take-all; runners-up still accumulate delegates. And, with only one or two opponents on the ballot, how badly can Ron do in the post–Super Tuesday states?

Yet another point, which Ron addressed in his latest message, is that many candidates who had accumulated delegates will have dropped out by the convention, which means those delegates can decide at the convention whom to support instead.

But let’s assume that all of this is wrong, and we have a nominee by the end of the primaries – and it’s not Ron Paul. If that happens, speculation about a third-party run will accelerate.

A Third Party Run

If Ron loses the GOP nomination, and the events of the past year have caused him to change his mind and run as an Independent or third-party candidate – which will mean he’s changed his mind about only running to win, that’s his business, and I will still be proud to support him and to vote for him in November.

But, if that happens, understand that the Paul campaign will have shifted from a campaign to spread libertarian ideals in an effort to win the presidency in 2008, to a campaign to spread libertarian ideals to attain various goals, some of which will be ill-defined, and which may or may not be achieved at some indeterminate point in the future.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I was introduced to libertarianism, as many were, by Harry Browne’s 1996 Libertarian presidential campaign. Since then, literally every area of my life has been massively improved by Harry’s work, and it will forever be one of the greatest honors and joys of my life that I got to know him and have contact with him as much as I did. I will love that man until the day I die.

If it weren’t for that campaign, I also wouldn’t know many of the other people I’ve met in the movement, nor would I have been exposed to the work of so many others who have taught me and improved my life – including that I wouldn’t have the honor of knowing Lew Rockwell or of writing this article and seeing it published.

Many others, including Ron 20 years ago, have run third-party presidential campaigns that were futile in terms of their chances for electoral victory, but which touched the lives of thousands of people – and undoubtedly gave the candidate various personal benefits as well, such as bolstered celebrity and future income, and a warm feeling of personal achievement.

That’s all well and good. This article isn’t meant to discourage Ron from running as an Independent or third-party candidate if he chooses to; I certainly don’t have to explain to him what his chances of being elected are in that situation. Nor is it intended to discourage anyone from supporting him in such a run. My intent is to explain to any nave, but well-meaning, people that no one is going to be elected president as a third-party candidate in the foreseeable future – and probably ever.

A Third Party Candidate Can’t Win the Presidency

If Ron chooses to run, here are the main reasons that everyone needs to understand, as Ron does, that a third-party candidate is not going to be elected president. If he chooses to run anyway and you understand what he’s trying to accomplish, you won’t be disappointed when he loses.

1. The mainstream media blackout

There’s no question in my mind that, based on what Ron has been able to accomplish in spite of the mainstream media blackout, if he had received as much coverage as the Establishment’s anointed candidates, he would be far and away the front-runner now.

Here are the figures for last week from media tracking firm VMS. Bear in mind that these numbers reflect a time when Ron was a sitting Congressman running for a major-party nomination, that he raised significantly more money last quarter than any of his opponents – including setting an all-time one-day fundraising record, and had crushed former anointed front-runner Rudy Giuliani – whom the media still insists is a viable candidate – in nearly every state so far: Yet last week, the mainstream media:

  • Gave John McCain 85 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Rudy Giuliani 69 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Mitt Romney 59 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Mike Huckabee 32 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Fred Thompson 25 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Barack Obama 207 times more coverage than Ron Paul
  • Gave Hillary Clinton 202 times more coverage than Ron Paul

And Ron got more attention in the fourth quarter, after he raised $5 million in the third quarter, than he had previously – and the attention accelerated after his two huge fundraising days later in the fourth quarter. That means last week’s figures, as bad as they are, represent an increase over the amount of coverage he received earlier last year.

And the extra coverage he’s received in the past three months is probably more than every Libertarian Party candidate for president in history – combined (which isn’t a knock on any of those candidates, because it wasn’t their fault; it’s just the way the system is).

But, as you can see from the numbers, even his increased coverage is still appallingly abysmal.

And, as a sitting Congressman, he has been in every debate and has had memorable exchanges with all of the Establishment front-runners – despite being the victim of mini-blackouts during the debates, being asked by far the fewest questions, being given by far the least amount of time to speak, and often being treated rudely and being subjected to deliberate, repeated attempts in each debate to make him look bad.

With bias like this, it’s a miracle that Ron has even accomplished what he has. It’s also a testament to him, and even more so to the power of the liberty message and to the power of the Internet to change the world.

These facts beg the following question about the idea of him winning the presidency as a third-party candidate: if those hurdles prove insurmountable for the GOP race, then what makes you think he can win the presidency as a third-party candidate? The media pays almost no attention to him now; they’ll have every reason to pay even less attention to him as a third-party candidate. Most third-party candidates don’t get much more than one obligatory interview per media outlet – even if they’re minor celebrities.

2. A candidate must be at an average of 15% in selected national polls to get into the debates.

Again, his treatment by the media, as bad as it has been, has still been far better than what he’ll get for a third-party run.

And, despite that comparatively good treatment, he so far has never polled at 15% nationally, nor has he received 15% of the vote in any state but Louisiana. He’s likely to do better in future states as the field narrows, but if he doesn’t and he loses the nomination, what makes you think he can get to 15% in the polls as a third-party candidate and get into the debates, which is a necessary precondition to winning (and even then he’ll almost certainly still lose)?

Yes, his message will resonate more with Democrats, Independents, third-party members, apathetics and apoliticals than with the hardcore GOP base that still supports Bush, so that could theoretically help his poll standing for the general election, compared to how he fared with the hardcore GOP base for the primaries. But it won’t matter if those people don’t hear it because the media doesn’t cover him.

And yes, the Internet will help significantly to spread the message, but it won’t be enough if it also wasn’t enough to overcome a less severe mainstream media blackout in the GOP race.

3. The ballot access laws are biased against third parties.

Third-party candidates have to spend a significant portion of the money they raise collecting signatures to get their names on state ballots. Plus they have to spend what’s left buying almost all of their exposure through advertising, while the major-party candidates receive an incalculable amount of free advertising from the media – this means that, while all candidates are subject to the same fundraising restrictions, it doesn’t affect the major candidates in the same way. As Harry Browne commented about his two campaigns, the campaign finance laws make building support for third parties, almost all of which has to be bought through advertising, like trying to fill a swimming pool with a teaspoon.


Let me reiterate that I’m not discouraging Ron from running as a third-party or Independent candidate; if he chooses to, that’s his business. I’ll still support him – but with the understanding that, barring some incredible miracle, he can’t win that way. If you also choose to support him in such a run, you need to understand that too; otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and disillusionment.

So be grateful that the GOP race is still wide open.

January 30, 2008