Should Ron Paul Go 3rd-Party?

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At this point it is clear that Rep. Ron Paul is not going to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Yet it seems likely that he will outlast all his rivals but for Romney, and that he will have a substantial bloc of delegates at the convention. Paul has the money, and the grassroots support, to make it all the way to Tampa – and beyond.

It’s when we get to the “beyond,” however, that things get interesting.

What, exactly, is Paul’s endgame? What does he want? This is the question the pundits are asking, and the answer is maddeningly elusive.

On the one hand, Republican primary voters are increasingly open to his message of real free markets (as opposed to the crony capitalism championed by most Republicans), the defense of civil liberties (against largely Republican antagonists), and a noninterventionist foreign policy (an idea opposed by the leadership of both parties). He is regularly getting around 20 percent of the vote in GOP primaries, and his supporters are mostly (albeit not exclusively) young, independents inclined to vote Republican, and not that well off (under $50,000 per year).

His support grew by the day, in spite of a media blackout – and when simply refusing to report on his campaign didn’t put a dent in his support, the mainstream media turned to smear tactics. That hasn’t worked, either.

On the other hand, Paul’s support within the GOP has a definite ceiling: I’d be surprised if his poll numbers exceeded 25 percent in any state’s primary. This is a commentary not on Paul, but on the evolution of the Republicans, whose brand has been sullied by eight years of George W. Bush’s big-government conservatism. Since many Republican presidential primaries are closed, Paul’s political fortunes are left in the hands of those who are registered members of a party committed to eternal war, corporate subsidies, and the cult of the presidency. The political independents and disaffected Democrats who make up half his base are prevented from voting for him in closed GOP primaries, which is why we see polls showing him in a dead heat with Barack Obama in the general election juxtaposed against other polls showing him in the upper teens in the GOP primary pack.

GOP leaders are living in fear of a Paul third-party candidacy in the general election: Polls show Paul would garner 18 percent of the vote as an independent, and as the election draws nearer and scrutiny of Romney gets more intense, I fully expect that number to rise.

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