Republicans Are Already Worrying Rand Paul Could Run As a Third Party Candidate
Ron Fournier at the National Journal wrote an interesting piece on how Republican and Democratic insiders are worries about the end of the two-party system. Of course, Rand Paul figures prominently:
Inside the cozy enclaves of GOP bonhomie—hunkered at the tables of see-and-be-seen Washington restaurants—Republican leaders are sourly predicting a party-busting independent presidential bid by a tea-party challenger, like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in 2016.
To them, the GOP apocalypse looms larger than most realize. Dueling State of the Union rebuttals and Karl Rove's assault on right-wing candidates are mere symptoms of an existential crisis that is giving the sturdiest Republicans heartburn.
And yet, the heart of the matter extends beyond the GOP. My conversations this week with two Republican officials, along with a Democratic strategist's timely memo, reflect a growing school of thought in Washington that social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system.
Seem like a lot to swallow? Allow me to describe my last few days at work.
Between bites of an $18.95 SteakBurger at the Palm, one of Washington's premier expense-account restaurants, Republican consultant Scott Reed summed up the state of politics and his beloved GOP. "The party," he told me, "is irrelevant."
He cited the familiar litany of problems: demographic change, poor candidates, ideological rigidity, deplorable approval ratings, and a rift between social and economic conservatives.
"It's leading to some type of crash and reassessment and change," said Reed, who ran Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and remains an influential lobbyist and operative. "It can't continue on this path."
Reed sketched a hypothetical scenario under which Paul runs for the Republican nomination in 2016, loses after solid showings in Iowa and other states run by supporters of his father (former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul), bolts the GOP, and mounts a third-party bid that undercuts the Republican nominee.
Paul, a tea-party favorite who was elected to the Senate in 2010, told USA Today on Wednesday that he was interested in running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. "I do want to be part of the national debate," he said.
What are the odds of Paul or another GOP defector splitting the party? Reed asked me to repeat the question—and then grimaced. "There's a real chance," he replied.
The next morning, Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin dipped his spoon into a bowl of strawberries, sugar, and pink milk—and declared the era of two major parties just about over. "I think we're at the precipice of a breakdown of the two-party system," said the Wisconsin Republican.
Voters are tired of partisan rancor and institutional incompetence, Ribble said, pointing to polls that suggest the number of independent voters is rising.
"Ross Perot was a goofy guy," he said of the deficit hawk who mounted two independent presidential bids in the 1990s. "If he was packaged as a different guy and had the Internet, he would have emerged [as president]. The warning bell he was sounded then is getting louder today."
2016 is a long way away, who knows what will happen then. If the Republican establishment sabotages conservative candidates with the help of their friends in the right-leaning press, just like they did in 2012, it could happen (Karl Rove is already planning the attack ads as we speak on anyone who isn't Jeb Bush or Chris Christie). Back in April, I wrote this in a piece titled "Screw the GOP, They Don't Seem to Want My Vote Anyway":
I'm done. I'm a lifelong Republican and I'm done. I've been a Republican since I was 6 and I saw Reagan speak on our old 13" black and white television set about freedom and about the evils of the Soviet Union, where I was born. I grew up listening to Reagan and I kind of always thought that he was what the Republican Party stood for. For individual liberty at home & abroad. "Moderates" like George H. W. Bush seemed like some sort of aberration to me, an exception to the conservative Republican rule. Looking back though, it's pretty clear that Ronald Reagan was the aberration. In 1988, instead of nominating the father of the Reagan tax cuts, Jack Kemp, the GOP nominated the anti-Israel squishy moderate George H. W. Bush. In 1996, instead of nominating the stalwart conservative Phil Gramm (lifetime ACU rating of 95) or the flat tax visionary Steve Forbes, the GOP nominated another squishy moderate, Bob Dole (lifetime ACU rating of only 82). 2000 was a joke as the establishment had pre-decided that W was going to be the nominee and he really didn't have any real opposition. W, the "compassionate conservative". We all know how that ended. Ballooning federal spending and even a new entitlement! It was so bad that even in his home state of Texas I heard of people say that he destroyed the Republican Party by governing the way he did.
Looking back before Reagan, I think the last Republican President I actually would have liked was Calvin Coolidge, who was elected in 1924, a whopping 88 years ago (even Reagan's 1980 election was a hell of along time ago, a whopping 32 years). So in 88 years, there have been a total of 2 Republican Presidents and only 3 nominees (add Barry Goldwater in 1964 to the mix) who believed in small government, free markets and individual liberty. Being a Republican who believes in those things seems to be a great way to torture yourself. You are constantly tempted into thinking "maybe this time" but more often than not they end up giving you someone you despise but feel you have to support as they are the lesser of two evils.
I thought better of it because I couldn't sit out an election versus someone like Obama. But the Republicans need to stop worrying about getting a member of their gang elected and start worrying about promoting actual conservative values or else there will be a large percentage of conservative voters that WILL bolt the party, especially if someone like Rand Paul is at the helm of a new effort. For those familiar with history, the Whig Party went from controlling the Presidency through 1853 to not even being a party in 1856 (though the American Party, with former Whig President Millard Fillmore at head of the ticket, did come in as #3 in the votes).
It's also possible that conservatives could get together and form a proper political party and then act somewhat like the Conservative Party of New York (though be actually Conservative). Sometimes they would endorse the Republican, but if they don't agree with the choice, they would field their own candidate. That would act as an incentive for the Republicans to nominate a candidate that is acceptable to conservatives. Having a convention before the Republican primaries even start would probably maximize the Tea Party's impact. Imagine if a conservative nominating convention had come together and endorsed just 1 of the conservatives running for the nomination before Iowa in 2012. Instead of the vote being horribly split, allowing the only moderate in the race to win race after race with under 50% of the vote, the story might have been vastly different.