From the interviews I’ve heard Bob Barr’s argument for running as a Libertarian is essentially that while the GOP is, in fundamental philosophy, a libertarian party, the GOP is broken. Given the lackluster choices in candidates at all levels this year, the absolute betrayal of conservative principles on spending over the last 6 years and the attempts at being bipartisan by being just as corrupt as William Jefferson and William Jefferson Clinton combined, he has a point.
That said, we have a couple of case studies in the more effective approach to fixing the GOP and bringing it around (or back) to conservative principles. The first and second being Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1976. They both ran as Republicans. They both lost. They shaped the Republican Party for decades to the extent that the liberal country club Republican is in worse shape than the polar bear or the spotted owl. Mitt Romney proved that the only way a liberal country club Republican can even have a shot today is to pretend to be conservative and throw tens of millions of dollars on TV to convince people. (Oh, and great hair helps.) If Ronald Reagan had run as a Libertarian in 1976, it likely would have been the high water mark of the Libertarian Party, but that national vote total would probably have been less than Reagan got in the California GOP primary in 1980. Reagan would have been relegated to the dustbin of history as another oddball, the era of big government wouldn’t have ended, the Soviet Union would still be there and we’d be stuck in the malaise of the 1970s.
The third case study is even more instructive, though not complete, because we’ve got a guy who tried it both ways. Ron Paul ran for President in 1988 as a Libertarian in a year much like this one. George Herbert Walker Bush, whose name even sounds patrician and liberal, was busy trying to convince conservatives that he was now one of them and not the Rockefellerite pro-choice, pro-tax candidate that opposed Reagan in 1980. He was making his famous “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge which many of us didn’t believe, rightly. Ron Paul got somewhere south of a million votes and nineteen years later his name was known to serious conservatives and Libertarians and few others. The talking heads were the scratching heads when Ron Paul came out of nowhere with $20 million bucks raised in the grassroots, every news anchor asking “Ron Who?” when they asked anything at all. Now state parties are scrambling to figure out how to integrate crowds of “Ron Paul Delegates,” a whole new generation of grassroots, committed activists who, like it or not, will play a big role in shaping the GOP in the years ahead. The big challenge of course is to separate out the 911truthers from the people who want a return to smaller, constitutional government and want the GOP to lead the way – but the fact that the GOP is facing the challenge shows the power of the approach.
Bob Barr should have had the courage of his convictions and been the libertarian-conservative candidate with a spotless record in the GOP. Ron Paul had the negative baggage of the 1988 Libertarian run that kept him out of the good graces of the establishment. He also had a history of association with the conspiracy theorist fringe, for a whole host of reasons – his commitment to free speech extended to outrageous ideas, his opposition to the Federal Reserve and IRS played into the Bircher style conspiracy theories, the Libertarian Party has always drawn conspiracy theorists. Bob Barr in 2008 would have had none of that. He would have been an unassailable solid Republican conservative in a crowd of RINOs. Hell, he might even have won.
Instead, he’s running a campaign that may get short circuited at the Libertarian convention before it even gets off the ground. He’s raised almost $70,000, about what Ron Paul raised in the first hour of his exploratory committee. If he does get the not-so-coveted Libertarian nomination, he can look forward to ballot access in 28 states plus a handful more. If he manages to get a large scale defection of hardcore economic conservatives from the GOP, he might break a million votes.
He’s obviously not in this to win. If anyone was ever rightly accused of getting into it to be a spoiler, here’s the guy. Gerrymandered out of his seat and defeated by a fellow Republican in the primary, he turns up 5 years later running as a 3rd party Presidential candidate in a year when conservative support for the GOP nominee is weak at best. Nope. This run isn’t about principles, it’s all about Bob Barr.