In an interview today in the New York Times (page A1, no less!), Ron Paul states that “it’s at least 50-50 that I’ll run again,” meaning that he thinks there’s at least a 50% chance he’ll run in the 2012 Republican Presidential primary. Combined with the increasing likelihood that former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson will also be running in that primary, this creates the strong prospect of two more or less proud libertarians running in the 2012 primary. This leads Matt Welch to ask of libertarians “Which of the four possible scenarios (Paul & Johnson both run, neither of them run, or one of them runs) would you prefer, and why?”
I think the answer here is pretty clearly that libertarians are best off if both run. There is, to be sure, a virtual guarantee that Johnson and Paul would split the libertarian vote within the GOP primary such as it exists. But let’s be honest here: neither of them are going to come remotely close to winning the nomination under any conceivable circumstances.
What both Johnson and Paul running would accomplish is that it would double the rather minimal attention paid to libertarians and libertarianism during the primary process. It would mean twice as many questions directed towards libertarian candidates during the tedious debate process. It would also mean significantly more national television appearances for libertarian candidates. ~Mark Thompson
No one has asked me, but I’m inclined to agree with Thompson that it would largely help to have more competitors in the Republican primary defending civil liberties, arguing against unnecessary wars, and presenting an uncompromising challenge to Republican enabling of government profligacy and debt. Instead of being limited to the strengths and weaknesses of just one of them, both would be competing. In so doing, they would be providing natural alternatives for voters sympathetic to their overall message that might have otherwise ended up rejecting one or the other.
Speculating on a scenario in which Johnson ran and Paul didn’t, Jim Antle worried that Johnson would be “a less effective messenger in the primary process than Paul.” If Paul is also campaigning, he could continue to deliver his message and build on the movement from 2008 and after, and Johnson’s effectiveness or lack of it would not be as critical for advancing or sinking the coalition. If Johnson proved to be equally effective in putting across the message, that could only help expose more Republicans to their ideas. Dan McCarthy was concerned that “Johnson might sidetrack Paul into discussions that would make it easier for the party establishment to marginalize both of them,” but my guess is that neither of them wants to carry on such dead-end discussions. Instead of the usual 7 or 8-against-1 odds that prevailed during the Republican primary debates in 2007 and 2008, Johnson and Paul would be a ready-made pair of allies criticizing the other candidates and presenting their alternatives in turn.
There is the possibility of another round of the usual fratricidal bickering that often drags down libertarian and traditional conservative causes, but I suspect that even if this were to happen it would be limited to arguments between supporters of the two campaigns.