On April 21st, from the shadows of the New Hampshire state capitol building, as well as the national political scene, Gary Johnson announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Just four days later, it became known that Ron Paul was forming an exploratory committee, a first step in a process that almost certainly will end in an official presidential run. This back-and-forth is in many ways emblematic of the growing divide between supporters of Johnson and Paul.
Many of us saw this coming. There is this underlying perception that the liberty movement ain’t big enough for the both of ‘em. Each side is concerned that the other candidate will hurt their candidate’s chances to win the GOP nomination. I believe it is from this that all other debates stem. Don’t get me wrong; each side has raised legitimate points, but fear of the harm the “other” candidate will do is what is making the disagreements personal. I want to address the concerns in hopes that I can help quell the personal and divisive nature of Johnson v. Paul 2012.
It is somewhat true that the presence of multiple libertarian candidates will to a certain extent split the vote. The Paul supporters will claim that Johnson is stealing former and potential Paul supporters. While it is true that this has and will occur, Johnson supporters can just as easily make the claim that Paul will be stealing potential Johnson supporters because Johnson was the first to announce his candidacy. Come to think of it, Ron Paul has yet to announce he is running for president. This is nothing more than jejune bickering, and it needs to stop.
Though there is a semblance of truth to it, the vote-splitting concern is a little overblown. Each candidate that enters the race is going to siphon votes from the most ideologically similar candidates. This is the nature of primaries, and as each candidate drops out of the race, most of the votes that had gone to him or her will be divided among the remaining candidates. If at some point Johnson or Paul decides to drop out of the race, I believe it is almost a certainty that one will endorse the other; that will give the remaining candidate an observable boost, which will at least promote the perception of momentum. If neither candidate drops out of the race, the result would be two prominent libertarian voices in the Republican race.
And isn’t that what all of this is about? Ron Paul’s 2008 race has been an immeasurable boon to the liberty movement. If we are to look seriously at that run, though, it was never about winning. Dr. Paul has made it clear he has little if any desire to actually become president. If he does officially run for president in 2012, it will be a reluctant response to public pressure. Ron Paul ran as a message candidate in 2008, and he’s going to be doing the same thing in 2012. The RealClearPolitics aggregate poll has Paul polling at 6% right now. While I would not suggest it is impossible for Ron Paul to win in 2012, starting out with that low of a number does not bode well for victory.
Gary Johnson will be doing the same thing in 2012. This election cycle will be for Gary Johnson what 2008 was for Ron Paul. This effect would be greater if Paul ultimately decided not to run, but in either case Gary Johnson is not going to win in 2012. For Johnson, this is more about 2016 than it is about 2012. Given the political reality that neither is going to win, there should be no reason to attack either one of them for ruining the cause or whatever other ridiculous allegations are being said. When you are a message candidate, you want your message to be as loud as possible, and two voices are louder than one.
Both Johnson and Paul supporters should welcome the other candidate because of this. Paul supporters should think back to the 2008 debates (well, the ones in which Ron Paul was actually allowed to participate). Do you remember the ostracism and general disrespect with which Dr. Paul was treated? He was cast aside as a lone kook rambling on about the Fed and other crazy things. That’s an easy thing to do when only one candidate is speaking the words that are being dismissed as looney. If you add another candidate to the mix saying the same thing, it adds credibility to the message of both. In a sense, Johnson and Paul need each other to be taken seriously.
It is my sincere hope that these reasons will lessen the infighting that so often plagues the liberty movement. In Part II of this article, I will go over the actual policy differences that are often the subject of ridicule from the opposing camp. As I will show, although each side will focus on the differences, even where Johnson and Paul differ, they aren’t that different.
So let us put this behind us. I thought this was a revolution. I’ve been seeing much more hate than love recently.
This is not the Ron Paul movement. It is not the Gary Johnson movement. This is the libertarian movement, and the more soldiers for liberty we have the more successful our fight will be.