How well can Ron Paul do? Here’s a fun scenario. With $5.3 million in the bank now and a fundraising target of $12 million for the fourth quarter, Paul will be able to spend competitively in the early primary states, especially New Hampshire, which already has a libertarian culture, a strong antiwar backlash (even within the GOP), and the Free State Project. I think Paul will finish in the top three in New Hampshire, ahead of two of the big four (Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson). He’ll beat McCain, knocking him out of the race, and Thompson, who will find his campaign on life support going into Feb. 5’s super-duper Tuesday primaries. Romney will win Iowa but lose New Hampshire and won’t win Florida or South Carolina. Thompson might win South Carolina, but not Florida. Going into Feb. 5, Giuliani will be the Republican frontrunner by default–he’ll pick up more support from McCain’s collapse–yet the floundering Romney and Thompson campaigns will hang on, with Paul picking up momentum the whole time, as the clearest and brightest alternative to Giuliani.
I think the likely outcome is that Giuliani picks up the GOP nomination and chooses Huckabee as his running mate. This will actually accentuate the weaknesses of both candidates: Huckabee’s fiscal liberalism and Giuliani’s corruption and social liberalism. There’ll be massive conservative and libertarian demand for a third-party alternative. Will Paul run? He’s been saying he won’t, and I believe he doesn’t want to. But he might very well think the Republic deserve another choice besides Hillary and Giuliani, and there might be popular enough by the summer to warrant taking a shot.
My prediction all along has been, and still is, that Hillary will run away with the Democratic nomination and with the election. I don’t think it matters who the Republicans nominate (unless it’s Paul) or whether or not there’s a third party draining votes from the GOP. For conservatives, the best outcome would indeed be a third party making a challenge to the GOP, because that would force the Republicans to come to grips with the consequences of betraying their vaunted principles. Not that I expect any soul-searching inside the GOP to amount to much, but at least there’ll be the potential for a shake-up and deck-clearing, which is what the Right needs.
If I had to give odds, though, I’d say Paul won’t run on a third-party ticket. And, while the odds are against him winning the GOP nomination, it’s not at all impossible–not if conservatives actually vote for the small-government they always claim to believe in.