Now that Bob Barr has made it unofficially official (Leslie Carbone) – exploratory committees are like that; almost no one forms them without eventually gunning for ty’he office they are “exploring” – the blogosphere is all abuzz (Shuan Kenney, Extreme Mortman, and Below the Beltway, to name a few). Conventional wisdom holds that Barr’s conservative record as a Republican Congressman put him in a perfect position to do tremendous damage to John McCain. I respectfully disagree.
For starters, the people who assume Barr will take votes from McCain are basing it on Ron Paul’s performance in the GOP primaries – and even more strangely, they’re assuming Barr can do better. However, Dr. Paul himself was getting absolutely nowhere until he made his opposition to the liberation of Iraq the be-all and end-all of his campaign. Those Paul supporters were never going to vote for John McCain. So, if Barr manages to cobble them all together, it won’t be at McCain’s expense.
Lest anyone think Barr will try to soft-pedal Iraq; he can’t. If he does, the Libertarians won’t nominate him. Don’t forget, ex-Democrat Mike Gravel is also an LP presidential candidate, and his anti-war history goes back to Vietnam. Barr, by contrast, has to explain his vote in favor of the use of force in Iraq in 2002 (roll call vote). Therefore, Barr has to be much louder in opposition to the Iraq mission, or he will not win the LP nomination. That loud opposition will also shut the door on any attempt to raid McCain voters.
The Democrats are an entirely different matter. Obama will be pulled left to keep more dovish voters from moving over to Barr. Given Barr’s 2002 vote, that won’t be too hard. What will be a problem are the paleo-conservatives who are so alienated from the Bush Administration that they’re willing to consider the Democrats (already, the folks at the Buchanan-inspired American Conservative are talking up Barack Obama). A Barr candidacy will suck up those Obamacan/Obamacon voters like a sponge. Senator Clinton will be in an even bigger pickle because of her 2002 Iraq vote. She’ll have much more trouble hanging on to the anti-war left in her own party.
The Republican Party was very different when Bob Barr was one of its shining stars – not necessarily better, but different. Most of Barr’s greatest admirers followed him out of the GOP, and hardly any of them are backing McCain now. If this were 2000, Barr could do McCain serious damage, but it’s 2008, and oddly enough, it will be the Democrats who will suffer from his candidacy, not the GOP.