How Bob Barr will help – yes, help – John McCain

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.

4 Responses to How Bob Barr will help – yes, help – John McCain

  1. Eric Dondero says:

    Bob Barr will make a fine Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, perhaps the best ever, even eclipsing Ed Clark’s high water mark of nearly 1 million votes (1.1%) in 1980.

    Problem is the Party is in the grips of leftwing Anti-War Libertarians (many outright Anarchists), thes days. Most of the Pro-Defense wing has left for the GOP into the Republican Liberty Caucus, Club for Growth, ect…

    Barr will get a substantial vote among just the hardcore Libertarian set – base of about 500,000.

    But if he hopes to increase that into the millions, he’ll need to walk a fine line on foreign policy, careful not to run away Pro-Defense libertarians who might be inclined to vote for him.

    Just today we learn of yet another report about to be released showing how the Surge in Iraq has been a stunning success since September.

    If Barr takes the Ron Paul non-interventionist/pacifist line and claims that the War is a “failure” he’ll end up looking foolish and run off a great many potential libertarian Republican supporters.

  2. […] Right Wing Liberal argues that Bob Barr’s run as a Libertarian would, contrary to conventional wisdom, help the Republicans: [T]he people who assume Barr will take votes from McCain are basing it on Ron Paul’s performance […]

  3. […] Right Wing Liberal argues that Bob Barr’s run as a Libertarian would, contrary to conventional wisdom, help the Republicans: [T]he people who assume Barr will take votes from McCain are basing it on Ron Paul’s performance […]

  4. Kalim Kassam says:

    I think that you’ve captured one third of the story right here. A number of libertarians and paleo-cons would never have considered voting for McCain and were indeed considering Obama will instead vote for Barr. But that’s as far as you get.

    Probably an even larger number of libertarians were not going to vote for either of the major parties anyways: instead staying home, voting 3rd party,or writing in Ron Paul. Even many of the Obama ‘supporters’ amongst the paleo/libs who will now vote Barr would have sat this one out, not voted Dem. Many of those Obama backers are merely rooting for him, but would never actually vote for such a liberal/statist, an example of this is Justin Raimondo who was one of the first to come out for Obama and who has said as much.

    The third part, and this is the big wildcard, is whether other single-issue conservatives will vote for Barr. Conservatives who have concerns about McCain’s unconservative record on campaign finance, immigration, fiscal conservatism (of which pork-busting is only a small part), or environmental issues may abandon McCain, perhaps in significant numbers. The extent to which this migration happens is the extent to which the GOP would be hurt. Much of Barr’s rhetoric from his announcement speech was directed at these guys, “you don’t need to vote for the lesser of two evils”, “conservatives have a real choice in this election” etc.

    You are also mistaken or misinformed on a couple of other points. If you had knowledge of the thinking behind delegates at the LP convention or looked at the poll I linked (, you would understand that Mike Gravel has almost no chance of getting the nomination. While from a libertarian perspective he is very good on foreign policy and some civil liberties, he’s poor on taxation (FairTax), health care (Universal coverage + vouchers), and education (ditto), and pretty terrible on theory (he thinks that majorities have the right to do pretty much everything). These later stands don’t go over well with LP activists who want a nominee who will actually represent their views. Additionally, Gravel is none too friendly with the more hard-core libertarians or those who have doubts that his National Ballot Initiative is the cure-all he claims , accusing them of being impractical and deluded ideologues.
    You’re also mistaken if you think that holding the Ron Paul view or talking the Ron Paul talk on foreign intervention is necessary to capturing the LP nomination. Before Barr jumped in, the front-runner was Wayne Allyn Root, who says that while he opposed the invasion of Iraq, Americans owe something to the Iraqis and that they cannot leave until they’ve made more attempts to sort out the mess they’ve made. This is the guy who may end up as Barr’s VP candidate.

    I think that you’ve also failed to understand a couple of things about Barr’s run. He’s only partially running on his solid record of defending privacy and small government, but to appeal to libertarians he’s also running on his conversion. His vote to authorize force in Iraq in 2002 doesn’t contradict this narrative. His rhetoric on Iraq is also very different from Dr. Paul’s as he focuses primarily on the huge costs of the Iraq war, and the fact that America’s defenses have been compromised (esp on the borders) because it maintains a foreign policy of aggression. While this approach might make him stomachable to conservatives who are really pro-Iraq but want to register their discontent with McCain, I fear it may limit his outreach and appeal to more anti-war types who are caught in the Obama spell.

    A summary: Barr will run, will get the LP nomination, will get the votes of those libertarians and paleo-cons flirting with Obama, will get a portion of the Ron Paul supporters, and very well may draw single-issue or other conservatives who just don’t like McCain.

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