The 2012 election threatens to be the first to feature six presidential contenders — five of them Republicans. If even the one who has already left the flock does well, it could assure the re-election of Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, Republicans may have gotten a glimpse of what lies ahead next fall, as former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson bolted the GOP to seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.
He is not the first and will not likely be the last Republican to seek another party’s nomination. This year’s contest offers an unprecedented vista of opportunities for also-rans to become standard-bearers.
If Mitt Romney is the nominee, Ron Paul may run on a fusion Libertarian-Constitution Party ticket. Paul has pointedly refused to rule out a third party run. That could spell serious trouble for the GOP. Paul currently polls 21 percent in a three-way race against Obama and Romney, tipping an evenly contested race decidedly toward the incumbent. Nonetheless, Commentary magazine insists the “GOP Shouldn’t Fear a [Ron] Paul Third Party Run.”
If Paul snubs the Constitution Party — or chooses the pro-choice Gary Johnson as his running-mate — the CP will probably nominate former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, a onetime Republican who joined the Constitution Party last year. (Under no circumstances will party founder Howard Phillips allow the party’s ballot line to go vacant, even if a political ally is running in another party, a fact he proved in 2000.) The party’s national committee took the unusual step of urging Goode to seek its presidential nomination in April. So, enter Republican candidate number three.
Seeing Paul get in on the act would likely be enough to inspire Donald Trump. Trump has said, “I probably will run as an independent” if the GOP nominates “the wrong candidate.” Trump, who believes he will do well with black voters, nearly entered the Reform Party’s presidential contest in 2000 to stop Pat Buchanan; he would gladly throw his hat in the ring to crush Ron Paul, whom he has even stronger words for. That is also trouble for Republicans. Trump polls nearly as high as Paul in a three-way contest against Obama and Romney. He wins 19 percent of the vote, with his support skewing heavily Republican.
Then, too, the RINOs may demand a candidate of their own. Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer has already announced he will seek the presidential nomination of the Americans Elect Party, the RINO front group allied with the “No Labels” movement. Jon Huntsman would make a more natural fit, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg covets the mantle for himself. Any of the three may end up on the ballot. If Bloomberg senses a faltering GOP he, and his billions, may saddle up for the ride. ABC News reports Bloomberg is “most popular among liberal Democrats.”
Finally, there will be a Green Party candidate. However, Dennis Kucinich has essentially ruled himself out of the running. It is difficult to imagine the Left appreciably fracturing Obama’s base. Yet someone will try.
Thus, 2012 could be the year of six qualified presidential candidates, five of whom are onetime Republicans.
Of course, those are just the likely players now. And if Johnson alone does well, he could blow the election for the GOP.
The two-term governor, who was systematically excluded from all but two Republican debates, has said the GOP’s treatment of his dark horse candidacy sealed his decision. Although he has joked about winning 64 percent of the vote, he views his Libertarian bid — if he receives the nomination, something he does not take for granted — as an educational and evangelistic undertaking. However, winning a slight plurality in one state could throw the 2012 election into chaos.
A new poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found Gary Johnson attracting 23 percent of the vote in New Mexico, which has pivoted between Republicans and Democrats since 2000. An accompanying memo stated, “As a third-party candidate, Johnson would draw 26-30 percent of the Republican votes, 12-16 percent of Democrats, and actually win independents with 31-33 percent.”
Although it is unlikely he will win that many votes, Larry Sabato noted if Johnson wins five percent of his home state — an eminently feasible goal — he could ensure the state ends up in Obama’s column.
Johnson may appeal to some Democratic voters, particularly as the only candidate to expicitly endorse same-sex “marriage.” Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, has said Johnson “would be an amazing president.” Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, agrees. Johnson also supports drug legalization, abortion on demand, and a less militaristic foreign policy — all positions popular with liberal Democrats. But his main support is and has always been among Republicans.
Should Johnson actually win New Mexico, it could throw the election into the House of Representatives. Barring the effects of the National Popular Vote Plan (NPV), a one-state Johnson victory would mean Republicans will not win a majority of electoral votes in 2012 — even if they pick up Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida. Obama need only win any one of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, or Mississippi — all scenarios his campaign has offered — and he wins.
It would not be hard to imagine the Democrats purchasing ads for Johnson’s Libertarian campaign the way the Republican Leadership Council did for Ralph Nader’s Green Party presidential bid in 2000. And with the same outcome.
The Republican Establishment — and yes, it does exist — can thank itself for this fine state of affairs. Had it given Johnson a chance to crash-and-burn in the debates, he would lack the potential to throw the race. Were it not so out of touch with its small government conservative base, it would not insist on a RINO for the party’s top spot.
But its members would gladly throw the 2012 election, give Barack Obama a second term, and possibly stand aside as he presides over the transformation of this nation into a European socialist state just to deny conservatives victory in the general election…and control of “their” party for the next four years.
The GOP Establishment has become so disconnected from the party’s grassroots that the fissure threatens to widen into a civil war, a third party challenge, or a new party rising from the ashes of the old.