On Sunday, all the familiar partisan faces go all over morning television to tell us how their candidate did the best the week before. And this Sunday was no different.
Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, appeared on CNN's State of The Union. The host, Candy Crowley, asked whether Priebus was worried about libertarian candidate Gary Johnson taking votes from Mitt Romney. The chairman responded that it doesn’t worry him because people are “not going to throw their vote away” and that Johnson was "almost a non-factor." Which is all a part of the song and dance of being the Chairman of the Republican National Committee (but it hides a real worry).
Priebus has to defend his candidate and make him seem strong against any foe (including Johnson) because it is literally his job. If he said that Johnson could take votes from Romney it would have given Johnson the exact kind of legitimacy Priebus is keen to withhold. Everything he says has the goal of making people vote for Romney. And so it goes that everything he says also has the goal of making people not vote for Obama (or Johnson).
His idea that voting for the libertarian candidate is a throwaway vote is a nonstarter, as I have outlined in a previous article. Voting is about expressing your ideals and beliefs and so long as you do that your vote is not meaningless. It is these ideals that Priebus is worried about. As Romney tacks left, there is the possibility and fear that his never-that-enthused conservative base could be seduced by a more economically pure candidate (someone like Gary Johnson). Sure he is far from a social conservative, but the general public has their doubts about that anyway.
Priebus alludes to the idea that Johnson is doomed because unlike in the 1992 presidential election where independent candidate Ross Perot, who ended with 18.9% of the vote, Johnson has not nearly comparable household name recognition. Same goes for the 1980 presidential election where the independent candidate John Anderson had 22% of the national vote at one point (only to finish up with 7%). With Johnson hovering less than 8% nationally and at most 10.6% in one swing state (Ohio), Priebus claims he won’t nearly have the same effect as them.
But the worry is still there. All throughout the primaries resurgent anti-Romney’s kept popping up for Romney to knock down. Not Romney has his plate full with Obama and a resurgent anti-Romney this late in the game could really be a game over for him. So it looks like when Priebus said Johnson was “almost a non-factor” he really did mean almost.