While the media focuses on which GOP candidate is the biggest rival to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s (or perhaps least scandal-prone adversary), there is one possibility that journalists should be discussing: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) entering the general election next year as an independent. With his influence, independence, and lack of better options, Paul could easily shake up the 2012 race by throwing his hat in the ring.
The fervent willingness of his supporters to complete the Paul revolution is perhaps the best rationale for why the Texas congressman will make the race. He recently raised $2.7 million in a three-day “money bomb” campaign, and his supporters flood YouTube and other sites with information supporting him at a voracious pace. It’s not clear where these supporters would go in a race between Romney and President Barack Obama, which seems like the most likely 2012 matchup. Obama and Romney appear to care less about a runaway Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard, and an interventionist foreign policy – what Paulists see as the most pressing issues of this election.
Paul’s ability to appeal to voters outside the Republican base might also give him reason to run as independent. In recent debates, he criticized Ronald Reagan for selling weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages, the U.S. court system for being unfair to minorities, and a border fence for being un-American. Additionally, he supports legalizing marijuana, cutting defense, and protecting civil liberties. These positions, which are holding him back in the Republican primary, might actually help Paul in a general election campaign, especially given Obama’s adoption of the Bush foreign policy and opposition to legalizing marijuana. Given this appeal to voters outside the Republican base, it seems as though Paul is running in the wrong race.
Paul’s planned retirement from Congress could be the clearest indication yet that he is plotting an independent run next year for president. In 2008, after he lost the Republican nomination to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), he returned to Congress and continued to build his campaign and name recognition in preparation for this year’s run. However, given that he has already announced he won’t run again for the House and that he will be 81-years old in 2016, an all-out, independent bid for president might be too tempting to pass up.
He also doesn’t appear to have any philosophical issue with abandoning the Republican nomination. In 2008, Paul endorsed Chuck Baldwin for president after considering other third party candidates for the election. Even last week, when asked about an independent bid, he “pledged to not have any intention of doing it” – in other words: Let’s wait and see.
Paul entering the 2012 race as an independent could be the most exciting political development of the cycle. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, in a three-way race between Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and Ron Paul, Obama led with 44% of the vote, followed by Romney at 32% of the vote, with Paul at 18%. With this strong base of support, Paul would surely shake up the race – something that this political junkie is craving.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore