On Saturday, Mitt Romney won libertarian-leaning Maine, while libertarian candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in second. But those results, as with Iowa’s, Minnesota’s and Colorado’s, aren’t set in stone. These were non-binding caucuses that only hypothetically awarded delegates.
As with the Democrats in 2008, delegates matter this year, and it takes 1,144 of them to win the Republican nomination. Romney only has 73 bound delegates so far and, collectively, the other three candidates have 40 bound delegates. If we factor in non-binding caucuses, Romney has 98 delegates and not-Romney have 96. This means even Romney will need to negotiate with Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to collect their delegates. This might mean promising those candidates cabinet positions or adopting some of their policies.
More interestingly, however, Romney might also have to negotiate with Paul to win his delegates. While Paul has repeatedly denied the possibility of a third-party run, his supporters are fervent and would not vote for a Republican candidate who did not incorporate some libertarian policies.
Presumably, that’s why Paul is still in the race and still trying to collect more delegates. He currently has 8 bound delegates, but 20 when counting non-binding caucuses. He’s also not attacking Romney as harshly as the other candidates. A brokered convention where the Republicans incorporate libertarian policies to win Paul voters, however, will ultimately stunt the growth of the party and hurt its chances in 2014.
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This hypothetical coalition is not without precedent. Across the Atlantic in Britain, the 2010 coalition between David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats is a close analogue to the 2012 Republicans.
The UK has three major parties, but it’s more like two and a half. Voters choose between Labour and Conservative, and those fed up with both vote for the green, pro-EU Lib Dems. This is what happened in 2010. So many people voted Lib Dem that no single party won a majority of seats to form a government. After no small amount of Westminster drama, the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a coalition government with the Conservatives, the UK’s first coalition government in 70 years. But the Lib Dems are further from the Conservatives than even Labour is, so this present coalition is like a Palin/Kucinich ticket.
Understandably, this coalition government has not always run smoothly. On the one hand, Cameron has been accused of appeasing Clegg by kowtowing to the EU. And Clegg has battled against Conservative backbenchers over energy subsidies. One would think Lib Dem voters would be proud of their deputy prime minister for standing up. But Lib Dem voters feel betrayed. Celebrities like Daniel Radcliffe, Colin Firth, and Kate Mosse have publicly abandoned the Lib Dems since 2010, with Radcliffe calling Clegg “a whipping boy.”
Thus, Clegg has discovered just how deputized his position is. He has come under fire from Israel’s deputy foreign minister for criticizing Israel in a way the Conservatives would not. Now, a brokered convention is not the same as a coalition government. And the Republicans are unlikely to incorporate Paul’s foreign policy in a year when the President’s promise to “take no options off the table” with Iran received a bipartisan standing ovation during the the State of the Union. The Republicans would be more likely to promise Paul a cabinet position to win his supporters’ votes — say, secretary of the Treasury. But if he refused to compromise with the Republican president, he would probably lose his post. And if he did compromise, the Republicans would lose Paulite libertarian support.
The Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis. Paul and the Tea Party have produced fervent Republicans, so the party’s future may be libertarian — but it is not libertarian now. Incorporating libertarian policies into the Republican platform this year will hurt the party by turning it into something neither Republicans nor libertarians like.
If, by some chance, Romney were to defeat Obama, Republicans would attribute the administration’s failings to the novel Paul influence. From the other side, Paul supporters would likely abandon the Republicans for being too neoconservative, just as Lib Dem voters have forsaken Nick Clegg. With contradictory criticisms circulating about the Republicans, their identity crisis would only continue. And that would hurt their chances of picking up seats in 2014.
Pauliltes should hope the Republicans snub them this year and lose to Obama. Then, just as the Democrats went green after Nader’s critical showing in 2000, the Republicans would commit to libertarian reform — for better or worse.
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