Checking Out The Field

Reason’s June issue has an article looking over the major and minor contenders for the White House in 2008. And it’s not a pretty picture:

If the 2008 presidential election is a baseball season, we’re still in that early, delusional phase when even Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans can dream of a World Series ring. The race for the White House is chock full of hopeless players destined to be sent down to the minors before mid-season—and full of superstars who will unexpectedly bust a knee long before the All-Star break and spend the rest of the season muttering in the showers. At a time when candidates have already raised record amounts of money, the polls show tight bunching among upper-division candidates, and the Middle East shudders under daily car bomb attacks, it isn’t at all clear who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations, much less the general election in 2008.

Like another cellar-dwelling season for the Devil Rays, only this much is certain: Whoever comes out on top will give libertarians plenty of reasons to complain. Whether or not most Americans reflexively embrace “Free Minds and Free Markets,” various polls and analyses suggest that between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters reliably try to cast their ballots for candidates who are both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In an era in which presidential elections are routinely decided by percentages smaller than the rounding errors in Barry Bonds’ monthly BALCO delivery bill, that creates a serious opening for candidates who recognize that being, say, both pro-gun and pro-gay might just grab more votes than trying to squeeze one more win out of the worn-out liberal and conservative playbooks.

Unfortunately, as the article poinits out, even some of the people that libertarians might have high hopes for come up wanting.

Take, for example, Bill Richardson:

Pros: The only governor in the Democratic race is also one of the country’s most fiscally tightfisted executives. Richardson cut New Mexico’s income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent, halved the capital gains tax, and eliminated the gross receipts tax. He frequently and explicitly draws a link between lower taxes and economic growth, something rare in a national Democratic politician. He not only supports the right to carry a concealed weapon but holds a concealed-carry permit himself. He sometimes skirts close to libertarianism on other issues, endorsing charter schools (but not vouchers) and medical marijuana (but not decriminalization).

Cons: Richardson has signed a smoking ban and is warming to the idea of a drug offender registry. There’s also the lingering issue of his behavior during the espionage investigation of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, when he may have leaked damaging information about Lee, using his power as a cabinet secretary to try an innocent man in the press.

Bottom Line: Of all the Democratic candidates, Richardson would be most likely to cut taxes. And after Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), he’s the most open to reforming drug laws. If the party really wants to make a play for the “libertarian West,” it’ll nominate Richardson.

All in all, not bad for a Democrat. Unfortunately in order to get the nomination he would have to pander to the unions and special interest groups that make up the core of the Democratic Party. By the time it was over, a Richardson Administration probably wouldn’t amount to anything that would thrill libertarians that much.

But what, you might ask, about those guys who haven’t even announced their running yet ?

Like Newt Gingrich:

Pros: It’s a cliché now, but Speaker Gingrich revolutionized Washington, marshalling budget cuts, welfare reform, and still-extant congressional reforms through the House. Since leaving Congress he has been a frequent critic of the floundering, big-spending GOP majority (RIP).

Cons: Gingrich’s record in the House doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. His first term included some substantial successes, but he soon morphed into one of George Orwell’s Animal Farm swine. He frustrated GOP budget cutters by appeasing the party’s biggest earmarkers, preparing the ground for the corruption that would eventually bring down the Republican Revolution. What’s more, if he gets in the race, Gingrich would become the election’s biggest hawk. He considers America’s greatest challenge to be the “transformational war” against the “Irreconcilable Wing of Islam,” which he has dubbed “World War III.” And he has a closet packed with skeletons. If the Republicans nominate Gingrich, a Democratic victory, possibly a landslide, is highly likely.

Bottom Line: Gingrich is more interested in big ideas and multipoint plans than a coherent philosophy for government.

The highlighted sentence is my work and is, in the end, the reason I think that Gingrich would not make it through the Republican primaries intact. There are some people in the GOP who take things like cheating on your wife and serving her divorce papers while she’s sick in a hospital bed with cancer seriously. And even if you don’t, it’s just a little sleazy.

Okay, then how about Fred Thomspon ?

Pros: Watergate-era Thompson was a dogged investigator of a corrupt White House. Sen. Thompson was a term limits true believer who voted for tax cuts and passed a bill reforming Congress’s labor laws, making legislators follow the same rules private companies have to obey.

Cons: If you go by his second-most-prominent media appearances these days—filling in for Paul Harvey’s folksy radio commentary—Thompson’s worldview is a combination of tough-guy thuggishness and “bomb the bastards” foreign policy. He has taken Gandhi to the woodshed and is a big fan of that musty applause line, “It is the soldier, not the journalist, who has given us freedom of speech.” He has praised President Bush for refusing to negotiate with Iran and Syria and, instead, “taking them on.” In office he voted for all of John McCain’s campaign finance proposals. He also proudly raised money for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, surely the most ironic career move for a Law and Order prosecutor.

Bottom Line: If he runs, Thompson will be the most pro-Bush Republican in the race; he narrated Bush’s bio films at the 2004 Republican convention. If you liked the Bush era but wished the president’s voice had a little more bass, Thompson’s the one.

As for Ron Paul, I think Reason sums up the reality of his campaign quite nicely:

Bottom Line: It would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could actually win.

But that, quite frankly, isn’t the world we live in.

  • C Bowen

    All I see are 10 pro-war candidates competing for an ever smaller sliver and one anti-war candidate who also happens to be a rightwinger.

    Thomspon is Council on Foreign Relations. Once folks get a whiff about who he really is, he’ll be just another Country Clubber.

  • Bill Westmiller

    Reason doesn’t take a reasonable view, instead depending on a crystal ball to say the future isn’t possible.
    I’m sure, in 1776, there were real patriots who said “It would be nice to live in a world where the King of England didn’t control our lives.”
    But, that could never happen.

  • trumpetbob15

    C Bowen,

    You are mistaken about “an ever smaller sliver.” The person who will win the Republican nominee will be pro-war. All this talk about anti-war conservatives assumes that an anti-war candidate could win the Republican nomination. If the voters were really anti-war, they would probably vote Democrat anyway.

    Thompson, with the exception of Campaign Finance, appeals to conservatives. Many conservatives would rather have us just bomb anybody and everybody and clean it up after the bad guys are gone. (One reason conservatives are against the Iraq War as currently being fought.) The issue of Scooter Libby will only appeal to conservatives who felt he was part of a witchhunt by a rogue prosecuter.

    By the way, why would libertarians agree with Fitzgerald’s indictment of Scooter Libby? Isn’t that the definition of over-reaching government power?

  • Steve Dasbach

    The website has lowered the odds of Paul becoming President from not offered, to 200:1, to 100:1, to 15:1 over a very short period of time. This was in response to very heavy betting activity.

    Perhaps Reason shouldn’t write off Paul’s candidacy quite yet.

    The 2nd quarter FEC reports should be interesting. My guess is that Paul will have significantly outraised all of the other “second tier” candidates, and will have held on to most of the money raised.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Okay, how is this a more accurate measure of Ron’s actual chances than Gallup, Zogby, or the other polls ?

    Notwithstanding your point about fundraising, I think the goose is cooked. McCain, Guliani, and Romney (aka Emporer Palpatine, Darth Vader, and Grand Moff Tarkin) are far ahead of Paul in fundraising and Fred Thompson’s imminent entry into the race will eat up even more $$$.

    I’d love to be more optimistic about this, but I’ can’t

  • Steve Chase

    The change in Las Vegas odds showing the liklihood of Ron Paul getting the nomination getting closer is quite telling. Folks here are playing with real money and I feel they are more acccurate than Gallup, Zogby, et al. Ron Paul’s ideas are far more in line with the majority of United States citizens than any other Republican and most Democrat candidates.

    If they don’t get the nominations of their parties I’d love to see Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich team up. I’d really work hard for those folks. Our nation might yet be restored for a sustainable future.


  • Steve Dasbach

    Personally, I’m not surprised at where Paul is polling with Zogby, Gallup, etc. What percentage of the voting public is paying close attention to the presidential race at this point? My guess is that it’s very low. Each debate had an audience of around a million — more than 100 million votes are typically cast for president.

    For the vast majority of voters who aren’t paying close attention yet, their only source of information to respond to polls is what they hear in the MSM — which means Giuliani, McCain, Romney, (Fred) Thompson, or Gingrich on the Republican side.

    The polls for Thompson are quite revealing. From late 2005 to early 2007, he was polling 1%, just like the other 2nd tier candidates. Then suddenly, he’s polling 8-12% and trending up in early April. What happened between January and April? The MSM started running lots of stories about the possibility of a Thompson run.

    Paul is finally starting to get some MSM coverage. If I right and he’s raising more money than the rest of the second tier, he should get even more. If he starts investing time, effort, and money in one or two early primary states (NH, AZ) his poll numbers should start to rise in those states.

    Don’t get me wrong — he’s still a long shot for winning the nomination. But there’s a difference from being a long shot and having no chance at all. IMO, Paul has moved into the long shot category, and has a better shot than most of the other “second tier” candidates.

    Steve Dasbach

  • CBowen


    I have no sympathy for Libby because he was part of a conspiracy to lie his country into war (which is probably death penalty worthy), he has no rightwing credentials beyond insider status, was a lawyer for Marc Rich and wrote that book, the Apprenctice, which features scenes of child rape, but I also agree with that of out of control prosecutors who pull the “lying to investigators” routine (Martha Stewart, obviously a more sympathetic player than Libby, should have been pardoned, but she wasn’t, so screw the GOP types) are not our friends.

    RE: Paul

    The winner of both parties nominations will be pro-war, but why not back the only dog the anti-ruling party has in this fight? Paul can compete for delegates and the Party may well be forced to let him into the convention and if not, we can destroy the GOP once and for all.

  • goldenequity

    Who IS Ron Paul? They still need to know!!
    NOBODY explains Ron Paul
    BETTER than Ron Paul himself!

    Here is an interactive audio archive of
    Ron Paul speeches and interviews as a resource in chronological

  • trumpetbob15

    C Bowen,

    Sorry for the tangent, but this is part of Thompson’s conservative appeal. Regarding Scooter Libby, what conspiracy are you talking about? The part where Plame suggested her husband be on a fact-finding mission? Being part of Washington and saying Saddam had WMDs? What part did he play? When someone comes out and says John Kerry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and every other Democrat in the lat 90s were lying about Saddam building WMDs, then maybe I will listen. But just because someone will only look at statements about Saddam after 2001 does not make the Democrats who said stuff in the 90s innocent.

    Now, I have never heard of Libby’s book so I looked it up on It is fiction, not based on reality. Now, applying a logical standard, how is Libby’s book worse than the book Sen. Webb (D-VA) wrote that was talked about during the 2006 election?

    Yes, this was a witchhunt. Charging an aide with purgery because he couldn’t remember a conversation he had with a reporter two or three years prior when his whole job description was talking to reporters is bogus. Add to that the fact that Fitzgerald knew who broke the law he was investigating the day after being appointed and we come to a more reasonable similarity, the Duke lacrosse scandal. (By the way, Martha Stewart was lying to cover her tracks; Libby couldn’t remember the exact phrase his high inquistors wanted. There is a difference.) Being an advocate for Scooter Libby will only win Thompson votes, especially if he ties it into a platform of stopping runaway judges and prosecutors.

  • trumpetbob15

    C Bowen,

    Sorry, I didn’t see your other comment was for me.

    There is a misguided belief that just because conservatives don’t like the way the war is being handled, they are anti-war. I just don’t see that belief. COnservatives are mad we didn’t implement total war from the beginning and make sure the bad guys were destroyed. (Arguing that we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq since al-Qaida wasn’t in Iraq won’t work because conservatives see al-Qaida gloating about killing our troops in Iraq. Either that means al-Qaida was already there or they came in after the war started, in which case Bush did what he said and is fighting them over there and not here.) Conservatives would rather us blow up a mosque with a terrorist in it than let him live and respect the mosque. Like everything else, know the audience and the audience is voters in the Republican primary, a good majority will be pro-war fought in a more total war manner.

    There is nothing wrong with backing Ron Paul; I just don’t think his anti-war views will really resonate with the Republican base. Now, his other views might and as someone mentioned in a comment on another post, perhaps he could pick up anti-war Democrats. He just needs to work on getting his beliefs about economic freedom out to Republicans instead of harping about being anti-war since he does have that to separate him from the other guys, even if it isn’t as cut and dry. And, by talking economics, he illustrates his ideas to conservatives without becoming a Romney-type that changes his beliefs every five seconds.

  • TerryP

    Ron Paul’s anti-war views do not have to resonate with that portion of the republican base for him to win the republican nomination. The “for-war” portion of the republican base could get splintered into voting for Thompson, McCain, Romney, or Guiliani or even others. There votes won’t matter as much if they get broken up to three or four different candidates. Now the anti-war voters really can only vote for one candidate and that is Ron Paul. So he gets nearly 100% of those that choose to vote. In addition he will be getting a huge influx of people that either weren’t registered republican before or just hadn’t cared to vote before. I don’t see the other candidates getting anywhere near the same type of reaction.

    Lets say only 33% of the prior registered republicans vote and 75% of them are “pro-war” (24-25% of prior registered). Now with at least four pro-war candidates getting this vote it may be hard to get more than 40% of this vote or essentially about 10% of the prior registered republicans or about 30% of the total vote. Now Ron Paul gets nearly 100% of the “anti-war” republican voters that vote, which correlates to about 8% of the prior registered republicans who vote or about 25% of the total vote. On top of that he will have all the new people coming in to just vote for him. In a republican primary since so few vote that really isn’t such a high number that he needs to get to win the nomination if the “pro-war” vote gets splintered between three or four candidates.

    I will agree that if someone from the “pro-war” group breaks away and the other candidates drop out, then Ron Paul doesn’t have much of a chance, but his veiwpoint will still be large enough to have to be heard. But if it stays splintered like it is now and at least three or four “pro-war” candidates who all poll similarly stay in the race till the end, Ron Paul has about as much of a chance as any of the top-tier candidates. The problem will be the deals in the end to get one or two of the pro-war candidates to drop out so that another one of the pro-war candidates can get his delegates.