A hypothetical timeline:
- Wednesday, November 8th, 2006: Karl Rove wakes up on the couch in his White House office, where he's caught a couple of hours of sleep after a long night. His first order of business is to have a look at the latest vote totals from the previous day's election. Those totals confirm the projections from before his nap -- the Libertarian Party has "spoiled" elections in Missouri and Montana, costing the Republicans their already razor-thin majority in the US Senate.
- Thanksgiving Weekend, 2006: Rove sits down for a post-Thanksgiving breakfast with several key party leaders to discuss "the Libertarian problem." Over steak and eggs, it is decided that enough is enough: The Libertarian Party must be destroyed. Over the last four election cycles, LP candidates have cost the Republicans at least four Senate elections -- one in Washington, one in South Dakota, and the two key seats in the 2006 election. And with 2008 looking bad for Republicans anyway, it's definitely a good time to take out the trash.
What's needed? A Republican candidate who's well-positioned put the Libertarian Party down like a sick dog, with the assistance of the LP itself, or at least of the LP's "base" of members, supporters and prospective candidates (and, as it has transpired in reality, with the financial support of the LP's founder, at least two members of the Libertarian National Committee, and even the LP's lawyer).
- December, 2006: Ron Paul's phone rings.
I've made no secret of the fact that I believe Ron Paul's Republican presidential campaign to be a bad thing for the libertarian political movement in general, and for the Libertarian Party in particular.
What I haven't said before is that I believe that's the point -- that the objective of Paul's campaign is the destruction of the Libertarian Party and the co-opting of the libertarian political movement by a political party which will never serve that movement's goals.
My evidence for this belief? I admit that I don't have much -- when you get right down to it, there's not a lot more evidence for this than there is for the belief of many Paul supporters that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, or that the Federal Reserve is a communist conspiracy.
Then again, if those conspiracy theorists are honest -- if they find the evidence for what they believe convincing -- then they're going to have to believe this as well.
The "evidence," of course, is mostly of the cui bono? -- "who benefits?" -- variety.
We know that the Libertarian Party is not benefiting from the Paul campaign. Recent polling shows about 70% of LP members supporting a Republican presidential campaign over any of their own party's candidates. The idea that that could be good for the LP -- or any other political party to which it happens -- is ludicrous on its face.
We know that the larger libertarian movement isn't benefiting from the Paul campaign, either -- because Paul has assiduously avoided selling himself as a "libertarian," choosing instead to brand himself a "conservative" during his presidential run.
And we know that the pattern of Paul's activities over the last 20 years has amounted to a gigantic fleecing of various constituencies, including but not limited to the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party. At any given moment, Paul may have sold himself to various donor pools as a "libertarian," a "constitutionalist" or a "small government conservative" (he's a little cagier when selling himself to the racists, usually stopping short of flatly identifying himself as one, and blaming unnamed "ghost writers" for saying things differently than he would have when he gets caught doing so) ... but he's arguably functioned in office as a slightly cranky, but otherwise fairly typical, Republican congresscritter.
Paul has drained untold millions out of the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party over the years by talking a good line and casting strategic votes on the floor of the US House against spending bills -- bills that he knows will pass without his vote; bills he's already packed with pork that he can take credit for with his corporate sponsors and his home-district constituents, while denying responsibility for when he addresses the various pools of "small government" donors he's been playing like a fiddle for so long.
So ... why would Ron Paul bring his 20-year gravy train to its final stop with the 2008 election? Why would he destroy one of his key campaign funding mechanisms after such a benficial and long-standing, if parasitical, relationship? Why would he cash in his chips and take a flier on a GOP presidential run, when he could just as easily keep fleecing the yokels already in hand? Cui bono?
Well, he's 72 -- any way you cut it, he's nearing the end of his own political career. It's time to start planning for posterity, and the incentives in such planning often differ from those germane to previous endeavors. This, his final campaign, sets the stage for future speaking engagements, book deals, columnist or commentator positions, and other lucrative projects. And let's face it -- even a small segment of the Republican "base" disposes of more such opportunities, with more money in play, than the entire Libertarian Party apparatus does ... especially if Paul can drag some of his existing libertarian fans out of the movement and into the GOP behind him.
The Republican Party obviously stands to benefit if Paul's campaign guts the Libertarian Party, either destroying it outright or eviscerating its ability to field "spoiling" candidates in congressional races for even a few election cycles ... which is exactly what's happening. And it's that benefit to the GOP that makes it likely that he was recruited by Rove or some other GOP operative, with a quid pro quo on the table to seal the deal.
If I had to guess, I'd guess that part of that quid pro quo is in the way of keeping Paul's US House seat in the family. I predict that when Ron Paul, Jr. steps forward to claim his father's seat, the Republican power structure will stand aside for him instead of putting up a "party machine approved" primary opponent. It's also possible that various Paul family members or associates will be tapped for executive branch posts -- probably not on the Cabinet level unless it's Paul himself, but hey, "Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Agriculture for the Wool and Mohair Program Inspectorate" isn't half bad as either a paycheck or a launching pad for a favorite nephew or a long-time friend -- or provided with sinecures by grateful GOP corporate contributors.
The sad thing is that even if Libertarians stop what they're doing, think things over, recognize what Paul is doing to their party, and stop supporting his assault on the very foundations of the American freedom movement, it's unlikely that he can be stopped per se. He'll probably drive his doomed campaign train right through the Republican convention regardless of his chances and regardless of the impact, and the LP will probably have an even crappier election year than usual, regardless of what LP members do. The damage is going to be severe, and it's going to take years to recover from.
The best we can hope for is that LP members will return to sanity sooner rather than later -- before, rather than after, Paul's campaign collapses -- and start rebuilding their battered party. Paul can damage us, but he can't destroy us. We can only do that to ourselves.