No Third Party Threat For President Bush

David Paul Kuhn, Chief Political Writer for CBSNews.com, suggests President Bush may face a Nader like threat from the Libertarian Party:

With conservatives upset over the ballooning size of the federal government under a Republican White House and Congress – and a portion of the political right having opposed the war in Iraq from the start, or else dismayed at how it's being handled – the Libertarian nominee, who will be on the ballot in 49 states, may do for Democrats in 2004 what Nader did for Republicans in 2000.

Kuhn cites several "Conservative operatives to support his thesis. Don Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union said “I think [the Bush campaign] should be concerned. I don’t know how concerned." Grover Norquist, president of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, agrees with Devine that the Republicans should be paying attention to the Libertarian candidate, but says it is hard to gauge this early if many votes will be siphoned from Mr. Bush. Lee Edwards, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union also agrees that there some unhappiness among conservatives.

The Libertarians will nominate a presidential candidate next week at their convention in Atlanta. according to Kuhn, the most likely nominees include Gary Nolan, a talk-radio host and longtime Libertarian, and Aaron Russo, a successful Hollywood producer who ran a strong gubernatorial campaign in Nevada in 1998.

Kuhn also relies on Robert Novak's May 20th column which describes President Bush’s conservative base as “bothered.”

“I think [fiscal conservatives] don’t believe that [Mr. Bush] has really done anything to restrain the growth of government,” Novak said in an interview. “We are talking about a very small number of people. It becomes important only for [Mr. Bush] in a very close election where every vote counts.”

This Gallup analysis demonstrates that President Bush has no reason to worry if in fact his conservative base is bothered. Gallup says that President Bush has maintained about 90 percent approval ratings from Republicans throughout his presidency.

Charles Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, doesn't think the Libertarians will have the impact that Nader had in 2000:

“I may be very wrong but I would be absolutely stunned if [the Libertarians] turned into anything of any consequence,” said Cook.

Cook said this because “the American people overwhelmingly believe that there are big differences” between the major parties this year. But he also pointed out “the race will be close.”

In a close race, Libertarians have learned from Nader, it only takes one state to change the course of the nation.

Last month the Christian Science Monitor reported that in the 2002:

2 percent or more of voters in 15 gubernatorial and US Senate elections in 2002 cast their ballots for the Libertarian Party. And candidates running as independents cleared the 2 percent mark in seven other states. Numbers like these could be a decisive factor in a close contest between Messrs. Bush and Kerry.

The recent trends suggest that it is possible for Libertarians to make a Nader like impact. While it is interesting to muse about Conservative or Libertarian voters abandoning President Bush, it's not going to happen.

Cook is right about the Libertarians. They understand the conventional wisdom that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election and won't be similarly responsible for a Kerry win. These voters will not vote in protest for a third party candidate who can't win. In the end they will vote to reelect President Bush.

Posted by Dan Spencer at May 22, 2004 2:20 PM