Is Ron Paul Open to a Fourth Party Campaign?

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

For the last several weeks, there's been plenty of talk about a third-party campaign, but all of it has been focused on the GOP's religious right base. James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other far-right social conservatives have been surprisingly candid about their intentions to break with the Republican Party, if the presidential nomination goes to a supporter of abortion and gay rights (i.e., Rudy Giuliani).

But what about a fourth-party campaign from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)?

A couple of weeks ago, during a Republican debate, Paul was asked whether he promised to support the GOP nominee next year, no matter who emerges from the primary process. "Not right now I don't," Paul said, "not unless they're willing to end the war and bring our troops home."

During an MSNBC interview this week, Norah O'Donnell followed up on this point.
O'DONNELL: Congressman, as you know, most of the other Republicans running for president that you have stood onstage with during the debates, they support a continuation of the war in Iraq. You want to end the war in Iraq. If one of them is awarded the Republican nomination, will you choose a third party? Will you not back that nominee?
PAUL: No, I don't plan to run in a third party. That's not my goal. But if we have a candidate that loves the war and loves the neo-con position of promoting our -
At that point in the interview, O'Donnell interrupted, and the interview didn't return to the subject. But the more I think about it, the more I think Paul and his supporters would make a logical third- (or fourth-) party run.

The Dobson crowd is certainly annoyed by the prospect of a Giuliani nomination, as they should be. But the truth is, all of the leading GOP candidates, including the former NYC mayor, are still trying to make the religious right happy. Giuliani has effectively abandoned any hint of social liberalism that he embraced as mayor.

But Paul seems like a more obvious choice for an independent run. The party isn't even trying to reach out to Paul's supporters.

Watching the debates and watching the interviews, Ron Paul isn't necessarily running as a Republican candidate; he's running as Ron Paul. His ideas and policy agenda are entirely detached from the GOP mainstream -- indeed, they are entirely antithetical to the GOP mainstream -- and his supporters seem far more interested in Paul specifically than the Republican Party in general.

In other words, Paul is leading something akin to a movement. It's almost a textbook case of the kind of candidate who would launch an independent run for the White House.
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