How many Romney supporters would vote for Ron Paul if Paul became the GOP nominee against Obama? How many Ron Paul supporters will vote for Romney if Romney becomes the GOP nominee? Herein lies a problem for Romney.
Last night in the Iowa caucuses Romney won the voters who are most concerned about electability. That is, they care about getting rid of Obama more than anything else, and they think Romney can beat Obama better than any of the other GOP contenders. These voters are the “team” voters. Anyone with an “R” in front of their name is better than someone with a “D” in front of their name. Nevermind what Romney would actually do in office or whether he would do anything different than Obama, the point is to get rid of Obama, because Obama is the problem, or so goes the thinking, apparently.
Paul voters are different in that it’s not about the man, or the party, but rather the message and the principle of freedom. Paul voters don’t see much difference between Romney and Obama. If it comes down to that contest, an Obama victory might even be preferable because at least then the blame for the problems can be put on the guy who is an open big-government proponent, rather than the guy who acts like he’s not. Paul voters don’t look at the short-term view and say “Well, Romney is 5% better than Obama, therefore we’re going to vote for Romney,” rather they say “How can we make progress on the issues that matter to us in the long run?” That might mean spoiling a Romney nomination and handing Obama a second term, because then the GOP will have to listen to those in favor of Paul’s message or else risk never winning another election.
But would Paul voters go so far? Probably not for the above reasons. I doubt any statistically significant number of Paul supporters want to hand Obama a victory, nor prevent a Romney victory out of spite. Paul supporters will simply vote their conscience, which is to vote only for the candidate who represents their views, consequences be damned. If the choice is between the guy who will run the train off the cliff at 130 mph and the guy who will run the train off the cliff at 90 mph, Paul supporters will vote for the third guy who wants to stop the train, even if he has no chance of winning, even if he’s not in the race. I, for one, will vote for Ron Paul even if only as a write-in candidate, and even if Ron Paul drops out of the race entirely. There is no conceivable way I can think of Romney, Santorum, or any other candidate currently on stage to win my vote away from Paul within the next few months.
If I’m in any way representative of other Paul voters, Romney has a problem because he’ll lose anywhere from 10-30% of the vote. The only way Romney can come out ahead is if Paul can pull more votes from Obama. But then there’s another problem, the specter of Paul being able to win as a third-party candidate, which would be a nightmare for both parties, but especially the GOP, who will be forced to conclude they bet on the wrong guy and may go the way of the Whig party.
If electability is the issue, Romney supporters might do well to pay more attention to polls that show that Paul and Romney are tied when it comes to winning against Obama. When you add that to what I’ve said above, a vote for Paul might just be the most pragmatic thing a team GOP voter can do if they want to get rid of Obama.