Bill Kristol: The GOP would be better off if Ron Paul left

Compare this to what Jim DeMint said about Paul last week and you’ll see what sort of fun we’re in for during convention week this year.

“A lot of people when they criticize Ron Paul have to preface their criticism by saying, ‘you know, he’s good guy, he brings a lot to the debate,’” Bill Kristol said on C-SPAN. “I actually don’t buy that. I do not think he’s a particular good guy . . . I think it would be better for the Republican party, if he left the Republican party.”

The boss said the inclination to keep Paul a member of the party is wrong. “A lot of Republicans are spending a lot of time [thinking], ‘how do we keep Ron Paul under the tent? How do we make sure he doesn’t go third party?”…

“[Buchanan] left the party in 1999 and a lot of people, and I was one of them, said, goodbye and good riddance, you’re not in the mainstream of the Republican party, go run as some Reform party candidate . . . he did in 2000 and he didn’t get many votes and actually George W. Bush I think was helped—and the Republican party was helped—to be free of Buchanan’s extreme isolationism, protectionism, anti-Israel views, and the like. Ron Paul is a little different from Pat Buchanan—but he’s no better, in my view. And I actually think we’d benefit in the long run—but even in the short run . . .”

Is he saying he wants Paul to leave right now, i.e. quit the primaries and march off to third-party land? That’s so unlikely that there’s no point even debating it. Paul ran as a Libertarian Party candidate before, got nowhere with it, and isn’t about to repeat his mistake when he’s getting a national TV megaphone during the debates and second- and third-place finishes in New Hampshire and Iowa. The whole point of his campaign is to try to tilt the GOP towards his own platform by piling up delegates and then playing a role at the convention. He figures, quite reasonably, that the only way libertarianism will ever have influence is if it coopts one of the two major parties. And it’s simply not true that Paul would get only a few votes if he dropped out now and ran as an independent. I’ve seen more than one poll showing him in double digits in a three-way race against Obama and Romney. (Obama wins each of those hypotheticals, of course.) Buchanan was chiefly a protest vote against the GOP establishment when he ran, I think, whereas Paul has a genuine libertarian movement behind him. Plenty of them will follow him into independence. The proper analogy here is Perot, not Buchanan.

If Kristol means something more long-term, that Paul should go his own way after the election’s over, then the problem’s already solved: He’s done with politics at that point anyway. (He’s not running for his House seat again, remember.) It’ll be Rand’s moment then, which is another reason why Paul won’t split. He doesn’t want to bequeath his son, whose chances of attracting mainstream Republicans are much higher, a legacy of hurting the party by running against it. Beyond that, I hate the idea of “winning” the debate with Paul by hoping he shuts up and goes away. Let him sell this sort of thing and see if Republican voters buy it. If they do then we’ll have a “new GOP” and we can all adjust our loyalties to the party accordingly; if they don’t then Paul fans will eventually get tired of trying to change minds and go their own way anyway. I don’t see what trying to usher them out the door accomplishes, especially when their guy is competitive with everyone in the currently split field except Romney.