George Will on Bob Barr


Newsweek readers are getting their first impressions of the Bob Barr presidential campaign: Perpetually pessimistic conservative George Will assesses Barr and comes away optimistic and impressed. And he adds a few interesting pieces of data. Take this, on the fortunes of the LP.

Ron Paul, like Barr, has a sandpapery persona, and his Republican presidential campaign has been a mixed blessing for the Libertarian Party, whose presidential candidate he was in 1988. Paul has energized and enlarged the latent libertarian constituency. But his monetary fixations (trying to restore the gold standard and to inflame the public against the 1913 Federal Reserve Act) have deepened libertarianism's taint of quirkiness. And his money needs have competed with the Libertarian Party's: Its online fund-raising has declined 70 percent since he announced his run for the Republican nomination. But the party's membership has increased 20 percent since 2007.

Aha: That was why the party kept announcing that it would hand Paul the nomination if he wanted it. Not just to tempt him, but to jump up and down and tell libertarians that—hey!—it was still here. This is actually pretty promising for Barr. It was tough to say where all that Moneybomb money was coming from, and easy to speculate that liberals, truthers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists were joining Paul but would never join a more doctrinaire libertarian movement. A lot of them won't, but enough of them have expressed some interest in helping the LP.

More from Will, tipping his hand on why he likes Barr:

One wealthy libertarian would give $1 million if the McCain-Feingold law regulating political participation did not ban contributions of more than $28,500 to national parties. Another wealthy libertarian—he is dead, so he has none of the supposedly corrupt purposes that make McCain so cross—bequeathed more than $200,000 to the party. That would fund the ballot access struggles, but it is in escrow because of McCain-Feingold. If libertarian voters cost McCain the presidency, that will be condign punishment.

Stacy McCain has an interview with Barr and a bearish assessment of his nomination chances.

Although one online poll of Libertarians showed Barr as a narrow favorite (with 30 percent, compared to 22 percent for [Wayne Allyn] Root and 17 percent for [Mary] Ruwart), it is impossible to predict who will emerge May 26 as the LP's nominee. Barr acknowledges that he would face a tough fight for the nomination, and notes that he's still not an official candidate.

"Whether it's the Republican Party, Democratic Party or Libertarian Party, anybody that goes into a party nominating process viewing it as a sure thing is almost bound to recognize that they're surely going to lose," he said in an interview after his LPNC speech. "You cannot, and I do not, take it as a sure thing. I feel very confident that if I do become a candidate, that I will win the party's nomination, but I do not take it for granted."

If you want a sense of who'll be voting for the nominee, and how good/bad Barr's chances are, go back and read Brian Doherty's epic rundown of the 2004 convention. It was a far less complicated race, with movie producer Aaron Russo, radio host Gary Nolan, and… Constitutional scholar Michael Badnark. There was a sense that year that libertarian Republicans were ready to ditch Bush, that a good LP candidate could seize 3-4 percent of the vote in some swing states. But for a number of reasons the party nominated the driest, least media-savvy, and most outwardly odd candidate. The party's got a comparable embarassment of riches this time, but it's easy to write a scenario where left-libertarians and people who simply don't like him elevate some less prime-time-ready candidate, and watch as the political press ignore them for six months.