Veteran Republican strategist Roger Stone says a serious libertarian third-party candidate could pose a “great danger” to the GOP’s hopes of winning back the White House in 2012.
“It certainly looms out there as a dangerous possibility,” Stone told The Daily Caller. “The Libertarian Party, for example, is on the ballot in all 50 states, and should the Republicans nominate, say, Romney, then a candidate running on a tea party fiscal platform would … pose a great danger for the Republicans.”
Stone, who led a movement to draft real estate mogul Donald Trump into the race earlier this year, thinks one candidate in particular could pose a threat to the GOP should he choose to run on a third party line. According to Stone, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has both the record and the message needed to mount a serious Libertarian challenge to the GOP in 2012.
For now, Stone says he is assisting Johnson in a “volunteer capacity” because he agrees with the candidate’s message. “I think that anyone who will listen to Gary Johnson for 30 minutes will realize that here is a candidate who actually, as governor, did more with less,” he said.
“In other words, he cut spending, he cut taxes, yet the government was more efficient and they had an economic boom that was greater than Texas or Massachusetts under [Gov. Rick] Perry or [Gov. Mitt] Romney. So he has a story to tell and I just find he’s a more interesting candidate. I mean, he’s pro-Israel, he’s not the extreme isolationist Ron Paul is, but he is most definitely a real libertarian.”
If he were to assist Johnson in a third-party run, it wouldn’t be the first time Stone has bucked the GOP establishment. In 2010 Stone helped tea party-backed businessman Carl Paladino win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New York over the state party’s preferred choice, former Rep. Rick Lazio. That same year, Stone worked with “Manhattan Madam” Kristen Davis when she ran as a pro-marijuana legalization candidate in New York.
Stone, who has been extremely critical of Romney this election cycle, said he has not discussed the possibility of a third-party run with Johnson. “I have not talked to him directly about it,” he said. “I have talked to him directly — I had a very nice cup of green tea with him in New York City about a week ago — but we never addressed that possibility.” (RELATED: Roemer, Johnson show no sympathy for Perry’s debate plight)
Johnson, however, said he could definitively rule out a such a campaign.
“I have no intention of running other than [as] a Republican,” Johnson told TheDC. He is currently working closely with the Republican National Committee to get into the upcoming presidential debates.
Even if Johnson does decide against a third-party run, there are other potential candidates who could challenge the GOP’s nominee from the right. Aides to Trump have mused about possible third-party run by the Donald in 2012, and Rep. Ron Paul has refused to rule out the possibility, while admitting it “would cause a little bit of a problem.”
Republican strategist Mary Matalin knows firsthand what kind of problems an attractive third-party candidate could cause for the GOP. Matalin was an adviser to President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 1992 — the year Texas billionaire Ross Perot captured 19 percent of the national vote and helped put Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the White House. When asked if a third party run by Trump or Johnson had the potential to really shake up the race, however, Matalin was skeptical.
“A third party challenge with impact requires a solid message/messenger backed by serious money, which would leave only [Texas Congressman] Ron Paul on this field,” Matalin told TheDC in an email.* Matalin says there’s “no way to know” how a third party run by Sen. Paul would affect the race, but said it could actually help Republicans by taking young voters out of President Obama’s column and forcing the GOP nominee to “course correct if he was losing enough to activate a third party effort.”
However, she said, “if the level of intensity of opposition to Obama remains at the strength it has been among conservatives and independents since spring/summer of 2009, those voters will coalesce around a less perfect Republican rather than chance a 1992 repeat.”
“The past few [election] cycles have demonstrated a sophisticated, motivated electorate,” she added.
When asked about Matalin’s speculation, aides to Sen. Paul said he would not run on a third party line in 2012.
A quote given by Ms. Matalin has been updated to accurately reflect her intention to identify Texas Congressman Ron Paul, not Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.