Splitting the vote is a sure path to defeat
Imagine this scenario: Voters go to the polls in 2012, and 55% of them vote for a conservative candidate, while 45% vote for a liberal candidate. The liberal candidate wins because the conservative votes are split between two conservatives, with the next highest vote total at 40%. We now have four more years of Barack Obama and his destructive policies.
This is an unacceptable scenario, but it is possible. Ron Paul has said he has no intention of running as a third party candidate, but has not ruled it out in absolute terms. He needs to do so immediately. If he makes any noise about running as a third party candidate, his supporters should abandon him.
There is a lot to like about Paul, who is arguably the most consistent limited government candidate in the race. But no matter who you support, any of the Republican contenders would be vastly superior to Barack Obama. Paul simply cannot win as a third party candidate. The best he can hope for is to be a spoiler by pulling enough conservative votes to cause Obama to win with a plurality.
I have voted for third party candidates before and I almost certainly will do so again. There are times when a Republican candidate's positions are so offensive that I cannot in good conscience support him. But that is not the case with anyone in the 2012 Republican field. There are some I support more than others, but I could enthusiastically vote for any of them as the Republican nominee.
Paul was not always a Republican. He was the Libertarian Party's candidate for President in 1988. Later, he left the Libertarian Party to run for Congress, and has represented his district in Texas for 15 years. Had Paul remained a Libertarian, he would not have been able to capture that seat. Because he ran as a Republican, he has had a platform to advocate (small "L") libertarian ideas popular with much of the Republican base.
Paul could have pursued the Libertarian Party's nomination from the beginning, but he decided to run as a Republican - knowing that he is a long shot to win the GOP nomination. Since he is running as a Republican, he needs to respect the nomination process and not run as a "sore loser" candidate. He will not be on Indiana's ballot if he chooses that route, because IC 3-8-1-5.5 prevents a defeated candidate from appearing on the general election ballot for the same office.
It is not only at the national level where conservatives could defeat themselves by splitting the vote. There has been a lot of chatter about a second conservative challenging Richard Lugar in the 2012 Republican primary. As I pointed out in August, this is a sure path to defeat. Not everyone is thrilled with Richard Mourdock as the alternative to Lugar, but he has been in the race for nearly a year and he is a proven 60% general election winner. For anyone to get in the race now would be nothing more than an ego trip and an in-kind donation to Lugar's campaign.
We have the chance to be rid of a President who has wrecked the economy and a U.S. Senator who has far too often sided with Democrats against conservative principles. Now is not the time to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and allow Obama and Lugar to win with a plurality. We need a single conservative alternative to both, and we can win.