Here is what I will be watching for when Virgil Goode debates tonight. Does he style himself as a mainstreamish candidate who was disgruntled with his ex-party and happened to capture the nomination of a third party, or does he style himself as the spokesman of his new party carrying the Constitutionalist banner even when doing so will force him to take unpopular positions? To some degree (but not entirely) this is a question of whether to Virgil Goode this campaign is about Virgil Goode or the Constitution Party. Was the Constitution Party a convenient and available vehicle for Goode, or is he really a convert to a Constitution Party way of thinking?
My hunch is the former. This is based on several things. His initial website blared his intention to save Social Security. He mentions the Fair Tax on his issues page. He has so far failed to fully embrace non-interventionism. Etc. A lot of Tea Party style Republicans would be comfortable with his issues page and candidate comparison page. There is no “radical” Constitutionalism in it. His opposition to NAFTA, his mention of the North American Union, his opposition to US soldiers under UN command, his opposition to birthright citizenship, etc. clearly signal to a lot of Constitution Party types, but these issues tend to distinguish him in kind as much as they do by degree. He is running as a more populist/paleo/Buchananite candidate, but is he running a hard to the right of Romney campaign?
In the back of my mind in asking this question is whether Goode is attempting to maintain his viability for a future GOP or independent run, or is he all in with the CP. (Goode is, as my Mom would say, no spring chicken so that factors in. He may not be planning a future run due to his age so this may be more of a last hurrah.)
In a related question, who is the audience of a third party debate on C-SPAN? Will there be a large contingent of undecideds who are genuinely considering a third party vote, and if so what percentage of these will be conservatives who are trying to decide between Romney and Goode and/or Johnson and liberals who are trying to decide between Obama and Stein or Anderson? Or will the audience mostly be partisans who tune in to root for their candidate? There may be some data on such things, but my hunch is the latter.
So who will Goode be pitching to? Will he be pitching to undecideds that he doesn’t want to scare off with budget slashing Constitutionalism, or will he be pitching to hard right true believers who are still skeptical of him?
This dynamic also applies to Gary Johnson, who is considered by many hard core l/Libertarians to be insufficiently plumb line, but I have the sense that l/Libertarians have come to terms with Gary Johnson more so than right-wing Constitutionalists have come to terms with Virgil Goode.
My advice to Goode, were he to solicit it, would be to run against Romney as insufficiently conservative every chance he gets. Turn every question into a reason why Romney is unacceptable on the issue. He could play to both potential audiences by doing this. He doesn’t necessarily have to embrace purist Constitutionalism, although some nod that this or that program is unconstitutional on enumerated powers grounds would be appreciated. Goode’s opponent in this debate is not the other three candidates except Johnson to some degree. His opponent is Romney. And his audience, which I suspect is more likely to be exposed to his performance in discussions about the debate than by actually watching it, is conservative but wavering Romney supporters. People he can convince that Romney is so unsound on the issues from a conservative standpoint, that they are willing to say “Aww screw it” and cast a protest vote against Romney, especially in states that are safe one way or the other.