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Will Dobson Run?

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Matt disagrees with me that Dobson is probably bluffing about a third-party run if Giuliani is the nominee. I don’t mean to discount the possibility entirely, but I do think it takes a pretty cynical view of Dobson’s motives (“cynical”, of course, doesn’t mean “wrong.”) If we assume that Dobson wants to maximize his personal power, he’s almost obligated to mount a third-party campaign if Giuliani wins. If we assume, however, that he cares most about achieving anti-legal-abortion (for poor women) policy objectives, he’s not going to mount a campaign. If the next President lasts eight years, he or she will almost certainly be appointing the replacements for Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter, as well as dozens of federal judges who have been given almost unlimited discretion by the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of new abortion regulations that start short of a ban (but can cumulatively have the same effect.) Whether or not he’s personally pro-choice, the kinds of judges Giuliani will appoint are likely to be hostile to Roe, and at the very least will be more likely to vote or overturn it than those appointed by Clinton or Obama. With four reactionaries, three of them still young, entrenched on the Court and two older liberals (at least on reproductive freedom, along with another one who by most accounts doesn’t especially like the job and is likely to retire early, this is a historic opportunity for supporters of forced pregnancy, and moreover an opportunity that may not come back for decades. (And this also makes any loss of political power from a Giuliani presidency short-term; if Roe is overturned, the GOP is going to need every anti-choice vote it can get.) I don’t know, but my guess is that Dobson really does care about this. I don’t think he wants to guarantee the entrenchment of Roe v. Wade for several decades.

There is one other scenario under which Dobson would run: he’s convinced that Giuliani can’t beat Clinton. (I don’t think this is remotely true, but it only matters what he thinks.) If he believes that a Democratic victory is inevitable, then it makes sense for him to make it look as if he was responsible. However, this strategy carries a rather obvious risk; if he ends up throwing an otherwise winnable election to Clinton, it’s frankly hard to see this increasing his influence among Republicans who will be furious with him. The analogy isn’t exact because Nader represents a smaller constituency, but four years after Nader threw the election to Bush he had to rely largely on Republicans to fund his feeble 2004 spoiler campaign, and he was a non-factor in the Democratic race. Again, I’m pretty strongly convinced that Dobson understands this, and will have more influence keeping Giuliani honest within the party than taking his ball and going home.

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