American third parties have famously struggled due to onerous ballot restrictions. Some have attempted to overcome this disadvantage by nominating “big name” candidates. This often means running a former officeholder of one of the major parties as the Libertarians did with Bob Barr in 2008 and Gary Johnson this year. But the Libertarians aren’t the only third party to nominate an ex-Republican to their ticket this year.
In April the Constitution Party selected former Virginia congressman Virgil Goode. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996 as a Democrat, Goode became an independent in 2000 and a Republican in 2002. He voted to impeach Bill Clinton while he was still a Democrat, was an advocate for the tobacco industry, a vocal opponent of amnesty for illegal immigrants, and was a member of the Liberty Caucus before he lost to Democrat Tom Perriello in 2008. After receiving their highest vote total in 2008 when they ran Christian pastor Chuck Baldwin, the Constitution Party is fielding their first candidate to have ever held federal office.
Although a congressional backbencher, Goode still brings more name recognition than the Constitution Party is accustomed to: he is already registering at 5% in his native Virginia. However, the Constitution Party risks damaging its brand as a principled, independent, conservative party by nominating what looks like a fairly conventional Republican as its standard-bearer.
Serving from 1997 to early 2009, Goode’s years in Washington almost exactly coincide with the Republican ascendancy to their apex under Bush to their ultimate fall from grace. In that time Goode had time to establish himself as a strong independent voice against the depredations of the Bush administration. However, he has a voting record that includes supporting the Patriot Act, the Iraq War, and Medicare Part D.
Although Goode now expresses regret for his Patriot Act vote saying it harms the liberties of Americans, he still doesn’t explain his initial support for the measure or why he voted to extend it. Goode also voted to authorize the removal of Saddam Hussein, to allow electronic surveillance without a warrant, and intelligence gathering without civil oversight. On the House floor in 2007 he passionately argued in favor of the so-called surge, announcing that he would not support the non-binding resolution to disapprove of the troop increase to Iraq:
“I will not be supporting H. Con. Res. 63. . . . In my view the United States, by removing Saddam Hussein has provided a great opportunity for Iraq to be a showcase for tolerance and understanding. Perhaps one day Iraq may want to adopt something like the First Amendment of our country.”
Goode’s oration suggests that even in the darkest days of the Iraq War he was prepared to not only double down but he believed in the rosiest outcome for Iraq. Unsurprisingly, an entry at the Conservative Heritage Times describes an informal interview with Goode as someone unwilling to admit his flawed judgment in supporting the disastrous endeavor:
“When asked about the Iraq War, Goode never walked that back at all. If anything, he gave me a muddled answer which didn’t really address my original question. He talked about how he wants to end foreign aid, bring our troops home from overseas, and that Congress ought to make a declaration of war before going to war – all good things to be sure – but this wasn’t a real answer. Not once did he come close to saying that the war itself was a mistake.”
Goode’s campaign website has more categories than most candidates but many of the issues are only as detailed as soundbites and the entire foreign policy entry reads:
“We need a strong national defense. However, reckless federal spending which has given us a deficit in excess of one trillion dollars necessitates cutting defense spending. We must now come home from Afghanistan and reduce our commitments around the globe.”
Removing troops from Afghanistan is specific but everything else in the statement is vague. What does Goode mean by reducing expenditures around the globe? What about Obama’s intervention in Libya? Combined with Goode’s past support for the Iraq War, there is nothing in his statement that suggests he would find any proposed interventions in Syria or Iran problematic.
Achieving political relevance is hard enough for third parties considering the financial and legal hurdles facing them, not to mention the media black-out. But in the unlikely event that Goode gets into the debates, what political space does he propose to fill?
A more relevant question might be, what reason does Goode have to run with the Constitution Party instead of the Republicans besides sheer opportunism?