Warning: If you’re a die-hard Ron Paul supporter, you’re not going to like what you’re about to read.

First let me start off by saying that I know some of our readers are big-time Ron Paul supporters. I get that; I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

Second, let me just point out that Wednesday night’s debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama could not have made more clear the significant differences between the two potential trajectories for this country after the November election.

So it is with a heavy (and confused) heart, then, that I see a headline like this today:

Ron Paul is really starting to tick me off

In a Fox Business interview Wednesday, Rep. Ron Paul refused to say who he was planning on voting for — but ruled out voting for Mitt Romney or President Obama, leaving only one plausible option.

“I obviously haven’t announced in support for Romney, so that means that’s very unlikely,” Paul said. “And I don’t think anybody think’s I’m going to vote for Obama. So it’s back to that frustration level in not seeing a dramatic choice in how the system works.”

I appreciate that Ron Paul is a principled man, but he’s now crossing the fine line that distinguishes between principled and just plain stubborn.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t know why anyone would toss their vote to a third-party candidate who has ZERO chance of winning (or abstain altogether) while pretending such a move doesn’t have serious consequences on the election.

You can’t tell me that four more years of Barack Obama would be better for this country than four years of a Mitt Romney presidency.  You can’t tell me that a Romney presidency would be just as bad — or even close to being just as bad — as Obama.

Countless conservatives voting for Romney this fall didn’t support him in the primary election but are now throwing their support behind the best chance this country has right now to avoid driving off a fiscal cliff.  Countless conservatives don’t agree with Romney on many issues, but see that they agree with Romney much more than they disagree with him.  Countless conservatives realize that voting for Romney doesn’t represent a rousing endorsement for every policy position he has.  And countless conservatives also know that a president is only capable of change with cooperation with Congress and if they want real change, it’s more important to elect conservatives from their local districts to represent them in Washington.

If Ron Paul and his supporters want to throw away their vote, they have every right to do that.  But history has shown what happens when third party candidates stand on their “principles” and hand the election to their ideological opposites.  (Ralph Nader’s 90,000 Florida votes in 2000, for example, were more than enough to secure a victory for President George W. Bush.)  And with the two major candidates already locked in a dead tie, every vote counts.

Academic polls have recently shown Gary Johnson pulling around 5% of the national vote.  ”If we just get 5 percent of the vote nationwide, it will be historic,” Johnson campaign manager Ron Nielsen says.  ”It will be the beginning of the end of the two-party system.”  Yeah, it will also be the beginning of a second term for Barack Obama — hardly a cause for celebration.  ”It’s a protest we’re encouraging: We’re protesting the two-party system,” Nielsen says.

But the threat of four more years of Barack Obama apparently doesn’t matter to Paul, Johnson and their supporters who think the principle of their protest trumps the best interests of the country.

Finally, I might be able to understand Ron Paul’s support for a libertarian candidate… if both he and that candidate had not previously tried to run as Republicans and lost.  If you’re a true libertarian, then run as one.  Don’t borrow the Republican label to get yourself elected and then abandon the party that elected you when it — and the country — needs you most.