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2. The important political question isn't whether libertarian populism is a winning message for the GOP. It's whether the GOP is a winning vehicle for libertarian populism. Taking on the corporate state is a good idea whether or not it's politically popular. It is true, of course, that the typical politician won't embrace an agenda unless he thinks it's going to win him votes. But for those of us who aren't politicians—or operatives in a politician's employ—there's no reason to care about winning votes unless those votes then generate something we want.
That might seem obvious too, but apparently it isn't. The most high-profile discussion of libertarian populism to appear thus far is a Paul Krugman column in The New York Times that never once bothers to engage, or even mention, the libertarian populists' central idea of challenging both state and business power. Instead Krugman treats the whole concept as a branding exercise aimed at winning "a pool of disaffected working-class white voters," then attacks it on the grounds that the strategy won't work. The LibPops' political agenda, he claims, is just "the same old policies" the GOP has always advocated, by which Krugman means less federal spending.
Well, libertarian populism does entail less federal spending. It also entails the wholesale rejection of the crony-capitalist conservatism that guided the Republican Congress in the K Street Project days and the heavy-spending, bailout-happy economics advanced by President George W. Bush. A libertarian-populist GOP would have slashed back the military-industrial complex and would have let the big banks fail. You need a serious case of myopia to see this as the same old Republican agenda.
There are rank-and-file Republicans who find these ideas attractive—if not in their most radical form, then at least in a shape that's a serious challenge to business as usual. And the so-called "liberty Republicans," represented by such figures as the Michigan congressman Justin Amash, have built a niche where such notions are welcome. But there's a difference between making a home in the GOP and taking the party over. By attacking the idea that government should be the servant of powerful corporate interests, the LibPops are challenging one of the basic operating principles of the modern Republican establishment. I wish them the best of luck in that fight, but I'm not at all optimistic that they'll win it.
Fortunately, they can still claim other victories...