Libertarians and the GOP, Fighting in the Mountains

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Former Reason intern Ryan Sager, now with the NY Post, has a book out in September that promises to be of enduring interest to those contemplating the place of libertarians in electoral politics: The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians and the Battle to Control the Republican Party. Sager discussed a portion of his thesis in the July/August issue of The Atlantic, and follows-up with this interesting post at Real Clear Politics.

The point he's arguing (this is only one of his book's arguments):

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming…are on their way to becoming the next great swing region in American politics. As the Republican Party tilts on its South-West axis, increasingly favoring southern values (religion, morality, tradition) over western ones (freedom, independence, privacy), the Democrats have been presented with a tremendous opportunity. If the Republican Party doesn't want to lose its hold over all of the West, as it lost hold of once-reliable California more than a decade ago, its leaders are going to have to rethink their embrace of big-government, big-religion conservatism.

People have been jabbing at this idea, and the linked post gets to Sager jabbing back, defending his notions that migrating Californians may well be "purpling" that region of the West, that libertarians are not utterly politically irrelevant, that Dem victories in Colorado recently have been because of the GOP there's falling in thrall to Christian conservatives, and in general that the GOP really ought to think of becoming more the Party that libertarians might like it to be.

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  1. Does Utah belong on that list?

  2. This issue is one of the most interesting in modern American politics, certainly on the right wing. Regardless of where libertarians see themselves on the political spectrum, it is important to note their increasing presence in the Republican Party, specifically among young people, where the religious right is slowly dieing out.
    For instance, I am from Colorado Springs, Colo., home of Focus on the Family among a myriad of other religious groups, all adamantly opposed to gay marriage and pornography. However, these moral values voters in the region are dying out as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement, and the western Republican Party is being replaced by libertarians. I have several friends, all of whom are Republican, all of whom could not care less about gay marriage, one way or other, and who enjoy their porn.
    I look forward to Sager’s book, and hopefully, other Republicans will come to understand what westerners seem to have known all along: freedom is good; government is bad.

  3. Libertarians are utterly irrelevant. Utterly.

  4. T.S.

    I definitely don’t agree that libertarians are an increasing presence in the GOP, at least not the national party. This particular administration has alienated traditional libertarian-minded republicans (big government spending, an increasing assault in privacy, etc.). It’s certainly true for myself, even my red-blooded wife.

    Do you actually think the GOP is attracting libertarians nationally?!? I just don’t see it, and hope it shows up in the polls later this year.

  5. I think your forecast of the death of the religious right is a bit premature.

    While most Western-style Republican couldn’t give a flying intimate encounter with a donut about flag burning, abortion, or gay marriage, that doesn’t mean that this strange alien species of “Republican” that has invaded the area isn’t growing.

  6. I’d have to take issue with California as reliably Republican. Aside from Ronald Rayguns, any Republican leadership in Californicate looks more like moderate Dems in other states. Think about ostensibly Republican Pete Wilson who doubled spending during his tenure.

    On a state level the legislature has consisted of a super majority of extremely liberal Democrats for my entire lifetime. We haven’t had a Republican US Senator since Hayakawa. Because of the sheer size of Ca, there are certain powerful enclaves of more conservative voters but they don’t have enough power to carry the entire state.

    And Migrating Californians are definitely purpling (polluting?) other states. That’s a code word and it means that they left California because it is screwed up and now that they’ve found Nirvanah they want it to be just like the political and legal cesspool they left behind in Californicate.

    There is no doubt that some libertarian ideas have a certain cachet in politics these days. But I remain skeptical of using the term libertarian to describe any mass movement in the Republican Party.

    All that is not to say I’m not intrigued with Ryan’s book.

  7. I’m certainly skeptical about the libertarianism of the Republican party. I was just researching candidates for the Georgia Primary vote and looked at the candidates that the Republican Liberty Caucus endorsed. The RLC is supposed to be the libertarian faction of the Republican party, but a majority of the candidates they endorsed favored stricter laws against businesses hiring illegal immigrants and a ban on gay marriage. Maybe it’s just because it’s Georgia and candidates that don’t support these issues aren’t seen as politically viable, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with the candidates of the supposed “conscience” of the Republican party.

  8. I can’t keep the Red Team/ Blue Team thing straight. It would be so much easier if the Democrats were the Reds; if you see what I mean.

    As for the Californicators, they have definitely brought their nanny state mindset with them. I say, “If you want to live in a place that’s just like Santa Cruz, MOVE TO SANTA CRUZ.” And leave the rest of us alone.

  9. As someone in Utah, I’d definitely say it should be on the list, though its going purple at a slower rate than its neighbors.

    We do have an influx of the dreaded Calif’s and the main city in the state is already a Democratic stronghold with a very popular uber-liberal mayor. The county surrounding the city is traditionally very conservative but has elected their first Democrat mayor in ages.

    There are some signs of dissent growing in the traditional Republican bases here for the usual reasons regarding the slide of the national Republicans into authoritarianism, and for surprising reasons. While the locals often have no love for environmentalists, a lot of them have been unhappy about the current administration’s strong push for oil/gas exploration with little input from the surrounding communities and by putting drilling sites in the middle of good hunting/fishing/jeeping land. This is starting to drive the Field-n-Stream types and the ranchers to make surprising alliances with the Sierra Club yuppies.

    And then, to top it all off, there’s Romney’s presidential run. Since it looks like he’s got some traction, I can imagine a scenario where some on the religious right can’t keep their mouths shut and start making some fairly hateful anti-Mormon statements. If that happens, the simmering discontent here could approach something a bit more boiling, especially if such statements go unchecked by the national party leadership and lead to Romney’s defeat in the primaries.

  10. Libertarians are utterly irrelevant. Utterly

    So irrelevant that you feel the need to spend (alot of) time on a libertarian board, right Jason?

    Makes sense.

  11. Libertarians are utterly irrelevant. Utterly

    So irrelevant that you feel the need to spend (alot of) time on a libertarian board, right Jason?

    Makes sense.

  12. Weighing in from Golden, CO, I don’t see too much evidence of Californicates flooding over the mountains (they had their own gold rush to attend to). But I thought I’d pounce on the opportunity to offer a historical anecdote. While Colorado can be currently classified as a ‘red’ state, thanks to the vast tracts of rural area outside the Rockies, the LP was dreamed up right here in the Centennial state.

    The notion struck a band of chums in Colorado Springs in the summer of ’71. They seemed to be fed up with the current Republican admin’s overreaching notions and the on-going illegal (or should we downplay it to “unjustified”?) war. So while I too have no illusions about libertarian involvement in the GOP, the emergence of Colorado as a swing (purplish) state should at least level the playing field for libertarians to be heard more clearly on their home turf.

  13. Wine Commonsewer,

    Hayakawa was not the last Republican Senator from California. That title belongs to John Seymour who briefly took over Pete Wilson’s seat when Wilson became governor. He then lost to Feinstein in ’92. And Wilson himself served as Senator from 1983-1991.

    And the article didn’t say that California used to be reliably conservative, it said reliably Republican. And that was true, at least in Presidential elections until Clinton. Except for ’64, California went GOP from 1952-1988 in every presidential election. The majority of California governors have been Republicans as well including the current one. And of course CA gave us Reagan and Nixon.

    California may have tended to have more moderate Republicans winning office but if you ever go to a CA GOP convention you will find the the core of the party activists are some of the most batshit insane, John Birch Society type conservatives anywhere. The moderates never get the endorsement of the activists, they just end up winning the primary. And there used to be many conservative politicians such as “B-1” Bob Dornan that were successful in the CA political climate of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90s.

    Even though much of California is known as the home to fruits, nuts and liberal politics, it has long had pockets of ultra conservatism in its suburban and rural areas mainly in the southern half of the state. Not only the well-known one in Orange County but also much of San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and portions of Central CA. Having grown up in Orange County I saw a lot of these people leave the state in the early 90s for nearby places like AZ and UT. They weren’t going there to spread CA nanny-stateism but rather to escape it and to escape the fear that the state was disentegrating into crime and chaos ala the LA Riots. Much of the political shift in CA over the last decade and a half is due to the flight of these people and the influx of immigration.

  14. Wine Commonsewer,

    Hayakawa was not the last Republican Senator from California. That title belongs to John Seymour who briefly took over Pete Wilson’s seat when Wilson became governor. He then lost to Feinstein in ’92. And Wilson himself served as Senator from 1983-1991.

    And the article didn’t say that California used to be reliably conservative, it said reliably Republican. And that was true, at least in Presidential elections until Clinton. Except for ’64, California went GOP from 1952-1988 in every presidential election. The majority of California governors have been Republicans as well including the current one. And of course CA gave us Reagan and Nixon.

    California may have tended to have more moderate Republicans winning office but if you ever go to a CA GOP convention you will find the the core of the party activists are some of the most batshit insane, John Birch Society type conservatives anywhere. The moderates never get the endorsement of the activists, they just end up winning the primary. And there used to be many conservative politicians such as “B-1” Bob Dornan that were successful in the CA political climate of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90s.

    Even though much of California is known as the home to fruits, nuts and liberal politics, it has long had pockets of ultra conservatism in its suburban and rural areas mainly in the southern half of the state. Not only the well-known one in Orange County but also much of San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and portions of Central CA. Having grown up in Orange County I saw a lot of these people leave the state in the early 90s for nearby places like AZ and UT. They weren’t going there to spread CA nanny-stateism but rather to escape it and to escape the fear that the state was disentegrating into crime and chaos ala the LA Riots. Much of the political shift in CA over the last decade and a half is due to the flight of these people and the influx of immigration.

  15. “Libertarians are utterly irrelevant. Utterly

    So irrelevant that you feel the need to spend (alot of) time on a libertarian board, right Jason?

    Makes sense.”

    Eh? I am a libertarian. Small l. I am utterly irrelevant in a political sense. I like reading about libertarian issues and discussing and arguing these issues. Where is the conflict?

  16. OK Jason, sorry. I think what you should have said is the politically irrelevant part. I believe that culturally and most importantly of all, philosophically, we’re more influential than you realize.

  17. One hopes you are right, Ayn Randian, for there can be no libertarian political revolution until there is a libertarian ideological revolution.

  18. The purpling of the west has a little to do with the growing influence of libertarians, and a lot to do with the fact that the D party has given up gun control.

  19. Pepe, points taken on the US Sentaor argument, but the general gist is still accurate. It has been 15 years since Ca had a Republican Senator and the California legislature has been owned by Dems for fifty years. Until term limits, it was Willie Brown’s personal fiefdom.

    I didn’t say reliably conservative although I did say there were enclaves of conservative voters, as you did and then specifically identified those areas.

    I also grew up in Orange County and I can assure you that the OC of 1965 was a far different place than the OC of 2005. It’s still Republican but not by much. Some of that is a net outmigration to other counties and states (as you pointed out).

    I stick by my comment that migrants from Ca to other states do tend, on average, to take their political values with them. It is an odd irony that they tend to recreate the culture that they fled from to begin with.

  20. The Utah thing makes sense if you think of what it would actually mean: Salt Lake City and its immediate environs becoming one of those geographically small, heavily-populated spots of blue in a big, mostly empty sea of red.

    Under this scenario, Utah could well remain a safe Republican state in presidential elections, while consistently sending 1-3 Democratic Congressmen to Washington and occasionally electing a modereate-to-conservative Democrat in statewide races.

  21. The Orange County of 2006 isn’t even that close to the one of 1986 although the southern half of the county is still pretty strongly Republican.

    I agree that the Republican party in California is no longer much of a force and that they were never that powerful in the state legislature. I’m guessing this had something to do with the distribution of voters where democrats were more evenly spread out and able to capture more districts while the parties were more on equal footing in statewide contests.

    It is worth noting in the case of the Senators that it has been the same two Democratic incumbents who have been holding office since the last time the GOP did. The power of incumbency is probably partially accountable for the GOPs inability to field a competitive candidate for the last 15 or so years. I believe the inital elections of Feinstein and Boxer were somewhat close while their more recent re-elections were pretty much landslides.

    My main point was that the current situation of California being seen as an overwhelmingly democratic stronghold is a relatively recent development in the grand scheme of things. Less than 20 years ago the state was still considered essential to the GOP in winning the Presidency while today it is written off as not worth the trouble of campaigning in. And since many ex-californians were part of the Republican voter base in the state I don’t how much you can blame them for changing politics in other western states. This may be a product of urbanization as much as anything.

  22. In Idaho, I’ve noticed that despite the strong Mormon and religious presence in general (your traditional values bloc), there are quite a few “small government” Republicans against extensive state intervention. I think if more of them knew what a libertarian was, we might get a few more on our side.

  23. Libertarians are utterly irrelevant. Utterly

    When I first got involved with the Libertarian party in the 70’s it was assumed that welfare could never be reformed or the mere mention of school vouchers put one in the “nut case” catagory. We have seen the deregulation of industries that were all but nationalized. In Pa we have a choice in our energy providers that seems to be working. These are all Libertarian successes and we should not lose sight of this. Winning elections is NOT the only indication of a relevent philosophy.

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