When it comes to the premature, shoot-your-own-darn-self-in-the-foot game of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson?, I'm squarely in the Jesse Walker camp–"for now, let them double-team all the authoritarians on the stage." But that doesn't mean it's not interesting to read people play along at home! Here's Will Wilkinson, picking up on Ilya Somin's and Shikha Dalmia's recent pro-Johnson raps, and making some broader points about libertarian politics and political coalitions:
As governor, Mr Johnson showed that a non-ideological, pragmatic libertarianism can work as a governing philosophy. But neither full-blooded libertarians nor allegedly liberty-loving tea-party enthusiasts really care much about governing. Libertarians, accustomed to dwelling on the margins of American politics, participate in elections without hope of electoral success, if they participate at all. For them, presidential campaigns offer at best an occasion to preach the libertarian gospel to the wary public, and the more table-pounding the better. As for the tea partiers, they seem less interested in practical policy solutions to America's problems and rather more interested in fighting a culture war over what it means to be authentically American. Unless ostensibly liberty-loving conservative voters become convinced that the sensible liberalisation of drug and immigration policy is implied by the inspired language of the Constitution of Independence, the eagle will not soar for Mr Johnson.
The elements of Mr Paul's past and creed that Mr Somin, Ms Dalmia, and I find objectionable are not really liabilities. They are an important part what makes "Dr No" a candidate capable of generating surprising amounts of enthusiasm and campaign cash, if not votes. Mr Paul and the tea-party movement are each in their separate ways creatures of Cold War-era conservative-libertarian "fusionism", which remains a powerful ideological and institutional force on the right. In contrast, Mr Johnson comes off as a post-fusionist, libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative. The very existence of such a creature heartens me, but it remains that there exists in our culture no popular, pre-packaged political identity that celebrates and defines itself in terms of these laudable tendencies. "Liberaltarian" pragmatism has no electoral future in the absence of support from social movements and institutions dedicated to promoting it. Mr Johnson's main contribution during the race for the Republican nomination may be simply to show voters that the lonely ground on which he stands is there to stand on.
Across the pond, Alex Massie comments:
In the end, Gary Johnson appeals to Reason subscribers*, the people who attend events hosted by the Cato Institute and other middle-class enlightened types distressed by the parade of grotesques offered by the "mainstream" parties. That's a lovely constituency and one that contains many fine people but it's not enough to make much of an impression on anything. […]
Nevertheless, if he does nothing other than bring attention to the miseries and injustices of the War on Drugs, Gary Johnson will have done his country some service during the course of his noble, doomed campaign.
I wholeheartedly agree with Massie's last point, anyway….
Much as I enjoy the view of my own navel, let me adjust the periscope a bit. Americans as a whole–not just Republicans, or Tea Parties, or Reason subscribers, or the liberaltarian jackalope–are significantly more hardass than their elected representatives from either party about cutting the size of government and bringing the Bush-Obama Bailout Era to a screeching halt. There is a palpable hunger, particularly though not only in the GOP/Tea Party camps, for brutally frank discussions about reforming big-ticket spending items before the big-ticket spending items reform us; if you don't believe me, just ask Newt Gingrich. Everything in American politics has been trending in this direction since that first TARP vote in September 2008.
What does this mean for the GOP presidential race? With the usual caveats that I'm neither Republican nor particularly prescient, I think it means that the Party must nominate someone who has a history of being significantly more radical about cutting the size of government than your run-of-the-mill John Boehner. Is Mitt Romney really that guy? T-Paw? As long as you can count the number of truly limited-government GOP candidates on one hand, there will be room for the very different approaches of both Gary Johnson and Ron Paul in these debates, and probably extra space left open for other as-yet-unannounced candidates who are good on the only real domestic policy issue worth talking about.
As Paul himself told Senior Editor Brian Doherty late last month:
The other side has dominated for years. Everyone represented their views as modified Keynesianism, and they don't present an alternative on foreign policy. But the Republican Party had a history where we had less interventionist foreign policy and sound money and personal liberties [were valued], so having two, three, or four candidates who believe in them is good.
My goal in life is getting those ideas out, not even having it be a partisan thing.