Sign of the Conservative Times: National Review Bigwigs Praise Rand Paul and Libertarianism (UPDATED*)


National Review Editor Rich Lowry is, as he'll tell you, "far from a Rand Paul-ite." He is "not where Paul is on foreign or national security policy," and views Ron Paul's opinions on such as "toxic." But Lowry nevertheless devotes the rest of his latest Politico column on "The Rand Paul Moment" praising the Kentucky senator's intelligence, uniqueness, and sense of political timing, and predicting that "at least for some stretch of 2015, Rand Paul could well be the Republican front-runner." Excerpt:

It is a Rand Paul moment in the Republican Party not just because the headlines almost every day seem to reinforce his core critique of leviathan as too big, too unaccountable, and too threatening, but because he is smart and imaginative enough to capitalize on those headlines.

Paul has that quality that can't be learned or bought: He's interesting. […]

Other conservatives in the Senate like to brag that they joined Paul's filibuster, but it was Paul who came up with the idea and executed it, in an inspired bit of political theater.

He taps into an American tradition of dissent not usually invoked by Republicans. At the Time magazine gala this year honoring the 100 most influential people in the world (he was one), he raised a glass to Henry David Thoreau. In his inaugural Senate address, he contrasted his Kentucky hero, the irascible abolitionist Cassius Clay with the more conventional Kentucky political legend, the Great Compromiser, Henry Clay.

His cultural affect is different, too, a little more Utne Reader than National Review. At a packed event at the Reagan Library he explained, "I'm a libertarian conservative who spends most of my free time outdoors. I bike and hike and kayak, and I compost." It might be the first positive reference to composting in the history of that fine institution.

After distancing himself from some of Paul's views and strategies, Lowry concludes:

But libertarianism is a significant strand on the right. It should be represented, and represented well. By and large, Rand Paul does that. Anyone underestimating him in 2016 does so at their peril.

We done told you that Rand Paul was "the most interesting man in the Senate," and that he has bent the GOP in a more libertarian direction. And it certainly is interesting to watch a magazine that 10 years ago was publishing a book of War on Terror speeches by George W. Bush and thundering against "unpatriotic" anti-war conservatives now giving an enthusiastic hearing to the very political tendency that was in its crosshairs in 2003. More evidence of this shift can be found in a column last week by Jonah Goldberg asserting that "The libertarian idea is the only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years."

National Review, of course, is no stranger to libertarianism—founding father William F. Buckley described himself as a "libertarian journalist," and the modern conservative movement Buckley helped create was a conscious fusion between conservatives and libertarians. (For a deeper discussion of the complicated relationship between NR and libertarianism, see this 2006 Brian Doherty piece.)

But as Rich Lowry correctly notes, the headlines coming out of Washington this year are like a libertarian-creation machine, and meanwhile there has been an "evolution" in the GOP's foreign policy due to the party being "exhausted with the world for the time being." I remain skeptical that the Republican evolution/exhaustion cycle will continue in a libertarian direction under President Marco Rubio, but as always, I prefer people tacking more libertarian than not. Now if we could only get a "Ron Wyden moment" on the left….

Related: Nick Gillespie vs. Ann Coulter, and Jonah Goldberg vs. Matt Welch, on the modern possibilities (or lack thereof) of libertarian-conservative fusionism.

* UPDATE: Keeping the relationship ambiguous, the latest edition of National Review has a piece by Henry Olsen titled "Rand Paul's Party: It wouldn't offer much to conservatives."