Agree or Disagree?: Rand Paul Should Go Libertarian or Go Home
A recent Los Angeles Times story by Lisa Mascaro argues that "After sagging in fundraising, Rand Paul 2.0 reboots campaign." The thesis is that the Kentucky Republican is failing to gain traction with GOP conservatives and is consciously trying to re-align himself with libertarian-leaning voters.
"Out of necessity he's moving back to his base, which is a sign the strategy he adopted was the wrong strategy," said Aaron Day, chairman of the New Hampshire chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus, a nationwide libertarian-leaning organization within the GOP. "He needs the grass-roots — and they know this now."
That's something Paul's people say just isn't true:
Rand's campaign denied any rebooting of his message or positions, and insisted that he never intended to replicate the campaigns of his father, the former Texas GOP congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul. "There has been no change, no pivot," said campaign manager Chip Englander. "He has the same view he's always had."
As a matter of fact, on a bunch of recent issues, Paul has been very close to other, more-consciously conservative Republican candidates than to any vision of libertarianism. His response to the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant, for instance, was to denounce "Sanctuary Cities" and support an onerous surveillance program. He's against the Iran deal. While he was quick to call for yanking the Confederate battle flag from public grounds, he was slow-to-never in challenging Donald Trump's moronic view of Mexican immigrants as mostly criminal or to issue a statement about the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage (he eventually said he wants to privatize marriage). Earlier in the year, he supported more defense spending than a couple of GOP hawks (albeit, Paul wanted to pay for the increases with offsets elsewhere in the budget).
Which is to say that despite his clear libertarian-ish leanings, Paul is hardly covering himself in glory when it comes to being a consistent champion of libertarian ideas and policies in the GOP presidential race. Many times, he seems to be the sixth or seventh or 10th candidate in a crowded field to come along with a pretty-conservative take on an issue of the moment.
This is doubly frustrating for those of us pushing for "Free Minds and Free Markets." First, because we want a champion in the GOP (and the Democratic Party too) that is unapologetically socially tolerant and fiscally responsible. Second, because Rand Paul will never rise to the top of the heap by being a distant echo of awful big-government conservatives rather than a clear choice for voters sick of the past 15 years of screwups and overreaches by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Paul has always been at his most interesting not just to Reason readers but to the American public exactly at the moments when he is most unabashedly libertarian—standing against unrestrained government surveiilance and executive power, questioning Obama's bombing of Libya and attempts to attack Syria, reaching across the aisle on sentencing reform, pushing for hemp and marijuana reform, saying that "we will find a place" for immigrants who come here and that the GOP must become a broader, more-inclusive group. His response to Ferguson—he was the first national politician to say the police's militarized response to initially peaceful protests was fucked up—contrasted sharply with his jokes about being glad his train wasn't stopping in Baltimore during Charm City's riots.
From Mascaro's LA Times piece:
Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian Reason.com, said Paul does best when he stakes out classic libertarian positions to distinguish himself from the other candidates.
"All of the moments where he stands out — where he captures not just the political imagination, but the public American imagination — are the most libertarian," Gillespie said.
Simply from a marketing angle, it seems to clear to me that Rand Paul would do better in the current campaign by offering a clear alternative to the uninspired stew of reactionary social positions, hawkish defense posturing, and lukewarm promises to fix the economy via tax cuts rather than cutting spending that characterize his competition.
Far more important, harping on a clear libertarian alternative—regardless of its effect on Paul's run—would massively improve the national conversation we need to have about the size, scope, and spending of goverment at all levels. We're all strung out from the failures of conservative and liberal regimes to succeed on their own terms. Surveys consistently show large majorities of people interested in candidates who espouse a generally libertian worldview in which the government does less in the economic realm and doesn't push a particular set of values. That's the world we've been building for ourselves in the sharing economy and an America that is manifestly less racist, sexist, and xenophobic than in the past.
Yes, yes, politics is "a crippled, lagging indicator" of where we're heading as a society, but it's damn nigh time we get a top-tier major-party candidate who reflects the overall direction of the country and maybe even speeds the trip up a bit.
What do you think?