Election 2016

The Real Fight in the GOP Is Between Authoritarianism and Libertarianism

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz vs. Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and Thomas Massie.


Daily Beast

As the GOP presidential nomination process narrows to a contest between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, it's easy to see the battle for the soul of the Republican Party as a contest between the candidate who would deport 12 million illegals and…the other candidate who would deport 12 million illegals.

In fact, the real fight in the Republican Party is between authoritarians such as Trump and Cruz and a band of libertarians such as Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Justin Amash of Michigan. Inspired by Sen. Rand Paul, these guys are seriously working to scale back the size, scope, and spending of the federal government. As important, they are working create systems by which power is decentralized throughout the government and, ultimately, devolved to individuals. Both are strong opponents of the government's attempt to get Apple to write software to unlock iPhones and mandates for backdoors into encryption.

Where Trump and Cruz talk blithely about rooting out a population equivalent to the Los Angeles metro area—and act as if the mechanisms necessary to do so wouldn't create a de facto police state—libertarianish Republicans are actually moving in the other direction. My latest Daily Beast column discusses some of those efforts, including this one?

There are other libertarianish forces at work within the Republican Party that are pushing back against authoritarian tendencies (which inevitably attach themselves to the presidency). Mike Lee, the Utah senator who was one of Rand Paul's wingmen during his 2013 filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA, has started the Article I Project, which seeks to restrain presidential power and return primacy of policy-making to Congress. Lee's gesture isn't simply a partisan attack on a Democratic White House masquerading as a principled commitment to the separation of powers. Lee has lambasted both Cruz and Rubio for flip-flopping on criminal justice reform and opposing privacy and encryption standards. He's joined in the Article I Project by characters such as Arizona's pro-immigration Senator Jeff Flake.

Flake, who calls himself "an unapologetic member of the Gang of Eight," for years has pushed for an actual budget process with votes on individual spending bills as one way to decentralize power. "This is not just a partisan issue," Flake told The New York Times."There is an accumulation of power in the executive branch that is unprecedented."

If the GOP is serious about reconstituting itself along the lines of its libertarian rhetoric, it would do well to follow the lead of Amash, Massie, Paul, Flake, and Lee. Not only are these characters energetic, their ideas will appeal to the growing number of Americans whom Gallup identifies as libertarian (that is, they want a government that doesn't promote a single set of traditional values and believe that government is doing too many things that businesses and individuals should do). In the last Gallup Governance survey, fully 27 percent of the electorate was classified as libertarian, compared to just 26 percent as conservative, 23 percent as liberal, and 15 percent as populist.

Read the full Beast column here.

In 2014, Reason TV talked to Mike Lee about ending crony capitalism, why it's good to primary Republicans, and how his Mormonism intersects with his politics.