Trey Grayson—the establishment-anointed candidate who Rand Paul trounced in Kentucky's 2010 GOP Senate primary—recently sat down with Paul's old campaign manager, David Adams, to reminiscence about what the heck happened. The Washington Post has published the results.
What's the takeaway for libertarians? As Adams says, "Trey's greatest strength was that he had Mitch McConnell in his corner. And Rand's greatest strength was that Trey had Mitch McConnell in his corner. And it was a bigger strength for Rand than it was for Trey."
Was this a sign that McConnell just wasn't serious enough as an across-the-board respecter of American liberties? Not necessarily: Donald Trump won the state with over 62 percent of the vote on a scorched-earth nationalist platform that included promises to not cut entitlement spending, and then he appointed an attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who's as opposed as anyone could be to Paul on some of the senator's pet issues, from surveillance to drug laws to criminal justice reform. (Paul nonetheless voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general. As Adams says in the Post piece, he's trying to play along with others lately.)
Trump's Kentucky approval ratings have fallen by 20 percent lately. I'd like to think that's because of appointments like Sessions, but I doubt it.
Grayson has a plausible explanation for how an electorate could love both Rand Paul and Donald Trump: "The voters clearly wanted to give the finger to Washington, but it wasn't just the Obama administration. It was Republican leadership. And we didn't understand that in the race."
That echoes a thought from Thomas Massie, a libertarian-leaning Republican who represents Kentucky's 4th district in the House of Representatives. "I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans," he told The Washington Examiner. "But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron [Paul] and me in these primaries, they weren't voting for libertarian ideas—they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along."
The fight to channel frustration with government and the establishment in a libertarian direction is, and will remain, an ongoing intellectual and political battle. The successes of Sen. Paul, Rep. Massie, and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash show that libertarian ideas are compatible with establishment-bashing. Trump's election shows they aren't the same thing.