Election 2020

'This Election Is a Joke,' Insists Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Andy Biggs

Post-election conspiracy-mongering demonstrates the limits of "libertarian populism."

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There's a parlor trick that libertarians who interact with Capitol Hill sometimes play among themselves, and it usually goes something like this:

Besides the usual suspects—usually understood to be Reps. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) and Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah)—are there any good ones left?

"Let me give you a name of somebody who's come to Congress and really surprised us," Massie told me two years ago. "Andy Biggs from Arizona. If you see two No's on a bill; it's 428 to 2, the two No's will be most often me and Justin Amash. If you see three, it's now Andy Biggs. He's doing it on a constitutional basis. He recognizes when the Republicans are voting for bigger government, and he doesn't fall for it."

Biggs, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, has a 100 percent rating from the limited-government outfit FreedomWorks. He's a reliable vote against federal spending increases, against warrantless surveillance, and in favor of bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently became the first GOP member of Congress to support declaring a formal end to the Korean War.

So how is Biggs taking President-elect Joe Biden's victory? By calling Republicans who acknowledge it "Neville Chamberlain's" (sic) who keep "feeding the totalitarian monster, hoping to be eaten last." Such florid language was not an outlier. Here's the top of Biggs's post-election piece for Townhall:

The fierce beast of the Left, the omnivorous viper of the Democrats, has been let loose. Every tyrant needs quislings. Unfortunately, there are appeasers even among Republicans. The 'useful idiots' of the Left are being eaten already; the appeasers will be next.

Those who demand grace from Trump supporters as we watch the nation stolen from us, deny the peril from a ravenous beast that will consume our freedoms and chain the American people.

The passage of days, and the repeated disintegration of the president's conspiracy theories upon contact with the legal system, did nothing to dull Biggs's Trumpian fervor. "This election is a joke," he declared in a video with Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.). Watch:

"FACT CHECK: Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar still touting baseless election-fraud claims," went the Arizona Republic headline (and please do click on the links therein before pre-emptively waving that conclusion away).

In a Washington Times piece Monday, Biggs made the improbable assertion that, "The foundation for the future that Mr. Trump laid appears to be so strong that the only way to defeat it is to lay waste to any vestige of Americanism and our institutions. And that includes resorting to cheating to try and disenfranchise more than 70 million voters."

Hyperbolic overselling of my-team Potency and their-team Evil is of course not uncommon in politics, even if it's a bit amusing coming from someone fond of using "Derangement Syndrome" as an insult. But Biggs's post-election performance can be read as a cautionary tale about the limits of what might be called "Libertarian Populism" within a Trumpified GOP.

Faced with a crude, big-government nationalist, some office-holding libertarian-leaners of a more temperate disposition—namely, Amash and former Sen. Jeff Flake—chose exit rather than continuing to lose arguments within and face voter hostility from without. Those who remained—Massie, Paul, Biggs—tend to derive visceral enjoyment from slinging the political bull and coloring outside the lines.

Paul and Massie are considerably more likely to ape Trump's language and selectively amplify his complaints about the Deep State, Fake News Media, and Swamp. And the House Freedom Caucus—co-founded by Amash!—has long since abandoned its original purpose as a check on executive power in favor of running Trump-protection, even to the distraction of holding the line on spending.

To the extent that there will be any libertarian values in a post-Trump GOP, they will be transmitted via Twitter-firehose from populists like Biggs: anti-war and anti-mask ("Seeing Fauci & Birx at the White House podium yet again brings back months of memories of their work to destroy American freedom and our society as we knew it," he tweeted this week), pro-border wall and pro-Section 230-rewrite.

The congressman's career arc in the age of Trump has drawn some negative reviews. "The descent of U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs into becoming just another partisan brawler has been painful, and disappointing, to watch," concluded Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb. "Biggs has the talent, and had the opportunity, to be more than that." More from Robb:

As president of the Arizona Senate, Biggs was the most influential state legislator since Burton Barr, the House majority leader for two decades, from 1966 to 1986….

In Congress, he became a public thought leader for conservatives….His commentary was forceful and sometimes biting. But it had some intellectual depth and focused mostly on substantive policy issues. It was generally more ideological than partisan, serving as much to influence the Republican position as to skewer the Democrats.

But: "With the defeat of Trump in the presidential election, Biggs has gone around the bend."

Biggs, obviously, has a different interpretation: that Trumpism is just getting started, bay-bee. From his Washington Times column:

While the left-wing media apparatus is giddy because to them the election looks like a smackdown of Mr. Trump, they are missing the fact that the president has remodeled the Republican Party and built an infrastructure that can be quite enduring. In fact, it is ironic that the Trump Party is emerging as the most potent force in American politics. It overcame seemingly endless amounts of money for its opponents, a cacophony of hateful media coverage and censorship of its message, and ultimately, what appears to be systemic cheating.

I wish Biggs all the success in the world in persuading the GOP to be more anti-war, anti-surveillance, and anti-spending. And I hope those values are not discredited by their association with partisan conspiracy-mongering.