Can This Marriage Be Saved ?

Reason’s David Weigel takes a look at the increasingly tenuous relationship between libertarians and the Republican Party:

[Ron] Paul’s candidacy—which drew the eye-rolling treatment from McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and “serious” conservatives nationwide—showed just how marginalized libertarianism has become in the party of Barry Goldwater. Paul’s lonely apostasy on foreign policy was greeted with hoots of derision on one debate stage after another. His calls for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and hacking back the federal bureaucracy rolled right off the standard-bearers of a party that retook the House of Representatives in 1994 on a platform of reducing government.

Yet despite raising $30 million, Paul and his limited-government supporters got their clocks cleaned by Huckabee and the social cons, who were treated with much more deference by eventual nominee McCain and the party establishment. Twenty-seven years after Ronald Reagan famously said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” the GOP’s appetite for rolling back the regulatory state appears as dead as the era of federal budget surpluses. Even former revolutionary Newt Gingrich agrees. “The Republican Party cannot win over time as the permanently angry anti-government party,” he writes in his latest book, Real Change.

Not only that, and ironically considering how badly Ron Paul actually did in the Republican primaries, some are actually blaming libertarian Republicans for the triumph of John McCain:

The remaining libertarians in Reagan’s shrinking big tent aren’t just being ignored or marginalized; they’re being blamed for the Reagan coalition’s crackup. While John McCain was heading toward the nomination in January, The Weekly Standard published an online piece by the political scientists Benjamin and Jenna Silber Storey slamming McCain’s critics as “strict free-market” ideologues whose rigidity jeopardized the conservative movement. “The moral vacuity of dogmatic libertarianism is poisonous to public life,” the Storeys wrote. “Conservatives who forget that the free market is properly a piece of policy rather than an ideological end-in-itself not only obscure the importance of individual virtue, they undermine it.”

Intentionally or not, the blame-economists argument mirrors a popular critique of George W. Bush from the progressive left: that his presidency is an example of free marketeers run amok. In her best-selling book Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein lays the original sin of Bushite misgovernance at the feet of an unlikely source: Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman, the “grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary hypermobile global economy.” Never mind that Friedman, in his 10th decade on the planet, exerted little or no influence on the free-spending, government-growing Bush administration.

As the 2008 primary season draws to a close, it’s fairly clear that the libertarian/Goldwater tradition of the Republican Party is, effectively, dead.

And there doesn’t seem to be much hope of reviving it.

As unlikely as it might have seemed three months ago, there is now at least an even chance that John McCain could win the General Election in November, especially if the Democratic crackup continues apace. If that happens, then the Republican Party will be taken in a direction that seems hard to predict, but it’s not one that is likely to be friendly to liberty.

If McCain loses, then the people who will pick up the pieces won’t be the small band of Ron Paul supporters, it will be the people who voted for guys like Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, neither one of whom is close to a libertarian agenda.

For the first time since the 1964 election, it seems quite apparent that libertarians will not have a home in either major political party.

  • Kevin Houston

    Oh you have got to be kidding! (checks date – nope, that was 3 days ago….)

    McCain? Win??


    Obama will clean his clock. Hillary will swiftboat him into next week. It matters not which one wins the Demonratic nomination, John McCain will lose to either one.

    Being pro-war may get you top honors in the GOP primary, but it’s not going to play very well in the general election.

    Never mind that Hillary and Obama will continue the war, that is not the perception that will be gotten by the majority of people. The dems will paint themselves as pro-peace, and will paint the republican as being pro-war.

    Advantage: Democrats

  • Tess

    Well, I believe any of the 4 remaining candidates would be better than Bush, and I am sure that at least 85 percent of the American public agree. Ron Paul will have my Libertarian Conservative Republican support at the Convention, and he will have my vote in November 2008.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Have you seen any of the latest polls ?

    McCain is leading or within the MOE against both Democrats in states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. He’s leading in Florida, Virginia, and pretty much all of the South.

    It’s by no means a certain bet, but this is not the Democratic cakewalk I thought it would be three months ago.

    And the war is not going to be a primary issue in the campaign, the economy is.

  • Kevin Houston



    You mean those same polls that showed Giuliani was the #1 front-runner?

    Or the ones that showed that McCain was totally washed up and broke last summer?

    Or the ones that showed Huckabee was running neck-and-neck with Ron Paul?

    Maybe you mean the polls that showed how Thompson was the second coming of Reagan…

    Really Doug, if there is one solid lesson to come out of this campaign season, it has to be that polls have zero – zip – nada – ability to predict anything this far in advance.

  • Kevin Houston

    oh, almost forgot – the economy:

    Oh yeah, that’s going to be McCain’s #1 strong-suit. uh-huh… yeah.

  • MikeF

    One of the most recent polls showed that McSame was the LEAST favorite person to win the Presidency of all the candidates.

  • Carol


    I was planning on writing-in Ron Paul’s name as well, but if I understand this correctly, I don’t think it will even be counted to his credit. It is just a “spoiled ballot.”

    We need to check on this and consider voting for the Libertarian instead.

  • Carol

    There’s something I wanted to say in defense of Romney: I think there is at least some evidence to suggest that he has more libertarian leanings than it seems, though I don’t know whether he would call them that.

    If you recall, Romney was always personally pro-life, but did not wish to foist that upon people who believed differently. His abortion position was actually the same as Ron Pauls: it is a state issue.

    He was similar on gay rights. He did not personally condone homosexuality but believed they deserved every right in the workplace. So he was assaulted for being both pro and anti-gay.

    I’m not sure if he was advocating corporate welfare to rescue Michigan, or just his usual skill at turning imploding businesses around.

    Romney is an incredibly frugal individual, which many would not assume of someone with his wealth. I don’t think he would have spent America into the ground.

    I can’t defend him on the Fed though. And his snickers at Ron Paul infuriated me.

  • uhm

    I don’t think it is accurate to use Ron Paul to gage the popularity of libertarianism in the Republican Party due to his non-interventionist stance. If he was an interventionist that promised to kill every Muslim who looked at Israel the wrong way (and had the record to prove it) he would have done much better.

    I’ve read several times conservatives saying that if only Ron Paul wasn’t wrong about Islamo-fascism they would support him. The US stepping away from the perceived war of civilizations is a no go for many Republicans at the moment.

    Bush recently said he was afraid of isms like isolationism. This fear is prevalent everywhere in the mainstream media and political parties. Ron Paul committed thought crime by advocating a non-interventionist foreign policy.

  • Kevin Houston


    I’m with Bush on that one….

    I’m afraid of “isms” too.


    oh wait… Those weren’t the “isms” he was talking about?

  • uhm

    They weren’t. This is Bush after all. He said he didn’t like isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. He hasn’t figured out that the isms you mentioned contribute to the ones he fears. The concept of blow back is over his head.

  • Justin Bowen

    Perhaps the libertarian remnant should start working to get the most anti-libertarian candidate elected. If you believe that nations go through phases (as I do), eventually to collapse and begin anew as a new nation (or nations), then the best thing that can be done now is to move that process along at a faster pace rather than keep it going at the slow pace that it’s currently going. There was some talk prior to some of the primaries that Republicans were voting for the Democrat that they thought least likely to win against a strong Republican, thus sabotaging the Democrats. Why doesn’t the libertarian movement do the same with the the statists?

  • Quincy

    My big question is where can I get the ganja Naomi Klein is smoking?

  • Tannim

    That’s assuming McCain, the Panamanchurian Candidate, the Butcher of Black Mesa, even makes it to the convention.

    If the GOP abandons the libertarian wing, they die, period. We know it, and they know it but don’t want to admit it.

    A GOP without limited government is the Democratic Party gone theocratic-crazy.

  • Doug Mataconis


    I didn’t say the polls were conclusive. I said they were evidence that McCain is not as weak a candidate as conventional wisdom might have thought.

    This is not going to be a blowout election on either side like 1984 or 1972. Like the last two elections, its going to be fought in close states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If McCain can win one or two of those, he could pull off a close Electoral College victory.

    Ignore me if you wish, but the evidence is there.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Stop engaging in fantasies. McCain is the nominee, it’s over.

    And, sadly, I think you are wrong that the GOP needs the libertarians to win. The last two Presidential elections have proven otherwise.

  • Kevin Houston

    Justin Bowen:

    The easiest (and most honorable) way for the LP to do what you are suggesting is to continue to push candidates like Ron Paul.

    Our efforts lead to a kind of blowback that makes the GOP and the DEMs elect the very kind of politicians you are talking about (look at McCain as a prime example)

  • Kevin Houston


    I’m confused. Is this going to be a close election in the winner (whoever it is) will need every vote, and 3rd party candidates (such as Barr or Nader) can torpedo their closest major party by pulling much-needed votes away?


    Is this going to be such a blowout (in either direction) that the GOP doesn’t need the votes of the Libertarian wing?

  • Doug Mataconis


    At least in the Electoral College, I would expect this to be more along the lines of the past 4 elections 1992-2004 than anything like 1984 or 1988.

    As for 3rd party candidates, I guess we shall see.

    Personally, I’m hoping we top off a year in which we will have a brokered Democratic Convention with an election in which no candidate gets the majority of Electoral College votes and the election gets thrown in to the House.

    But, then, I’m a political junkie.

  • glenn

    Ron Paul represents more people in this country than one might think. Problem is , they are like the shy teen boy standing with his back to the wall at the prom waiting to be asked to dance. We’re the ones who sit slack jawed watching 60 Minutes version of porkbarrell spending and crooked politicians doing the unthinkable and “getting away with it”. We say “Oh my!” and fall in love with anyone who will attack these shysters (verbage only please–we don’t want to hurt their feelings). Enter Obama, Mr. knee deep himself—(an empty waggon can make alot of noise). But, hey, I know I’m flirting with the enemy, but, hey, he’s so cute and besides, my guy has his but glued to the wall waiting on me…

  • KYJurisDoctor

    If McCain picks Mitt “I’ll flip flop on any issue” Romney, as fas as I, and many like me are concerned, he’s on his own!