Tag Archives: libertarian moment

Why Trump’s Message Resonates With Working-Class Voters

This is the tl;dr version of my contribution to the TLP Round Table on Donald Trump’s rise to the status of presumptive Republican nominee.

Various motivations for Trump’s popularity have been posited over the course of the election cycle. Tribalism and xenophobia. Social order authoritarianism. Anger at the establishment. Anti-PC backlash. A yen for creative destruction.

I even have some sympathy for that last one. What is the point of preserving a GOP that has failed so resoundingly to deliver on the promise of limited government? Why not blow on the tiny orange flame of a Trump-match and see if it catches fire? Some wildfires make the ecosystem stronger.

But that is not my point here. There is another faction of Trump support, which has been overlooked amid all the self-righteous indictment of his surprising success. That faction consists of working class voters who spend their lives on the financial brink, who could not come up with $400 to face an emergency, but who, as a result of the statist, two-party-dominated system, cannot escape the inevitability of big government.

We advocates of free markets too often fail to explain, cogently, why free trade and voluntary exchanges deliver the best outcomes for the most people. We fail to explain why it is not just big corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs that get hurt by government interventions into the free market—but also the workers. And when those workers complain about the various ways in which they struggle to make ends meet, we too often dismiss it as a deficiency of effort, rather than a legitimate complaint against the system.

This makes no sense. We know better. We know that over-regulation, barriers to entry, excessive government spending, crony capitalism, and welfare for the rich are all bad for the economy and particularly bad for workers. We know these policies cause work to be less remunerative and hit poor people the hardest.

Why then, when they complain, do so many of us respond by dismissing them as lazy, unmotivated, unproductive and entitled? We should be capitalizing on their complaints. They are incontrovertibly legitimate.

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently published a study estimating that regulatory drag has stunted the size of the U.S. economy and made Americans significantly poorer than they would otherwise be. Their numbers, while shocking, seem woefully inadequate to reflect the true costs working people pay for intrusive government.

Through “subsidies,” regulations and entitlements, government intervention into the market drives up prices-relative-to-incomes on most of the things consumers need most. Housing, education, and healthcare all far outpace inflation. Meanwhile, government consumes 36% of GDP, and on everything from contact lenses to gasoline to occupational licensing, Americans must pay more while struggling to participate in a system that is rigged against their efforts.

It is simply not possible to sell people on the wealth potential of a free market while castigating them for failing to succeed in a system that requires hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get the mandatory license for a job washing hair.

In that regard, the Democrats have a point (incomplete and poorly made, to be sure) when they say, “you didn’t build that” or, “you’ve also been lucky.” Would-be business owners pay their extorted dues to the government-backed bureaucracy. In return, they are protected from competition by various barriers to entry, government-enforced monopolies, tax-payer funded subsidies, and other massive transfers of wealth from taxpayers to the favored recipients of government largesse. It makes a certain twisted sense to demand more compensation in proportion to their success.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

One of these men understands how money and economies function. He led a grassroots movement that motivated millions of young voters. In response, the GOP changed its rules to keep him from gaining traction. The other one is the new face of the Republican Party.

Don’t like it? Great. I don’t either. Let’s repeal the barriers to entry, the legal monopolies, the government grants and below-market loans. Let’s get rid of the regulations and the occupational licensing, the mandated dues and the bureaucratic red tape and all the other bullshit.

This is, in fact, what we put Republicans in the House and Senate to do.

Yet over and over and over again, with a few principled exceptions (e.g., Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and, yes, Ted Cruz), Republicans have broken their word, expanded government, and asked us to be patient while they focus on getting reelected.

Revealing the true direction of their priorities, the GOP establishment acted to keep Ron Paul supporters from gaining traction in their ranks. The liberty movement has not died as a result, but it may have left the party. Inside the GOP, it has been replaced by an orange-faced baboon leading an army of alt-righters shouting “cuck” repetitively as they rock back and forth in fear of outside stimulation.

I will not deny a certain satisfying schadenfreude at that turn of events. And there is value in knowing such a cancer festers on the right. But there is equal value in understanding that Trump would not be succeeding on their support alone. He is also propelled by a significant faction of working-class voters desperate for better jobs, a stronger economy, and higher purchasing power.

Sanders is right about a lot of problems, wrong about the solutions. Sanders supporters who can understand the distinction may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

Sanders supporters may be an untapped area of future liberty votes.

In that regard, Trump’s message resonates with voters on the right for some of the same reasons Bernie Sanders’ message resonates on the left. If big government, high taxes, and crony capitalism are inevitable – because neither of the viable parties intends to do much about them – why not use one’s vote to fight for a bigger piece of the stunted pie? Trump at least pays lip service to the struggle. He promises jobs and protectionism, a reprieve from debt and stagnation.

Of course I know he will not deliver. Trump’s “solutions” will further hurt working class people, by driving up prices and contracting the size of the economy.

Trump is Sanders in orange-face.

The point is, if a liberty-movement aims to rise from the ashes of the Trump-fire, it must speak to the struggles motivating voter support for these two surprise candidates. It must explain why no amount of further tinkering will alleviate the real pain that government intrusions into the economy cause to real people, why the only solution is to unwind those intrusions in the first instance.

Then it needs to actually deliver.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Why Is Rand Paul’s Campaign Failing And What Can Libertarians Learn From It?

Many people were expecting Rand Paul to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. However, as of writing Paul averages at just 2.3% support according to Real Clear Politics. What the hell happened? Why is the “most interesting man in politics” struggling so badly?

A couple of (pre?) autopsy pieces came out today that try to explains it. First up is Jerry Taylor, the head of the newly launched Niskanen Center, who had a piece on FoxNews.com. He argues that the reason why Paul failed is because there never was a libertarian moment in the first place.

According to an August survey by the independent polling firm Eschelon Insights, far and away the most popular candidate nationwide among libertarian-inclined Republicans is Donald Trump, the least libertarian candidate in the race.

Libertarians who can’t stomach Trump scattered their support without any ideological rhyme or reason (11 percent for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, 9 percent for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, 8 percent for Carly Fiorina, 7 percent for Paul).

The secret of Trump’s appeal to Paul’s base is that a large segment of the “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists (many of whom believe the Federal Reserve to be a modern manifestation of the Illuminati), and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voters among the faithful.

Very little I can disagree with here. Way back in 2007, we were making the point that many people in the Ron Paul rEVOLution were part of the wacko fringe. Taylor’s description of many (but not all) Ron Paul supporters is dead on. You have nutcases in every political movement, but the rEVOLution seemed to attract more of them than usual. Rand to his credit has refused to pander to these people, for the most part. It would also be dishonest to say Ron Paul himself agreed with these fringe nutters, but he hasn’t been as hostile to them as Rand.

The only thing I would point out is the libertarian(ish) vote comes in many different variations. If Libertarians (capitalized intentionally) don’t agree on everything, why should we expect libertarian-leaning Republicans?

Taylor goes on to make a few points that I have to disagree with, at least partially.

Sure, one can argue that Paul has run a sub-par campaign and that a more adroit effort would have produced better results. But given the above, it is hard to argue, as some do, that Paul would have done better had he run as more of a libertarian.



If real libertarian votes were there for the taking, someone would have come along and done the harvesting.



If there was truly a $20 (electoral) bill lying on the sidewalk, it’s hard to believe that none of the other 14 starving candidates would bother to pick it up.

Let me start with where I agree with Taylor. I do believe that the “libertarian vote” has been overstated. Only 7% of the American electorate is libertarian according to the Public Religion Institute poll Taylor cited. If the libertarian vote was a major factor in American politics, the Libertarian Party would be a major party.

However, another 15% of American voters lean libertarian. For example, the author is a “libertarian leaner” but not a full blown libertarian. Also, 12% of the Republican party’s voters are libertarian. The problem is that they may not be doctrinaire libertarians. Those generally join the Libertarian Party and we see how well it performs. The libertarian(ish) votes are there, Paul failed to grab them.

Which brings me to the second piece of this series, one by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. He lays out four reasons why Paul failed.

  • The libertarian strain in the GOP peaked in 2014.
  • Paul’s move to court the establishment cost him among libertarians.
  • Paul has been a very weak fundraiser.
  • Rand hasn’t been a good candidate.

I would add a fifth reason which is an extremely poor campaign that seemed to lack a basic, consistent strategy. First they were going to fight nationwide. Then, New Hampshire became must win. The new strategy is to get some wins in other caucus states. Problem is, the first ones don’t vote until March 1. Ask President Rudy Guiliani how waiting until after the early states vote to get your first victory works out.

Two of the four reasons Cillizza pointed out would’ve been mitigated by Paul being a better candidate. Paul would’ve been better able to sell a more non-interventionist foreign policy and been able to raise the money if he was a better candidate. Taylor’s article points out a large reason why Paul lost his dad’s base. However, if Paul was a better communicator, he could’ve better reconciled his more pragmatic viewpoints with hardcore libertarianism. Instead, he got the reputation that he’s a flip-flopper. Finally, Paul just didn’t communicate to voters on things they were interested in.

Does this mean that libertarians should give up on politics? Nope. Instead of libertarians should realize that the market for hardcore libertarianism is very limited. Most people are not inclined to support laissez faire economics, believe America should have a foreign presence, and are willing to accept state controls of some behavior. That’s fine.

Instead, libertarians should focus on coalition building and advancing libertarian policies pragmatically. That involves showing a willingness to compromise. Finally, it may involve grabbing the “low-hanging fruit” of policy instead of big ticket items such as the ending the Federal Reserve which appeal to libertarians, but have very little interest to the average citizen.

Now of course Rand Paul may turn things around and make the most improbable of comebacks. However, if he doesn’t this will provide many valuable lessons to be learned. Will libertarians learn them?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.