The most obvious answer: Donald J. Trump, who announced his candidacy just as Rand Paul’s numbers began to fall. Rand Paul was on the receiving end of numerous Trump stumpings. Thus when Paul tried to attack Trump by saying “I think there’s a sophomoric quality about Mr. Trump … about his visceral response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat ugly," Trump hit back brutally: “I never attacked him or his looks, and believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter right there." [Donald Trump hits Rand Paul on his looks during GOP 2016 debate, by Adam Edelman, New York Daily News, September 15, 2016]
But Rand Paul has been an afterthought since Trump began his campaign, and Trump’s insults were not really key. Instead, three other aspects of the Trump campaign—Trump’s opposition to Political Correctness, his celebrity appeal, and his nationalism—have deflated whatever air was left in the Ron-Rand Paul “Liberty Movement.”
This was just the culmination of Paul’s long retreat on questions of race and immigration. While it would take a dissertation to document all of Paul’s pathetic pandering, he’s been pro-Amnesty and very vocally sided with black criminals and against police, going so far as saying that the GOP should attend Black Lives Matter events and that “I'm for most of the change and most of the things they have supported” [Rand Paul Wants GOP To Join Black Lives Matter Town Hall, by Phillip Lewis, Huffington Post, November 5, 2016].
Paul might have gotten away with this if Donald Trump had not happened to him. Few on the Right have criticized Paul for his Leftist views on law and order, and criticizing them has been an afterthought even for Trump. However, Trump created a very clear contrast. While Paul pandered to Black Lives Matter, Trump said he and his supporters would physically remove Black Lives Matters disruptors—and they’ve made good on the promise.
More importantly, Donald Trump has pushed the discussion away from outreach to minorities, and, instead, towards inreach to working class whites. Rand Paul calls himself a “Detroit Republican.” But the GOP will never win the blacks in Detroit, no matter how many times he promises to free its criminals. It can, however, can appeal to the white union members who fled that once-great city and have seen their jobs sent overseas.
Had Paul grown his audience, he could have done with a few less libertarians. But he needed to keep the kind of excitement that surrounded his father’s campaigns.
While few libertarians will admit it, Ron Paul’s movement was about more than ideology. While I was very critical of his candidacy, there was a real energy to it, and there was something exciting about supporting him. Paul supporters dominated social media and the Internet and had the best memes. I recall watching Ron Paul on the Tonight Show, and the other celebrity guest—comic Joe Rogan—showed up in a Ron Paul shirt and had the whole crowd on its feet for Paul. He attracted rappers KRS One and Snoop Dogg, A-List pop stars and actors like Kelly Clarkson and Vince Vaughn, athletes like Peyton Hillis, and even some of the conservative B-list celebrities who support Republicans, like Chuck Norris.
Much of this energy was not libertarian. In fact, Clarkson supported Barack Obama in the general election. [Famed Singer Kelly Clarkson Switches Vote From Libertarian Ron Paul to Obama… Because He’s a ‘Great Guy’,The Blaze, October 23, 2012]
Joe Rogan is now a Bernie Sanders supporter. Many of the college students who supported Paul may well have liked him because of his oddball celebrity status and stance on drug legalization and civil liberties [How Bernie Sanders helped kill Rand Paul’s campaign, Iowa Starting Line, January 14, 2016].
I suspect that Rand Paul’s pandering on Black Lives Matter was motivated not just by a desire to appease the Main Stream Media, but also to try to keep Ron Paul’s celebrity and liberal supporters.
But it didn’t work. None of the elder Paul’s supporters seem to be backing the younger one, except poker player Dan Bilzerian (who has since switched allegiance to Trump—‘King Of Instagram’ — I Endorse Guns, Girls And Donald J. Trump, Daily Caller, December 16, 2015.)
Sanders and Trump are the only candidates with a Ron Paul-type celebrity following, and those on the Right naturally gravitate towards Trump. Trump was already a celebrity before he ran and has won the endorsements of big names like Tom Brady and Kid Rock, along with the bulk of the conservative B-listers like Stephen Baldwin and Ted Nugent. He’s winning the Internet and meme wars. If you want to support a candidate because it’s “fun”—the Make America Great Again rope hats and watching Trump’s outrageous statements is much better than Rand Paul trying to look cool by wearing blue jeans to all his events.
Rand Paul countered, correctly, that past American meddling in the Middle East led to the Islamic State [How U.S. Interventionists Abetted the Rise of ISIS, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2016]. But many Republican voters view this non-interventionism as weak pacifism.
In contrast, Trump has managed to stake out a relatively non-interventionist position without falling to the trap that ensnared Paul. He opposed the War in Iraq, opposed deposing Assad in Syria, and does not want antagonize Putin. Libertarian non-interventionists like Doug Bandow acknowledge that Trump has the best foreign policy. [Filled With Bombast And Excess: Donald Trump Still Is The Best Of A Bad GOP Lot On Foreign Policy, Forbes, August 26, 2015]But he doesn’t reach these positions by sounding like Ron Paul. As Pat Buchanan has put it, “Trump recognizes the inner hawk in Republicans” [Pat Buchanan says Donald Trump is the future of the Republican Party, by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, January 12, 2016]. For example, Trump praises Putin for “bombing the hell out of ISIS” and suggests we should let him keep it up to save money [Donald Trump supports Putin ‘bombing the hell out of ISIS’, RT, October 5, 2015].
Beyond foreign policy, Trump has exposed the embarrassing fact that the vast majority of GOP voters are simply not libertarian on economics. Trump’s positions on trade, Eminent Domain, ethanol subsidies, taxing hedge funds, and Social Security and Medicare are at odds with free market dogmatism—but GOP voters have come to him.
Notably, Ted Cruz, who began his career parroting Rand Paul, has more recently been sounding like Trump on trade and immigration. National Review once complained Trump rarely uses the words “liberty” or “freedom” in his speeches [The Words Trump Doesn’t Use, by Jim Geraghty, September 10, 2015] But Cruz has also abandoned his libertarian rhetorical talking points for Trump’s populism (at least until Paul dropped out). At Cruz’s rambling Iowa victory speech, he only used liberty once and did not use “freedom” at all. Yet he pejoratively denounced the “media,” “establishment, and “lobbyists” six times.
It is the Paul family tragedy that, at the peak of their careers, they chose to abandon what used to be called paleolibertarianism, which offered them a real, intellectually-coherent opportunity to appeal to immigration (and American) patriots. Regardless of whether Donald Trump ultimately wins the nomination, his remarkable success, and Ted Cruz’s attempt to co-opt it, has demonstrated conclusively that the “Liberty Movement’s” strange brew of Left-Libertarianism, the Tea Party, and Political Correctness has failed with American voters.
Washington Watcher [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.