The Fall Of Paul And The Failure Of Left-Libertarianism
February 04, 2016, 02:10 PM
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A year ago, it would have been unthinkable that Rand Paul’s presidential campaign could underperform that of his father, Ron Paul. Rand had expanded his father’s presidential base, attracting Tea Partiers and Evangelical Christians and even winning over Establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell. Time ran a cover story proclaiming Rand Paul is the Most Interesting Man in Politics [by Michael Scherer, October 16, 2014] and most polls showed him at or near the top of GOP pack—indeed, a May 28-31, 2015 Washington Post/ABC poll found Rand Paul tied for first place with Jeb Bush (!). However, after that Paul failed to receive double digits; he had been below 5% since August [2016 Republican Presidential Nomination, Real Clear Politics]. Now he’s out. What happened?

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.”

  1. Political Correctness
Shortly before dropping out, Paul complained to black MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall: “I’ve been one who says we have to have a bigger, better, bolder party, and that means a more diverse party. And I think Donald Trump will make us, sort of the lily White party, which is not going to win any elections” [Rand Paul: Trump will make GOP a 'lily-white' party, MSNBC, January 31, 2016].

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.

  1. Pop Culture Icon.
Some say Rand Paul was doomed because he alienated his father’s supporters by compromising some libertarian principles. While this is true, it’s not really responsible for Rand’s failure. After all, Ron Paul did not win a single state in 2008 or 2012. Rand had to expand beyond ideological libertarians to have a chance to win.

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.

  1. Nationalism vs. Libertarianism:
The GOP had been headed in a more non-interventionist and civil libertarian mode until late 2014. Many opposed Obama’s Libya intervention, were horrified by Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying, and cheered Rand Paul’s filibuster against Drone strikes. Now, however, the rise of the Islamic State and the San Bernadino terror attacks have forced non-interventionists onto the defensive.

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.