ron paul: the good and bad news for libertarians

So what have we learned from Ron Paul’s run this year? Let’s start the good news for Paul. By dropping the irrelevant Libertarian party and running as a Republican, Paul got be a Congressman, got a national following, got into various nationally televised debates, and came close to winning the Iowa caucus. Paul’s son is now a Senator in Kentucky. How have his comrades in the third party fared? Bob Barr – a former Congressman – ran as the LP presidential nominee and got .4% of the vote.  Worse than Ralph Nader. Bottom line: third parties suck, defecting to a major party works.

Here’s the bad news for Paul. The 2012 campaign has shown that when given three distinct choices, libertarians are still wildly unpopular among Republicans. The way I see it, the GOP had three streams of competition: establishment/big business Republicans (Romney, Hunstman, Cain), social conservative (Bachmann, Santorum, Perry), and libertarian (Paul, Johnson). Gingrich is sui generis, but has recently attached himself to the social conservatives.

The result of the match up so far? Every social conservative has enjoyed a surge over Romney and two states went to social conservatives (SC, IA). The business Republican, Romney, has enjoyed a first or second place position in polls throughout the cycle. He actually did well in 2008, winning 11 states against McCain. He’ll win the nomination. The libertarians? Paul had a surge in Iowa in December, but dropped to third on election day behind one of the most understaffed and underfunded campaigners, Rick Santorum. Paul has yet to win a state and he is now polling behind Gingrich. Gary Johnson, the hard core libertarian governor of New Mexico? No one cared.

Even though Paul shows that major party strategies yield better results than third parties, there is a limit. The GOP doesn’t have much of a libertarian streak. One might argue that the libertarian may have a bright future within the GOP, but it is hard for me to believe that the young libertarians who are fueling the Paul campaign today can outnumber the social conservatives of tomorrow.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 7, 2012 at 12:04 am

3 Responses

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  1. So from the 1700’s up ’til Jennings Bryant around 1900, libertarians were half the electorate (i.e. the Democratic party). The mystery is why the ideology has so little appeal today. What accounts for it’s plunge from circa 50% for 200 years to circa 5% today?

    The way I see it, social conservatives and business conservatives (along with progressives, for that matter) are different flavors of the old-time GOP. Marching along towards the eschaton, be it theist (modern GOP) or deist (modern progressives). So the three main flavors of progressivism all beat non-progressivism.

    As to why, I’d say 100+ years of public education has done it’s work well.



    February 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  2. See my comments under “Failing Beauchamp’s Test.” A true libertarian is only concerned with the freedom they can gain for themselves here and now. I challenge the calim from Spork that the electorate of the 19th century was libertarian.

    Long ago, in The True Believer, Eric Hoffer explained how the Eden Myth serves mass movements. Hoffer said that a mob can be motivated without God, but not without a Devil.

    When you consider the Black Laws of the 1830s that took rights away from people born free for generations, when you consider the Mexican War, the so-called “Crime of 73” and all the rest, it is clear that on the one hand, good things were done of course (women started voting in county elections in the 1830, for example), but evil actions carried out as well. People are people. Always have been; always will be. Life is getting better, to be sure. Perhaps the indicator is not how many people vote libertarian, but how many people do not vote at all.

    I have an unpublished paper on the so-called “Panic of 1857.” You can find it in all the history books now. Finding it in 19th century history books is harder. My point is that we see the past through our own filters. It may be unavoidable … or if history is a science, it may be avoidable. (“Who knows? It could be sociology!” Tom Lehrer.)


    Michael E. Marotta

    February 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm

  3. the real question for me is, can the libertarians of today and tomorrow outnumber and out ‘engage’ the leftists that are continually growing in number?



    March 8, 2012 at 7:50 am

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