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libertarians and the gop

You see the occasional article about how we are now in a “libertarian moment” or that the GOP has been captured by libertarians. It is true that libertarians are getting more publicity than before, but it truly hard to argue that libertarianism – a consistent demand that the state scale back across the board – is actually here. For example, in the Real Clear Politics average of presidential primary polls, Rand Paul, the most libertarian candidate, has a huge 2% of support from GOP voters. Gary Johnson, the libertarian GOP former governor of New Mexico, could barely register support above the margin of error of polling, also gaining 2%. Ron Paul has done the best with an enormous 8% of polling in 2008 – and he ran against only two other people! And of course, the Libertarian Party itself has done very poorly at the polls and has shown no ability to pull a significant number of GOP votes.

Why does the media periodically report that libertarians are having a “moment?” Why does Salon think that libertarians run America? Three hypotheses: (a) Republican voters and politicians conveniently co-opt anti-state rhetoric when it suits them, even if they clearly do not have libertarian sympathies; (b) Some libertarians, like Ron Paul, are charismatic and have more media presence than the average GOP politician; and (c) libertarians are disproportionately drawn to the GOP due to demographic or cultural factors. An alternative version of (c) is that the GOP is a coalition of high-SES groups who have populist grievances, which would attract libertarians. My hunch is that (a) and (c) reinforce each other, while (b) has little explanatory power. Add your own thoughts in the comments.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 28, 2015 at 12:01 am

10 Responses

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  1. “Why does the media periodically report that libertarians are having a ‘moment’?”

    The data on discretionary spending and public employment are both strong evidence of a ‘libertarian’ moment.

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    Austen

    September 28, 2015 at 12:29 am

  2. Libertarians are leading a tax resistance movement at every level especially at the corporate level. This has been going on for over 40 years. Also, libertarians, are reducing the wages of the working class. Libertarians, conservatives and neoliberals are making life miserable for over half the US population in both work and family life.

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    Fred Welfare

    September 28, 2015 at 2:25 am

  3. True libertarians are about as rare as the Abominable Snowman these days, and probably inhabit the same territory. What we have in the U.S. today are CEOs as Cowboy Heroes Corporate Liberationists.

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    Jon Awbrey

    September 28, 2015 at 3:05 am

  4. I think the answer is clearly a). It’s not recent — Reagan was a master of this strategy. Of course, contrary to the silly first two comments above, libertarian ideas play virtually no role in actual policy formulation. The most cited examples are things like school vouchers, modest eminent domain reform, medical marijuana legislation, and these have a tiny overall impact. The truth is that the typical Republican voter, like the typical Democratic voter, wants his handouts and subsidies. Remember Mencken’s aphorism about getting it good and hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    Peter Klein

    September 28, 2015 at 4:10 pm

  5. “contrary to the silly first two comments above, libertarian ideas play virtually no role in actual policy formulation.”

    I actually agree. But, other than reflexive anti-govt ideas, what would lead a society to cut discretionary spending when growth is already low, as the US did post-2010? Or cut public-sector jobs amidst a poor labor market?

    So while I don’t think libertarian ideas play much of a direct role in US policy, actual post-recession US policy is the best place to start when answering why journalists might see a ‘libertarian’ moment.

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    Austen

    September 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm

  6. Austen: It could be status politics disguised as libertarian policy. For example, maybe GOP policy makers don’t really adhere to smaller government but use the rhetoric when they cut Federal jobs for anti-GOP constituencies such as union members and low SES urban populations.

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    fabiorojas

    September 28, 2015 at 9:01 pm

  7. Austen, cutting discretionary spending when growth is low can only be considered “anti-government,” or libertarian in spirit, if the default position is a large government. If the temperature falls from 98F to 97F, have we been struck by a cold wave? I’d say it’s still pretty damn hot.

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    Peter Klein

    September 28, 2015 at 9:56 pm

  8. Abortion rights activisits and gun rights activists both frame their argument in terms of personal liberty. We are all libertarians now.

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    Chris Martin

    September 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm

  9. I think that there are far more libertarians writing as conservatives on right-wing blogs than there are-as libertarians like to refer to them- establishment conservative interwebs journalists. Or at least people attempting to write from that point of view these days. Libertarians are the tech geeks after all…

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    Marieke

    October 4, 2015 at 8:58 pm


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