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10 Thoughts about the Election
Well, last night was a bit of a shock. I certainly got it wrong. Still, here are some thoughts on what happened.
1. This election was something of a primal scream of rage against the machine. Clearly, there are millions of Americans who feel disconnected from – and disrespected by – the political establishment. On the issues, they are right about some things, like crony capitalism and the bail out of Wall Street, and wrong about others, like trade and immigration. But, in the end this isn’t about issues; it is about feeling ignored. The world that these people knew is changing, and the political establishment won’t even talk to them about it. No doubt part of Trump’s support was driven by racial and class resentments, but it was more than that.
2. We remain a deeply divided country. While Trump’s Electoral College victory was impressive, the margins in each state were razor thin. Hillary may still win the popular vote. There clearly are two different Americas. One represents the coasts, the cities, and the suburbs. The other represents vast swaths of exurban and rural middle-America. These regions differ ethnically, in terms of education, and in whether they have benefited from a changing economy and a more interconnected world.
3. Those divisions are not going away any time soon. In fact, they are likely to grow worse. The economy is going to keep changing. Automation will continue to eliminate low-skill jobs and physical labor jobs. Education will have an ever higher premium. At the same time, demographic changes are here to stay. The America of the future will be less white. That will feel increasingly threatening to some people. This election was, to some extent, a backlash.
4. We will have to see if President Trump can soothe these fears and unite the country. His victory speech last night set the right tone. On the other hand, his campaign had played footsie with white nationalism, anti-feminism, and anti-Semitism. There’s more than enough reason to be concerned. I know this morning that many people are terribly frightened. But let’s all take a deep breath. This won’t be the apocalypse. We have survived bad presidents before. My God, we survived Nixon. For the most part our lives have little to do with politics or presidents. We need to be vigilant, defend our rights, fight back where necessary, but not panic.
5. This election was also a rejection of Hillary Clinton. Hillary was, of course, a deeply flawed candidate. Remember that she lost to Barack Obama in 2008, in a race she should have won. She nearly lost the primary to a 75-year-old socialist. Moreover, at a time when people were demanding change, there was nothing less-change than the Clintons. They have been part of the establishment forever. It seems like there has always been a Clinton on our TV screens, usually trailed by some sort of scandal or something else unseemly. Hillary was always going to be a tough sell this year. This year started out with people talking about another Bush running against another Clinton. With her defeat, maybe we can pass on to a new era.
6. The woman card didn’t play, and that’s probably a good thing. Hillary lost 2 to 1 among non-college educated white women. She barely carried college educated white women. Why didn’t the prospect of the first woman president count for more? Perhaps, it is because women have made so much progress that the idea of a woman president didn’t seem like a big deal. We see women Senators and women business leaders on TV everyday. Maybe we are getting sufficiently used to the idea of women in positions of power, that one more break through doesn’t seem unique.
7. This is one reason why libertarians have always opposed the accretion of government power. Liberals may love big government and a powerful executive when President Obama is in charge, but sooner or later a President Trump gets control of that “telephone and a pen.” It is always worth remembering that the new power or program you so love may someday be controlled by your worst enemy. Indeed, now might be a good time for liberals to join those of us fighting to curtail presidential power. Senator Mike Lee’s “Article One Project” would be a good place to start.
8. Gary Johnson’s poor showing showed the limitations of third parties. It is true that Johnson ran a very poor campaign. It wasn’t just the Aleppo moment. He seemed genuinely unprepared for the opportunity that this campaign presented. That said, any third party effort would have been doomed by the institutional barriers that our system presents, such as lack of campaign funds and exclusion from the debate. More importantly, Americans still think in terms of a binary choice. Many of us thought that given two choices that people hated, voters would look for a third choice. Instead, they fell back into voting against the candidate they hated most. Libertarians are going to have to reconsider what role the Libertarian Party can play on the national level.
9. No matter who won this election, I expected to be a minority and in opposition. I agreed with Hillary on virtually nothing. And, I agree with Trump on virtually nothing. This is a bad time worldwide for the sort of classical liberalism I espouse. But being on the winning side doesn’t determine correctness. Trumps election, and the rise of populist authoritarianism worldwide, means that those of us who believe in individual liberty, the rule of law, equal rights, and free markets have more work to do. Today, the job begins again.
10. I was #NeverTrump from the beginning. But, he is now my president. As with any president, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and time to see what he will do. He may yet surprise me again, and turn out to be a better president than I fear he will be. If so, he will have my support when I think he is right — and my opposition when I think he is wrong. That’s the best any of us can do.
My Election Predictions
Ok, folks, time for me to put my metaphorical money where my mouth is. Here are my predictions for the election. Feel free to tune in on Wednesday and make fun of me for getting this completely wrong.
The Crook Beats the Bigot. This election is going to be much closer than anyone would have thought just a couple of weeks ago. Hillary has been buffeted with bad news on an almost daily basis. And Trump hasn’t said anything truly stupid in a couple of weeks.
Still, it’s hard to see Trump’s path to victory. He is relying almost exclusively on white male votes, and there simply are not enough of them to win elections any more. White voters have declined from 78 percent of the electorate as recently as 2000 to just 69 percent today. Ronald Reagan won the white vote by 10 percentage points and carried 49 states. Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points, and lost. Enthusiasm among minority voters is down this year, but the changing electorate still helps Hillary. The Clinton ground game is also superior, and is probably worth another percentage point or so.
So I’m calling this as Clinton 48, Trump 44, Johnson 5, and Other 1. In terms of electoral votes, I have it Clinton 308, Trump 230. I think Trump wins Romney states plus Iowa, Ohio and Maine’s Second District. McMullen could take Utah, but I’m betting Trump barely holds on. Otherwise, traditional voting patterns take hold.
Note that I also have Gary Johnson capturing the magic 5 percent (it actually means somewhat less than the Johnson camp would have us believe, but its still important). Johnson’s support has fallen precipitously in the last few weeks as voters return home to their traditional binary preferences (driven in large part by antipathy to the other side). Johnson has also run a surprisingly poor campaign. He just didn’t seem prepared for the opportunity that this race offered. Still, I think disgust with the major party candidates allows him to make a credible showing, and reach the 5 percent threshold.
Republicans Hold Senate. The tightening race is good news for down ballot Republicans. A few weeks ago, the Republicans seemed sure to lose the Senate. Now, I think they could hold on. Kirk in Illinois is toast. After that it gets tricky. In an upset, I think Richard Burr loses in North Carolina. But I think that two of Ayotte, Toomey, and Johnson I have no idea which ones< But I’m going to suggest Toomey and Johnson, probably because I think they are two of the best senators out there.
The House Stays Red: There will be no Democratic wave sweeping them into control of the House. Democrats would have to gain 30 seats to take over, and I expect them to gain just half that. Let’s call the new House as 232-203. The reduced margin will make life even more miserable for Paul Ryan, but its still enough to block any of Hillary’s more radical proposals. Gridlock will likely remain.
A Good Night for Pot: Five states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) will consider the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Another 4 (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota) will decide about medical marijuana. The pro-legalization forces should win all of them, with the possible exception of Florida. It is amazing how fast public opinion has shifted on this issue. Then again, this election is enough to make anyone want to get high.
In other initiatives and referendums, Colorado should reject a proposal to create a single-payer health plan in that state. There are also a number of minimum wage hikes on the ballot. Despite the economic damage these proposals do, they are always popular with voters. Expect most of them to win. In a really unfortunate outcome, big spending by the teachers unions prevails in Massachusetts, and a proposal to expand charter schools goes down. Finally, expect voters in several states to reject various gun control measures. California is likely to be the exception.
OK, my opinion is worth roughly what you are paying for it. What do you think?
Like many, — perhaps most –men, I long dismissed the idea of rape culture. Sure, I knew rape and sexual assault occurred. Some of the most important women in my life suffered from sexual abuse. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that such despicable conduct was widespread, or that there were aspects of wider culture that enabled this. I saw accusations of rape culture as a cudgel, used by a certain variety of feminist activist to criminalize ordinary sexual behavior. I was reminded of scholars like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, who were alleged to have suggested that, given power disparities between men and women, women can never really consent and, therefore, “all heterosexual sex is rape.”
But no longer.
I have had the benefit of having some remarkable women in my life: my incredible wife, Ellen, my best friend, Melissa Greenwald, the extraordinary Cathy Reisenwitz. These are smart, successful, sex positive women. When they talk about the issue and what they have experienced in their lives, I have to listen.
When 9.7 million women post their experiences with sexual abuse under #notokay, I have to pay attention.
When I look at the way rape and sexual assault are treated by the courts, I have to take notice. The case of Brock Turner was not an aberration.
But perhaps the final straw was the Donald Trump groping tape. Not so much the tape itself, but the reaction to it. My Facebook and twitter feeds have been full of messages making excuses for Trump’s actions. I am told that this was nothing more than “locker room talk” or “vulgar language.” No, it was bragging about sexual assault. Yes, men and women often talk crudely about the opposite sex, but we do not, one hopes, kiss women or grab their private parts against their will.
Others have suggested that it’s not really assault, since the women didn’t explicitly and publicly object. Wrong. It’s not up to women to fight back, it’s up to men not to rape. Similarly, women are not to blame for their assaults because they were in the wrong place, drank too much, dressed provocatively, or had sex in the past.
And still others downplay Trump’s responsibility by suggesting that even though he may have bragged about grabbing women against their will, there’s no solid evidence that he actually did so. There are a fair number of women who claim that he did act in this way, or otherwise harassed them, but I’m not going to litigate that here. Rather, even if Trump was lying, his words and attitudes convey the idea that such conduct is acceptable. That, by itself, contributes to a climate where other women can be assaulted.
(And, yes, if Bill Clinton is guilty of even half of what he is accused of doing, his conduct is equally to be condemned.)
I’m not suggesting that every drunken fumbling between college students should be turned into a criminal matter. I’m not suggesting that those accused of sexual abuse should be denied due process. I am saying that the playing field is not level. The culture today too readily accepts the idea of male sexual aggression and entitlement. We can and must change the social attitudes about gender and sexuality so that women are treated as equal partners.
Life is a learning process. I never thought I would be saying this, but thank you Donald Trump for continuing my education.
Black and Blue
Things fall apart; The center cannot hold
— WB Yeats
I’ve waited a couple days to comment on the unconscionable murder of police officers in Dallas last Thursday night, and the apparently unjustified police killings of two black men in the days proceeding it, to allow for a cooling of passions and a bit of perspective.
Unfortunately too few of us seem willing to take this course. Once again, we’ve allowed tragedy to become another opportunity for Americans to retreat to their respective corners — in this case Team Black and Team Blue – and begin attacking each other. But real flesh and blood people are dead, people with hopes and dreams, families, and others who loved them.
Before we get to the raw politics of the thing, therefore, let’s pause for a moment to remember the five brave officers cut down in cold blood by a madman: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarippa.
At the same time, we cannot forget the two black men who died because other police were not as brave and dedicated, but untrained, unprofessional, panicky, or, let’s say it, quite possibly racist: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
The cold blooded murders in Dallas were a vicious crime committed by a single individual, either deranged or evil or both. Nothing can justify those murders. But that doesn’t invalidate the complaints that have been raised about police misconduct and racial profiling.
Ironically, Dallas has one of the nation’s best police forces when it comes to reducing police brutality and building trust in the community. But as the killings of Sterling and Castile appear to show, not every police force is as well trained, and not every policeman is as honorable as those who were just murdered.
I’ve heard a number of commentators, in the news, and on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, say that we should always stand up for and support the police. No, we shouldn’t. We should stand up and support them when they do the right thing, as so many of them so often do at great personal risk, but when they do the wrong thing, we should be equally quick to condemn them and demand action.
I’ve also seen and heard a lot of criticism of Black Lives Matter. Some have gone so far as to call BLM a “terrorist group.” Get a grip. Does BLM sometimes use intemperate – even irresponsible — language. Absolutely. But unless you are prepared to be equally quick to denounce every Right-to-Lifer who refers to abortion providers as “murderers,” or those on both left and right who call their opponents “traitors,” you have little room to talk. You want intemperate or irresponsible speech? I give you Donald Trump.
More important than language is the issue that BLM has brought to the forefront. Race is still the great dividing line in America. We have come a long way in this country, but the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow still hangs over us. Nor have we achieved full equality yet. In a thousand ways, large and small, African-Americans go through life at a disadvantage. They will experience things from a perspective that I (and most of you, my readers) never will. And if you don’t believe that, your privilege is clearly showing.
We won’t know for certain what happened in the Sterling and Castile cases until a final investigation has been conducted. Initial reports can be wrong (recall Michael Brown). But clearly something is wrong.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would almost certainly be alive today if they were white. So would Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many, many others.
And please don’t try to excuse this by talking about black on black crime. Yes, crime rates in the inner city, fueled in part by our war on drugs, are frighteningly high. A black man is far more likely to be killed by another black man than by a police officer. But the killing of an innocent man by a police officer is far worse than other killings because the police act under the color of authority. Police represent us. We pay their salaries. We give them a gun and a badge. We give them the legal authority to use force. When they gun down an unarmed black man, there is a splash back on us.
I don’t have a laundry list of policy prescriptions to deal with all of this right now. Sure there are things we can do — more community policing, training in de-escalation, ending the Godforsaken war on drug, for example. And we should realize that every time we pass a new law, make something else illegal, and give more power to the government, we are creating the potential for the next deadly confrontation.
But this really isn’t the time for debating policy. Perhaps what we really need to do now – right this moment- is simply to be kind to each other. We could do worse.
And with that in mind, I leave you with this:
There are times when simple moral decency requires one to rise above politics.
When Donald Trump implied that all Mexicans immigrants were rapists, Republicans rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse.
When Trump made misogynistic comments about women, Republicans soothed themselves with the possibility that he might make good Supreme Court appointments.
When he threatened to ban an entire religion from this country, Republicans talked about the failures of Barack Obama.
When Trump re-tweeted racist nonsense about black crime, Republicans talked about party unity.
As trump welcomed the Alt-Right and openly avowed racists and anti-Semites into the ranks of his campaign, Republicans endorsed him.
But Trump’s recent attacks on a federal judge for the offense of being “a Mexican” is as morally offensive as any action by a presidential candidate in modern history. Set aside the fact that Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, and is as American as you or me. Set aside the fact that Judge Curiel is a courageous man who was actually forced into hiding after taking on the Mexican drug cartels. Set aside, even, the impropriety of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a judge in a case where he is a litigant.
Set aside all that. Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel is plain and simply racist. The idea that Americans are defined by the ancestry and that people of certain ethnicity cannot be trusted to do their jobs, is the very heart of racism. It is wrong. More than wrong, it is morally repugnant.
So to my Republican friends, I say this is no longer about whether Trump might be slightly better than Hillary on this issue or that one. We would not have said, “well, David Duke had great views on the Second Amendment,” “I like George Wallace’s tax policy,” or “The Klan has a point about quotas.”
This is now about conscience. To continue to support Donald Trump is to acquiesce in the darkest impulses of mankind and stains the American soul. It is not about politics, it is about right and wrong.
I have known Paul Ryan since he was a legislative staffer. I know he is a fundamentally good and decent man. But in continuing to support Trump, he diminishes himself. The same is true for all those other Republicans, from Marco Rubio to John McCain to Bob Corker, who have sold their moral credibility for the sake of party unity or some other temporary political gain. It must stop.
When, someday in the future, your children or grandchildren ask you where you stood today, how will you answer them?
Tubman on the $20
In the era of Donald Trump, perhaps nothing should surprise me any more. Still, I admit I am genuinely perplexed by the amount of criticism I’ve seen of the decision to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with one of Harriet Tubman. Trump, himself, weighed in of course, calling the choice “pure political correctness.” But, he’s hardly the only one. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been deluged by people discovering a new found reverence for our seventh president.
Of course, the outcry is not really about Jackson, an important figure in American history, though deeply flawed and far from the status of, say, Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson. For some partisans, it is simply that if President Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. But for far too many of those writing, there seems to be a fundamental objection to replacing a white male Founding Father, with a black woman.
This is pure symbolism, I’m told. Well, duh! What else are portraits on our money but symbols? And, if that’s the case, in a nation as diverse as ours, why shouldn’t women and people of color participate in those symbols. Indeed, given our long history of repressing women, African-Americans, and others, isn’t it all the more important to include them as part of American symbology?
But, I’m told, Harriet Tubman did not personally have the impact on U.S. history and development as Jackson. True. And isn’t that part of the point? Women and people of color were denied the opportunity to help develop this country in the way that white men could. That is changing. And it is long past time to recognize it.
In her own way and in the context of the times – indeed, all the more so given the context of the times – Harriett Tubman was a great woman. Born a slave, frequently beaten and abused, she escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Not content with just her own freedom, she became a key organizer with the Underground Railroad, often risking death, imprisonment, or even re-enslavement to rescue other slaves. During the Civil wat she acted as a scout and spy, and later became the first woman to lead troops in a military engagement during the war, the raid on Combahee Ferry. After the war, she became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. A lifelong advocate for freedom and equality, who could better typify America and the American promise?
Political correctness – real political correctness – runs the gamut from dangerous to silly. No, eating a taco is not “cultural appropriation.” But every change that benefits women, African-Americans, Latinos, gays, or others who have long suffered as second class Americans, is not being politically correct. Sometimes, its simply overdue justice. And if putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill makes us a little more aware of our past, both the good and bad, I’m all for it.
As the choices for president become clearer, people ask me if there are any circumstances under which I could support Donald Trump. The answer is a clear and unequivocal no.
It’s not that I disagree with him on nearly every major issue, though I do. His specific refusal to reform entitlements, combined with his proposals to increase spending, threatens to bankrupt the nation. His anti-trade position would take us back to the days of Smoot-Hawley. He supports eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare. He backed TARP and the bank bailout. And I could go on and on. But as a libertarian, I don’t ever expect to find a candidate I agree with on everything. Hell, I didn’t agree with Rand Paul on everything. I certainly don’t agree with Hillary Clinton on, well, anything. For me, voting is almost always choosing the lesser of evils.
And it’s not his fundamental dishonesty, both as a candidate and a businessman. If I’ve learned one thing in Washington, it’s that politicians lie. Besides, Hillary Clinton has turned lying into a high art form. She lies even when the truth is perfectly fine — just for practice. Compared to her, Trump is an amateur liar.
It’s not even his temperament, though I find his bullying and name calling to be absurdly juvenile. He is thin skinned, and tolerates no dissent. His trademarks are braggadocio and loud shouting. He thinks that leadership is jumping in front of the mob and giving them whatever they want. That’s not exactly the sort of person I want with the nuclear codes. But to speak of an egotistical thin skinned politician is practically redundant. And, while Hillary may be more cold-blooded, she is no less wedded to her own lust for power. And vengeance? Thy name is Clinton.
Rather, I oppose Trump because I believe he is truly dangerous for the American experiment. This is a man who casually promises to commit war crimes. This is a man who wants to rewrite libel laws so he can sue journalists who write negative stories about him. This is a man who has tolerated if not encouraged violence by his followers. After a protester was beaten up at his event, he said that “maybe he should have been roughed up. What he was doing was disgusting.” He said of another protester, “I want to punch him in the face.” He praised Putin and said the Chinese “almost blew it” in Tienanmen Square, but finally “showed strength.” Scary stuff.
Most importantly, the man has consistently tolerated and encouraged outright bigotry. In fairness, politicians cannot be held responsible for every action of their followers. And politics often means associating with unsavory characters. Ted Cruz shared a stage with a preacher who says gays should be put to death. Barack Obama hung out with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. But Trump goes far beyond the usual necessities of politics.
He could barely bring himself to denounce David Duke and the KKK. (Aside from his wink and nod with Jake Tapper, consider his routine “I repudiate” of the Klan, with the 15 minutes he spends trashing, say, Vicente Fox.) He routinely re-tweets memes from white nationalist groups, and has tolerated their presence in his campaign. His misogynistic comments about women are legend. He mocks and denigrates Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, and others. This is not about not being politically correct; this is about playing with evil.
In some ways the left is suffering from too often crying wolf. Almost any opposition to President Obama has been denounced as racist. We live in an era of “microaggressions.” But this time the wolf is here.
To support Trump is to give voice and legitimacy to the darkest and most repressive forces in America. That can never be allowed. For that reason, I say #NeverTrump.
Students of politics will recall that the 1991 runoff for governor of Louisiana featured an unappetizing choice between the openly racist Republican David Duke and the three term incumbent Edwin Edwards who had twice been tried, though acquitted on corruption and racketeering charges. (Edwards would eventually be convicted following his third trial in 2000. The dismal options in that election spawned the famous pro-Edwards bumper sticker; “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
As I ponder the growing possibility of a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, I begin to understand how those Louisianans must have felt.
On the one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, a woman with whom I profoundly disagree on nearly every issue. She would almost certainly wreck the economy, burdening our children with another layer of debt and drowning us in new taxes and regulations. And, the thought of Hillary Clinton appointing a Supreme Court justice fills me with dread. Worse, unlike most Democrats she doesn’t even have the virtue of being good on issues of war and peace. She is every bit as interventionist as the most hawkish Republican neoconservative. And whatever current commitment she makes to civil liberties, gay rights, and such, they ring more of opportunistic political conversion than genuine conviction. And on top of all that, I believe Hillary is fundamentally dishonest, a woman who simply could not tell the truth if her life depended on it. I would rather eat ground glass than vote for her.
On the other hand, we have Donald Trump. Even if you assume that he’s telling the truth about his ever evolving views, it is hard to find anything that I can agree with him on. OK, he would cut taxes (though his actual plan is economic nonsense) and protect Second Amendment rights, but that’s about it. His positions, when not simply incoherent, are dreadful on issues ranging from entitlement reform to health care, from eminent domain to corporate welfare. He has a terrible record on civil liberties, even worse than Hillary. His opposition to free trade is antithetical to economic growth as well as liberty. And, of course, there is his ignorant, xenophobic, and frankly racist position on immigration. Indeed, throughout his campaign, Trump flirts with racism and racists, from his casual retweeting of “white power” memes to his toleration of anti-Semitic and white nationalist elements within his campaign. He also has tolerated, and sometimes seemed to encourage violence by his followers. He exhibits utter contempt for constitutional norms, even if he understands them. At bottom, he scares the hell out of me.
What then should a lover of liberty and a believer in limited government do? The crook or the bigot?
My friend Jonah Goldberg suggests that the only real option remaining may be SMOD (the sweet meteor of death). https://twitter.com/smod2016?lang=en
Yes, SMOD would likely mean the end of all life on earth. But after looking at the way this current election is headed, wouldn’t we deserve it? Count me in SMOD2016!
The End of Rand Paul’s Campaign
Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign, and the postmortem begins.
Paul was once celebrated as the avatar of a burgeoning “libertarian moment.” Now, the failure of his campaign is being taken as evidence, somewhat gleefully by big-government social conservatives like National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru (http://bit.ly/1JYgrHr), more mournfully by libertarian pessimists like Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center (http://fxn.ws/1GpBpYg). The truth as I see it is, not surprisingly, more complex.
A political campaign was always a flawed and limited vehicle for the larger libertarian goal of a freer, more tolerant, more peaceful society. Candidates must inevitably operate within the constraints of the existing political system, one that requires compromises, waters down principles, and reveals flaws. Ultimately voters are looking at candidates and positions on particular issues of specific priority to each of them, rather than broad political philosophies.
And, to be blunt, we libertarians need to admit that we are still a minority of the electorate. Some estimates suggest that only about 11 percent of voters self-identify as libertarian. That number may be artificially low due to unfamiliarity with the term, but even if you use the broadest libertarian definition, being economically conservative and socially liberal, the numbers remain uncomfortably low. Using other criteria, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that slightly less than a quarter of the electorate leans broadly libertarian. And, even those who might be considered libertarian may hold views on specific issues that are not libertarian, and/or may not vote in a libertarian manner. Remember those signs during the Obamacare saying “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”
That’s not quite as bad as it looks though. We need to remember that most Americans are simply not ideological at all. The numbers of Americans who can be classified as conservative or liberal does not greatly exceed the number of libertarians. A committed minority can move elections. Still, libertarians should not indulge the fantasy that this is a libertarian country.
Rand, himself, attempted to walk a fine line in this regard. His strategy was to start with the base of libertarian voters who supported his father, and then expand that base by attracting more traditional conservatives. This sometimes led him to take non-libertarian positions, emphasizing his social conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage. He struggled early in trying to define his positions on foreign policy in the face of ISIS and the fear of terrorism, veering from traditionally libertarian skepticism about interventionism and regime change to more mainstream conservative positions on the IRAN deal and limiting the admission of refugees. He championed his opposition to NSA spying, but seldom talked about cutting taxes or spending. He was too often neither fish nor foul. Paul himself called it “libertarinish.” As a result, he often alienated libertarians, without attracting conservatives.
On top of that, Rand’s position as “the outsider” who challenges the establishment was usurped by the rise of Trump. When compared to The Donald, he looked increasingly conventional. He was no longer “the most interesting man in politics,” as Time magazine once christened him.
Could a better strategy or a better candidate have performed better? Perhaps, but most likely not in this environment at this time.
Still, we are better off because he tried. All too often, Rand was the lone voice of reason on the GOP debate stage, warning about the dangers of military adventurism and calling for greater concern about the poor and minorities. In a GOP field that is fighting over which country to invade next or which group to demonize the most, it was worthwhile simply to have a voice for the truth. The other candidates obviously have not paid attention to him, but maybe – just maybe – some Americans did. If so, that’s fewer Americans headed down the road to Trumpism.
Progress is almost always incremental. America is a conservative country in the sense that it instinctively resists great political upheavals or radical changes in direction. Change, in whatever direction, is almost always incremental. If we want to change things, we must offer real world, incremental solutions that move us in the right direction.
And, we should remember that Rand was a candidate, not the libertarian moment or the libertarian movement. He lost, the fight goes on.