In 1996, when libertarian icon Ron Paul was running for re-election to Congress as a Republican, a challenger filed against him in the General Election. This challenger wasn’t an establishment Republican or a liberal Democrat, he was a Natural Law Party candidate whose national platform included much of Ron Paul’s agenda.
In the key swing state of Virginia, former Republican Congressman Virgil Goode has qualified to be on the ballot as the Constitution Party’s candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has qualified in states across the country as the Libertarian Party candidate, despite running in the Republican primary elections and demanding to be included in the televised Republican primary debates.
In states like Montana, where there are close Senate races, Libertarian candidates are pulling votes from solid conservative candidates, like Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, who is locked in a race with Democratic Senator Jon Tester that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
The peculiar tendency for libertarians and constitutionalists to turn on anyone who works to change the Republican Party from within has reared its ugly head again this year in the aftermath of the Republican National Convention.
Admittedly, Ron Paul and his delegates to the Convention were treated in a ham handed way by establishment Republicans – but that is hardly cause to hand the election to Barack Obama and control of the Senate to the Democrats.
However, this is not really a new phenomenon – it has been going on since the 1950s, when William F. Buckley, Jr. began arguing that conservatives should take over the Republican Party and others, such as author Ayn Rand, argued for a separate movement.
The result has been the fairly steady advance – with occasional halts – of conservative ideas and the election of many conservative-minded candidates by the Republican Party.
On the other hand, Libertarians and constitutionalists, while they have gained some recognition and added to their numbers, haven’t actually been electing candidates.
Congressman Ron Paul admitted as much when he said no one would have paid any attention to him or his ideas if he had run as a Libertarian, and there is no doubt that Rand Paul would not be a U.S. Senator if he had run as a Libertarian, instead of as a Republican.
Inspired in some measure by Congressman Paul, Libertarian ideas continue to gain currency in the Republican Party. There is a strong current of libertarian economic policy in today’s Republican Party with Friedman, von Mises and Hayek being where Republicans look for economic first principles. The fact that the Republicans are willing to explore such libertarian ideas as returning to the gold standard speaks to the openness Republicans have to libertarian thought, particularly on economics.
However, there is good news and bad news in those wonderful ideas.
The good news is that while as yet imperfectly realized, Republicans have become the Party of less regulation, lower taxes and more personal freedom – this certainly hasn’t always been the case when one considers that less than 40 years ago the EPA was established under Republican President Richard Nixon.
The bad news is that many libertarians pride themselves on being destroyers, and when they lose a primary or otherwise don’t get their way, rather than cinching-up their belts and selling themselves and their ideas harder, they try to teach Republicans a lesson by causing them to lose.
If this is a bad way to sell your ideas in the best of times, it is downright dangerous to the future of the country in this election. Four more years of President Obama will take generations to undo – that is, if the economic damage and institutionalization of a culture of dependency can be undone at all.
Conservatives have been steadily working a plan envisioned by “the Buckley generation” for over 50 years. We have made great progress in the Republican Party, and more importantly, in public opinion at large.
When over 70% of those responding to the Gallup Poll say the greatest threat to freedom is big government, we conservatives and libertarians should see that as a sign American opinion is moving in our direction.
A vote for Virgil Goode or Gary Johnson is the same as a vote for Barack Obama. The future of this country is more important than the personal slights and short term wins or losses that any candidate and his adherents might suffer.
It is time for Congressman Ron Paul and his partisans to join the movement to beat Obama, and however grudgingly, give their support to Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republican candidates for Senate and Congress. There will be plenty of opportunities to advance their agenda when Obama is gone, but very few if he stays.