Iowa was the final act for a number of presidential candidates, including liberty candidate Sen. Rand Paul – but the reason Paul dropped might come as a shock to many.
Though the Rand campaign made many overtures to his father’s base in the final months, Rand Paul did not carry the Iowa libertarian vote.
Among the chief victims of the dramatic Ted Cruz win Monday night was the “libertarians won’t vote for Cruz” narrative pedaled for the last year by the Rand Paul campaign.
The caucus results have been sliced and diced a hundred ways, and with Sen. Rand Paul’s subsequent exit from the presidential race, the question of where the liberty vote will go is finally being asked — a question Iowa already answered.
Sen. Cruz’s win was hailed as a show of power for Iowa’s evangelicals, but the math simply doesn’t add up for that narrative.
Even if Cruz benefited from the Trump-inspired turnout bump — for which there is little evidence — that doesn’t explain his leapfrogging Trump and finishing more than 6,000 votes ahead.
What does explain such a phenomenon is the addition of Iowa’s libertarian voting bloc from 2012. While Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Rand worked to bring new voters into the caucus process, it is widely accepted that Cruz’s base was primarily reliable, traditional caucus goers — people who showed up in 2012 and 2008.
Though the libertarian vote was cohesive in 2012, the evangelical vote was fractured, with Sen. Rick Santorum eeking out a miracle win while losing some votes to Rep. Michelle Bachmann, and to a lesser extent, Gov. Rick Perry and Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In 2008, when evangelicals and libertarians each rallied around a single standard-bearer, Gov. Mike Huckabee won the caucuses with just over 40,000 votes, and Rep. Ron Paul managed fifth place with 11,000.
If you combine the 2012 totals for Santorum, Bachmann, and Ron Paul, and subtract the 2016 total for Rand Paul, you wind up with 53,000.
Adding Huckabee’s 2008 total to Ron Paul’s 2008 total yields 52,000.
Ted Cruz’s 2016 vote total? 51,000.
Of course many other factors weigh into the caucuses, and the math of prior elections is hardly conclusive when dealing with a +50% turnout factor. Still, given that libertarians are among the most active political groups in the state, the question of the 18,000-vote gap between Rand Paul and his father is a huge one.
One final clue lends itself to the narrative of a Cruz victory among libertarians. In 2012, Ron Paul won 16 Iowa counties. Nine of those counties voted Cruz in 2016, and almost all of them were in the less-traditionally-conservative eastern part of the state.
Ted Cruz’s coup among libertarian Republicans is perhaps the quietest revolution of 2016, in part because it’s the one that Washington fears the most — a union of anti-establishment outsiders overcoming their differences to pursue areas of commonality.
In short, the reassembling of the Reagan coalition.
More and more, liberty people are accepting the premise of a conservative coalition, and weighing the positives of a Cruz presidency against the internet derision they could suffer from the Gary Johnson purity police for supporting him.
Certainly, a minority of libertarians will – as ever – decide to stay home or offer a protest vote.
But if Iowa’s results are any indicator, the movement has generally decided to pursue a coalition approach to actual policy change rather than lazy and uninvested ideological purity.