Much of the libertarian interest in next week’s Iowa Caucuses is focused on Rand Paul – and rightfully so. Since his apparent decision to drop the middle-of-the-road rhetoric and go full libertarian early this year in the face of declining money and support, many of his father’s sidelined activists have taken renewed interest in his campaign. Rand’s numbers in Iowa have seen a slight uptick, and his campaign has released some impressive organizational numbers.
Still, Rand is a longshot to pull off a win in a state where the competing candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have reshaped the entire political landscape.
What began as a wide-open race for the nomination between members of a fractured conservative base and members of an even more fractured establishment base, has now become a story of evangelicals, libertarians, and conservative hardliners uniting to stop a fascist egomaniac from recreating the GOP in his own orange-haired image.
So while I expect many liberty folks to stand with Rand next Monday, many of us are also going to Cruz with Ted – and there are some good reasons for libertarians of all stripes to be excited about a Cruz win in Iowa.
A Cruz win is a loss – and a rebuke – for Donald Trump. Throughout the last year, Trump’s candidacy has become a dividing line within the GOP. His brutal tendencies and liberal positions have thoroughly alienated ideological conservatives from his brand, while his egotistical demagoguery and politically-incorrect tough talk have attracted the right’s own brand of personality cultists. Worse than Trump’s incoherent policy merry-go-round is his frustrating political invulnerability: almost nothing has been able to shake him from the top spot in national polls since he joined the race.
Trump has run on winning, and – give the devil his due – the strategy has worked beautifully. To date he has painted every attack as a self-motivated act of desperation from candidates or news personalities desperate to feed themselves the spotlight. His withering attacks have further enthused his base and encouraged more people to hop on the bandwagon, at which point his “winning” jargon has become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The only thing that can defeat a candidate running on a platform of winning is, obviously, losing.
Right now only one candidate is flying high enough to take a needle to Trump’s balloon, and that someone is Ted Cruz. A win for Cruz in the first nominating contest would expose Trump as a paper tiger, dealing a blow both to his confidence and the support of his fairweather fans.
Also, the following twitter storm should be wildly entertaining.
Since a Trump presidency would itself be a grave threat to liberty, those who care about freedom should be thrilled to watch Trump’s campaign melt down.
A Cruz win validates the strength and resilience of the Liberty Movement. Cruz certainly has his detractors within the Liberty Movement, and as the Cruz campaign worked hard to compete in a bracket that Team Rand had assumed safe, the divide between the two became sharper. It was only a matter of time before Rand’s camp moved to attack Cruz as unworthy to represent libertarians – even if the move came a little late to help his campaign.
From the perspective of someone who believes the end-all, be-all of the liberty movement is Rand Paul 2016, I suppose the knock on Cruz for splitting the base is valid.
But for anyone looking at the issues rather than the name placards, it’s obvious that the Cruz/Paul tussle for the liberty vote has been a tremendous gift to the Movement. A quick look back at the last few years will show why.
The novelty of Ron Paul’s Presidential runs in 2008 and 2012 was that they brought the ideals of liberty to the big stage and forced the nation to look at important and often-overlooked issues like monetary policy and blowback from foreign interventionism. He was a lone voice representing our issues who was, at times, hated for it. After the beatdown that was the 2012 general election, libertarianism found fertile soil nationwide as war-weariness and economic malaise brought renewed interest to the Senate stands of the liberty triumvirate of Paul, Cruz, and Lee. Pundits in the media began to speculate whether the long-awaited “libertarian moment” had finally arrived. The sentiment stuck around for most of 2013 and the thought of a libertarian-ish president became a real possibility.
Then ISIS happened.
Since the militant Islamic State began their bloody conquest of parts of Iraq and Syria, neoconservative politicians have taken the opportunity to whack the more noninterventionist types with the stick of blind nationalism – even going so far as to revive the antiquated “isolationist” smear with regard to Cruz’s rebuke of neoconservative foreign policy. The rise of ISIS, the subsequent Syrian refugee crisis, and the Paris and San Bernardino attacks set the stage for a revival of neoconservatism within the GOP: a certainty that candidates like Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina embraced enthusiastically as their ticket to the top. But those plans never materialized, and now Carly, Rubio, and 9-11 exploiter Chris Christie find themselves mired in the electoral doldrums, while Cruz sits atop the pack in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, with Rand trending upward as well.
Such a thing would have been unthinkable four years ago. This entire cycle has showcased Cruz and Paul tag-teaming their competitors during the debates, including what can only be described as assault and battery on the senseless surveillance statism of Marco Rubio.
What if, four years ago, I told you that by 2016 we would have a Republican frontrunner who made support for the gold standard a debate centerpiece, opposed intervention in Libya and Syria, condemned “neocons” by name in the press, fought against indefinite detention, helped kill the Ex-Im bank, sponsored an audit of the Pentagon, co-sponsored audit the Fed, got elected promising to abolish the TSA, and if elected proposes eliminating five federal departments and applying the 10th Amendment to issues ranging from marriage to marijuana.
Now imagine that I told you this candidate would enjoy massive support from evangelicals and tea partiers, and would have a war chest of fifty million dollars with which to oppose Jeb Bush.
Would you have even believed such a thing possible?
And if so, would you have called it anything but a tremendous win for libertarianism?
A Cruz win would represent an unprecedented consolidation of conservative factions around a candidate with obvious libertarian leanings – and that could mean real policy change on key libertarian issues. Cruz does not call himself a libertarian (neither does Rand Paul), but his libertarian-ish streak has been obvious enough to draw the ire of foreign policy hawks and social conservative purists alike. A Cruz win would force these typical enemies of libertarianism to reassess their priorities.
Election after election, libertarians are told we must get on board with a candidate who represents virtually nothing we believe, for the sake of beating someone who also represents even less of what we believe. A Cruz win gives us the ability to turn that argument around on many of our erstwhile antagonists.
From the perspective of federal-marriage-amendment enthusiasts, Cruz’s states’ rights position on marriage is distasteful, but a Cruz win will force many of them to embrace it, along with him, in the natural outworking of coalition-driven elections. Likewise, many uber-hawks who find the thought of a nuclear Donald Trump horrifying, will be forced to support the owl-ish Cruz, despite their objections to America-first foreign policy. The increasingly real chance of a Cruz presidency opens up the possibility of a host of policy changes that libertarians have long fought for.
The rollback of Net Neutrality, a downturn in foreign deployments and an upturn in base closures, stronger anti-torture policies, and massive cabinet-level cuts in government are things that President Cruz could achieve on his own; while his willing signature also means that congressional passage of initiatives like audit the Fed, audit the Pentagon, and the repeal of both Obamacare and federal marijuana prohibition, could finally be realized.
Cruz isn’t as libertarian as libertarians would like, and he isn’t as evangelical as evangelicals would like, but that doesn’t mean that both sides of the divide don’t have reasons to be excited about a Cruz nomination.