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Perhaps this column is premature. It’s almost a year until the election and we haven’t had a single primary yet.

But as a libertarian-conservative, it’s hard to imagine a worse election.

I had three primary hopes (perhaps too hopeful) for 2016:

I hoped we’d have a new Republican president who learned from the massive foreign policy mistakes of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

The protracted Iraq and Afghanistan wars, coupled with head-scratching interventions in Libya and Syria have only made our enemies stronger and our own security weaker.


We need leaders willing to admit mistakes and learn from them so that we don’t repeat them.

I hoped we’d finally have a Republican president who was serious about shrinking government and protecting liberty.

Our $18 trillion national debt continues to rise, along with executive orders, mass surveillance of citizens and other worrisome rights infringements. Republicans and Democrats both do this.

I hoped we’d have a Republican president who would help change the party and the country by striking a more tolerant tone that included all Americans.

We have broken immigration and legal systems that regularly oppress the poorest among us in ways that betray American values. It’s not being politically correct to acknowledge that poor minorities aren’t the enemy—big government is.

The GOP can’t just be the party of angry, old white guys and expect to survive.

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A more prudent foreign policy, a sincere dedication to individual liberty and smaller government, a more tolerant and inclusive politics…

This is why I’ve supported Rand Paul for president, who’s in fifth or sixth place in Iowa. Unless he can get those numbers up or surprise everyone in an early caucus or primary, libertarian-conservatives like me are screwed.

Just look at the current top three in the Republican race.

Donald Trump
: One of the most controversial things Trump has said about the foreign policies of both parties, particularly targeting Hillary Clinton, is that Bush’s Iraq War and Obama’s interventions in Libya and Syria helped create ISIS.

Trump’s absolutely right.

This is the best thing about Trump’s candidacy. It’s precisely the kind of truth-telling the Washington establishment desperately needs to hear.

But then Trump also says he wants to invade Middle Eastern nations just to “take the oil.” He wants to ban all Muslims for the U.S. He doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is.

Clearly he isn’t serious on foreign policy, or any policy.

But it isn’t policy that excites Trump’s supporters. It’s his tone, style and combativeness. It’s his willingness to be “politically incorrect.”

Anytime Trump has said things that are racist, xenophobic, misogynist or anything else ugly, his defenders cheer. It’s what many like most about his campaign.

Trump is a bully. If the opposite of libertarian is authoritarian, Trump fits that strongman mold more than any other candidate in this race.

Ted Cruz: Like Trump, Cruz has said some smart things about foreign policy, pointing out that Obama’s failures in Libya and Syria—that Hillary Clinton also supported—have helped ISIS.

But he also wants to “carpet bomb” the Middle East (a war crime) and also wants to see if “sand can glow in the dark” (an allusion to nukes).

Cruz is probably only second to Rand Paul on making government smaller and protecting individual liberties, though some libertarians would say he doesn’t go far enough.

But Cruz seems to have little desire or intention to reach out beyond the existing conservative base. In fact, Cruz’s campaign strategy has been simply to double down on what talk radio says on any given day.

No growth. No change. Just keep the old white guy GOP intact.

That’s not good enough.

Marco Rubio: Rubio’s best quality is that he offers a fresh new face for Republicans. He would have the ability to reach out beyond the conservative base, to independents and perhaps even minorities.

But it would be a new face for the some of the worst aspects of the same old Republican Party.

If Trump and Cruz, however sloppily, have said some challenging things about foreign policy, Rubio is the opposite. He still defends—and even seems eager to repeat—the Iraq War. His problems with Obama’s interventions in Libya and Syria are that they weren’t aggressive enough.

If you take every foreign policy mistake of the last 15 years that Trump and Cruz rightly say helped ISIS, Rubio still thinks those were good ideas.

Rubio is so eager to give trillions more to the Pentagon that he mathematically can’t even begin to address our national debt. On civil liberties, he not only believes the government should spy on all citizens but would like to make that practice permanent.

If Trump’s bombastic style makes him the most authoritarian candidate, policy for policy, that honor belongs to Rubio.

America doesn’t need another Bush-Cheney.

America needs a better liberty. So far, the Republicans aren’t offering it.

Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

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