Since Rand Paul left the presidential race, many supporters are looking at other options. Many have also expressed, particularly to me, what they thought Rand should’ve done differently.
Some Paul supporters still plan on voting for him or staying home as protests. But those looking elsewhere in the 2016 primaries have settled on what seems like six options: Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, John Kasich and Marco Rubio. A sixth non-primary option is the Libertarian Party.
Let’s examine these options in order.
The kind of Rand Paul supporter who’s now with Cruz most identified with conventional conservatives to begin with. Since Cruz is a conservative’s conservative, switching from Rand to Cruz was an easy fit. I’m a conservative, so Cruz was always my second choice (much less so now based on how quickly Cruz seems to have run from some key liberty positions since Rand’s departure).
A friend of mine who now chooses Cruz in lieu of Paul is convinced Rand could be in Ted Cruz’s second place position right now if only Rand had been more like Cruz.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree.
The kind of Rand Paul supporter who’s now with Bernie Sanders probably never identified much with conservatives or the Republican Party. They probably liked both Rand and Ron Paul because they transcended left and right, or because they’re better on progressive issues like foreign policy and civil liberties than most Democrats.
To them, Sanders might also seem more “authentic” than Rand, similar to Ron Paul. Many say if Rand had been perceived as more transpartisan or authentic, he might’ve been the Bernie Sanders of this race.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree (see Cruz supporters).
The kind of Rand Paul supporter who’s now with Donald Trump cares more about fighting the establishment than the two parties or even ideology. They liked that both Ron and Rand Paul were anti-establishment outsiders who would turn the GOP and American politics inside out.
To them, if Rand Paul had come across as more anti-establishment he could’ve been the Donald Trump of this race.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree (see Cruz supporters who reject Trump’s liberal positions and Sanders supporters who reject Trump’s vulgarity and xenophobia).
I know some ex-Rand Paul supporters who’re now favorable to John Kasich (he’s probably the only Republican I could actually stomach voting for besides Cruz now that Rand’s out), because he once had a record as a cost cutter, is slightly less insane on foreign policy and has a decent record on criminal justice reform as governor of Ohio.
To them, if Rand Paul had come across as a more moderate and level-headed fiscal conservative and not tried to appeal to the conservative base so much, he could’ve been the John Kasich of this race.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree (see Cruz, Sanders and Trump supporters).
This one boggles my mind the most. If you had to choose one ideology that Ron Paul was directly challenging when he decided to run for president in 2008, it was neoconservatism, which had come to define George W. Bush’s administration.
Rubio is the hands-down favorite of neoconservatives in 2016.
Still, I’ve come across some Rand Paul supporters now favorable to Rubio because they believe as a young Hispanic he presents a fresh face for the Republican Party. They believe Rand Paul could’ve been that fresh face if only he hadn’t tried to appeal to the conservative base, particularly on issues related to immigration.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree (see Cruz, Sanders, Trump and pro-civil liberties/anti-war leaning Kasich supporters).
The Libertarian Party
There has always been a contingent of Ron and Rand Paul supporters who wish both would’ve just ran in the Libertarian Party to begin with. Most value the purity of their vote over electoral success.
They believe if Rand Paul had run third party, he might have somehow, miraculously, done better.
There are many libertarians who completely disagree (see all of the above, not to mention the American voter.)
So for many Rand Paul supporters, if only Rand had been a conservative’s conservative, more authentically anti-Republican, more anti-establishment, more moderate, a fresher face or more willing to rise above our two party system…
He could’ve won.
I submit that he actually tried to do most of these things more than he’s given credit for. I also submit it’s a difficult task, but one necessary if we are to include all of the many important components that will inevitably define quality liberty candidates.
Many might perceive this as trying to do too many things. I don’t. Accepting that means accepting the rules as they currently exist.
Part of being a liberty person is redefining terms like conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat and many of the other parameters and dividing lines in today’s politics. Three years ago Karl Rove was calling Justin Amash a huge “liberal” while Heritage Action was simultaneously calling him one of the most conservative members of congress.
Liberty people see inconsistencies everywhere and seek to fix them. We only play the political game to change it. That’s what Ron Paul did. That’s what Rand Paul does.
That’s part of what makes the liberty message so exciting and important—we are ideologically equipped to reinvent our politics like no other movement or force on the scene today.
Again, this will always be easier said than done.
This election was the most unfavorable for liberty candidates of any I’ve seen in my lifetime. The once hopeful prospects for liberty at the national level in 2016 essentially got Trumped.
But that still doesn’t mean electing liberty candidates, nationally or otherwise, is impossible.
It certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try again.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.