In the 2012 New Hampshire primary, Ron Paul came in second at 23 percent, winning over 60 towns. I remember that night fondly, as I stood behind Ron Paul on stage during his victory speech, hopeful for the future of the liberty movement.
Here are the towns Ron won that night, in green (via the New York Times):
Tuesday, Trump ran away with virtually all of Ron Paul’s towns. Trump’s towns are in red (via the New York Times):
Reason’s Brian Doherty has a story examining how many Ron Paul supporters seem to be supporting Bernie Sanders in this election.
Here’s how Sanders’ NH town wins looked Tuesday (via the New York Times):
Doherty writes, “I interpreted the ‘Ron Paul Revolution’ of 2007-12 as showing a growing mass acceptance of at least a rough version of libertarianism.”
“This election cycle seems to be indicating I overestimated that,” Doherty concludes.
Doherty is right, that many of us within the liberty movement underestimated the degree to which libertarianism animated Ron Paul supporters as opposed to them being attracted to an anti-establishment candidate.
This is depressing for many of us, obviously.
In the grand scheme of things, it really shouldn’t be.
The willingness of millions of voters (Ron Paul received 2 million primary votes in 2012) to buck conventional politics for what they perceive as real change still creates a great opportunity for those of us who want to take the country in a more libertarian direction.
By and large, Trump supporters are not issues-driven voters. Doherty notes that even many young Sanders supporters have a positive view of the term “libertarian.”
Most of these people, even the Sanders’ supporters–similar to many Ron Paul supporters–are not driven primarily by ideology. In real terms, Rand Paul was arguably the most anti-establishment candidate in 2016, though he wasn’t necessarily perceived that way in a campaign where he had to compete with Trump, Sanders and other outsiders.
I don’t even know if Ron Paul could have competed with the Trump and Sanders phenomenons in this campaign.
It remains to be seen after 2016 is over, whether the Trump and Sanders’ campaigns can become an enduring faction in American politics similar to the liberty movement. Will there be Trump-inspired congressman similar to the liberty movement’s Justin Amash and Thomas Massie? Will Sanders inspire a youth army similar to Young Americans for Liberty and Students for Liberty with hundreds of chapters throughout the country?
Time will tell.
But liberty activists who worry that the country has completely resigned itself to Trump’s soft fascism or Sanders’ socialism will only have to worry about that until the end of this election. If neither of these men become president, those worrisome questions will answer themselves, at least for the time being.
But in the next election, the popular anti-establishment sentiment that has defined this election will likely continue to be a force.
Next time, will the liberty movement lead it?