“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism” – Ronald Reagan to Reason Magazine, July 1975
Both Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham made salient points this week by telling Republicans they needed to “shut down” if President Barack Obama is re-elected. The comments show a problem Republicans have had in convincing the Tea Party to support Mitt Romney.
It also shows the Republican Party has failed to listen to what has long been considered their conscience: libertarians.
What people have forgotten is the rise of the Tea Party wasn’t just a rebellion against the increased spending in late 2008, early 2009. The origins of the Tea Party can be traced all the way back to several of President George W. Bush’s decisions, including the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
This series of responses started shaking people, waking them up from their long slumber. They realized the U.S. was running into major problems, the government was expanding too quickly and things needed to be cut. The Tea Party rallies, and the candidates which followed, were proof people were starting to pay attention and getting active. Libertarians were starting to be heard.
But what’s happened since then?
Certainly, the libertarian caucus in US Senate has grown from South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. It now includes Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson. Hopefully, reinforcements are coming with the possible election of Ted Cruz, Connie Mack IV, Richard Mourdock and Jeff Flake. But that’s only nine out of 100 senators.
The House looks no better, with Michigan Congressman Justin Amash replacing Ron Paul as probably the most libertarian member. South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy should also get praise for fighting for reigned in spending and cutting the government. Arizona Congressman Trent Franks has been considered libertarian at times, but that’s only three out of 435. Plenty of Republicans pay lip service to libertarian ideals (see: House Speaker John Boehner and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan) but don’t follow through.
The fact is Republicans need to listen to libertarians, especially in terms of government growth and the budget. The party which claims to be for “limited government,” allowed massive expanses during the Bush Administration. The original stimulus package may have been avoided if Congress had waited.
To be fair, libertarians have to take blame as well. The rise of social conservatism may have been held back a bit if libertarians did a better job at pointing out why some social policies are best left to states. There’s a reason why the Libertarian Party is known more for wanting to end the War on Drugs, instead of reduced spending, smaller government and more freedom. Organization and activism have also been major problems the Libertarian Party has failed to solve. This could be the reason why there are libertarians considering a vote for Mitt Romney, instead of Gary Johnson.
Ultimately, it may not be in the best interests of libertarians to leave the GOP. It’s possible libertarians will have to suck it up and keep trying to convince party leaders, elected officials and local activists why they’re right. Certainly the Koch brothers believe this and Rand Paul as well. For this to work, conservatives will have to be willing to listen and both sides will have to reach a consensus. It does nothing for Republicans to simply brush off libertarian concerns as a fringe element, or “hobbits,” but to ultimately sit down, look at what’s being said and move forward. There really are libertarians out there who want Republicans to succeed.
The solutions may be slightly different, but it should be a lot easier for conservatives and libertarians to come to an agreement. Certainly a lot easier than conservatives and liberals.
But if Republicans lose in November, what then? Will the party start listening to libertarians or blame them for their own failure? If it’s the former, things may turn out okay. If it’s the latter…the Republican Party may be doomed.