Yesterday, I was listening to a Ron Paul interview on NPR’s “Talk Of The Nation”. The segment was part of a larger series this week profiling important members of Congress who are retiring this year. During Congressman Paul’s segment, the primary question the interviewers pressed upon was where the Congressman’s supporters would go now that he was retiring. Dr. Paul of course wisely rejected the interviewers premise. He said that the movement birthed from his campaign was spontaneous, and that it did not need any sort of central figure to rally around. More specifically he said, ” I think they’ll have plenty of places to go. I think they’ll act as individuals, and they’re going to create a whole new atmosphere, and they’re going to propel the revolution, I think, in a very healthy way.”
The very nature of Ron Paul’s message is about spontaneous order and voluntary action. Even still, those who call themselves part of the liberty movement are currently facing the reality that Ron Paul is not running for office again. The truth is that Ron Paul was truly one of a kind. His coalition of support amongst libertarians, small government conservatives, independents and others may very well soon be parting ways due to the retirement of their ideological rallying point. While the liberty movement will certainly continue in one form or another, It is almost certain that Ron Paul will not be the primary figure behind it. I think that it is fairly clear that several different factions may arise with differing opinions as how to advance the movement politically. I believe that we are seeing factions manifest themselves already, as the liberty movement looks forward to 2016. Fortunately, these factions have a default position of liberty. Certainly, with a mutual goal great advances can be made in the liberty movement even as Ron Paul’s career reaches its’ sunset.
The most immediate and obvious heir of Ron Paul’s political support was Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate in last month’s election. Following the unofficial suspension of Ron Paul’s campaign, many supporters, (including myself) considered the only choice in November was to vote for Johnson, or not to vote at all. Curiously, Gov. Johnson’s campaign began to take on a life of its’ own completely independent of Ron Paul’s primary effort. It was widely remarked that Johnson was, by far, the most impressive candidate in the Libertarian Party’s history. As a former popular two term governor of a primarily Democratic state, Johnson had proven that a Libertarian in an executive government office could work. With nearly 750 vetoes during his tenure, Johnson halted the growth of New Mexico’s state government, and by the time that he left office in 2003, the state had a 1 billion dollar surplus in its’ treasury. His accomplishments were naturally brushed aside by his status as a third-party candidate. Even still, with Gov. Johnson’s strong qualifications, the main focus of his campaign was to “Be Libertarian,” and to “Be the five percent.” The campaign’s main message evolved into a strike against the two-party system itself. Hoping to surpass Ralph Nader’s 2000 return and capture 5 percent of the national electorate’s vote, therefore qualifying the Libertarian Party for federal funding in 2016, and most likely inclusion in Presidential debates with the Republican and Democratic parties. Unfortunately, the votes cast for Gary Johnson were well below the campaign’s intended goal, ultimately coming out to about 1 percent of the popular vote. Even still, Gov. Johnson has already stated his intent to run again in 2016, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he again captures a good number of former Ron Paul supporters in his next effort as well.
Another route many in the liberty movement may take in 2016 is to encourage Ron Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul to run for president. Almost immediately after the election, Sen. Paul expressed vocal interest in running. Many expect the younger Paul to be more successful as a national candidate than his father. The primary tune that we hear from Doug Wead and others is that Rand is more “self-aware” than his father, and that he has “learned from the mistakes” of Ron Paul’s career. Judging from his short tenure in the Senate, I am 99 percent sure that Rand Paul is definitely running in 2016. Since his election to the Senate two years ago, Rand Paul has been the most visible and outspoken member of the Republican caucus. Perhaps however, his attribution as a member of the GOP caucus should contain an asterisk. Unlike his dad, who took the (R) at the end of his name as only a means of getting elected, Rand came to Washington with an agenda of legislative priorities to cut government at every level, and has been quite successful at building a coalition of like-minded members of Congress in both houses. Since endorsing Mitt Romney last summer, it is pretty clear to me that Sen. Paul is making an effort to secure his status in the GOP as a serious future presidential candidate. I foresee Sen. Paul’s candidacy as being a polarizing point in the liberty movement, divided between those who might argue that it is necessary to share a Libertarian frame alongside a distinctly Republican pair of lenses in order to accomplish anything, and those who refuse to compromise any amount of principle for the sake of political maneuvering.
Even amongst those who might feel comfortable with a further association with the Republican Party, and those who do not, I foresee a third faction arising to vie for the inheritance of Ron Paul’s political legacy. This very week, Revolution PAC, launched plans to draft Judge Andrew Napolitano to run for president. Revolution PAC was an unofficial partner of Ron Paul’s campaign last year, and is the closest thing to an organizational continuation of Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012. (Campaign For Liberty and Young Americans For Liberty being largely birthed out of Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign.) For many supporters of the campaign this was a curious development and possibly a snub to Rand Paul’s candidacy. I do not view it as a snub to Rand Paul directly, but more as an illustration of the fear that the liberty movement may be co opted by Republican Party establishment, and amounting to nothing more than the supposedly small government “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Only time will tell whether or not this fear is justified, but I for one would love to see Judge Napolitano run. Napolitano is a fantastic spokesman for libertarian ideas, and I foresee him being a fantastic candidate.
However the liberty movement grows in 2016 and in the following years, I think that we can be definitely sure that it will in fact GROW, and that is, undoubtedly, a good thing.