Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign to the great dismay of this writer and many like-minded libertarian leaning conservatives. For the first 72 hours or so afterward, I have observed many different reactions ranging from “Life is empty, nothing matters” (me), to “I’m voting 3rd party” and even “I guess it’s Bernie now!” (To the last person, you obviously have not been paying attention.)
It is difficult to make the transition. When you have been so convinced that you are supporting the right guy, it is easy to fall into a pattern of believing that everyone else is garbage. I am nowhere near as inspired by, or confident in, any of the remaining GOP candidates as I was Rand Paul.
It is worth noting that Rand Paul intentionally decided not to endorse anyone and according to his campaign he will not do so during the primary. I’m not sure if this is a political move, or if he legitimately doesn’t believe in any of them. Realistically, a Rand Paul endorsement would likely be taken very seriously by his loyal followers.
Life must go on. In the following paragraphs I’ll lay out a few considerations for the Rand Paul supporter. I won’t suggest that there is a “right choice” for any of us, because as it stands I am truly disaffected. I am officially undecided at this point.
Let’s start with the Third Party idea. Jim Webb has been toying with the idea of an independent bid, but most agree the time for ‘pondering’ has passed and that Jim Webb is highly unlikely to be able to raise even the $8M it would take just to gain 50-state ballot access. This leaves us with the Libertarian Party featuring Gary Johnson as the probable nominee. Ideologically, the Johnson option fits well with most libertarian leaning conservatives. Johnson is a republican leaning libertarian, mostly in line with Rand Paul on all major issues, with the exception of immigration.
The problem here is that it is difficult to inspire a large number of voters to back a candidate who candidly acknowledges he will not be elected. A vote for the Libertarian Party is a wish for the future. The party as it is currently positioned is not a serious player in the national political landscape. A visit to the party’s website reveals a solid platform built on the constitution and individual liberty. Truth and sincerity abounds. But why do all the candidate profile pictures look like selfies taken in the back of a comic book store?
There is something noble about voting in line with your principles, and being a part of the solution, and the dream of a better America. This must be balanced with the immediate reality: Either a republican or a democrat will be elected president this year. Is it more important to work towards meaningful long-term (very long-term) change by bringing the Libertarian Party mainstream, or to pick the already mainstream option likely to do the least amount of damage, or maybe even some good, in the short-term?
Ted Cruz – Many argue this is a clear choice for a Rand Paul supporter. Rand supported Ted Cruz in his 2012 campaign for senate, and the two, along with Mike Lee, have worked together many times on conservative initiatives including surveillance legislation and a successful filibuster which neutered the post-Sandy Hook gun control hysteria. But many Paul supporters are violently opposed to Cruz, attacking him viciously with allegations of being bought and paid for by banks, and missing the Audit the Fed vote.
Where Ted Cruz falls drastically short of Rand Paul, is in authenticity. Ted Cruz is every bit as smart and knowledgeable about the constitution, but he shifts shapes effortlessly to conform to his environment, depending on the group to which he is currently pandering. This can be very unattractive. Ted has calculated precisely which buttons he needs to push in order to bring the right people to the polls. As a result, we have watched in horror as he channels Benny Hinn in front of the evangelicals, and emulates Dick Cheney to those who are convinced “the terrorists are coming!” and want more war. He is shameless in his analytics approach to capture the electorate.
To consider Cruz, one must be able to disregard what appears as dishonesty, and chalk it up to political gamesmanship. In reality, Ted Cruz’ conservative bona fides are legitimate and proven. There is a reason he is so deeply hated by the leadership of the party, who have actually warmed up to Trump out of sheer terror at the prospect of President Cruz. The Goldman Sachs canard is futile. A loan is not a donation. Ted Cruz owes Goldman Sachs interest payments, but there is no proof he owes them favors.
It has been harder and harder for me to admire Ted Cruz . . . to really’like’ him. He would probably be the most qualified in the field at filling SCOTUS slots, and he is likely to take steps toward reducing the size of federal government. On the other hand, he will not be able to address the issue of polarization, and would very likely be one of the most disliked presidents of all time. Isn’t there a better way?
Ben Carson – Ben is an admirable and respectable man. He is a conservative. He has shown a tendency to trip over his own feet when pressed on a question, or asked to elaborate on his position. In general, he does not display a lot of toughness, or sharpness. This is a problem. On foreign policy he has developed into a rather hawkish figure, and this does not play perfectly with a Rand supporter. There is nothing wrong with being a nice guy, but in the month long Donald Trump tirade where Ben was the butt of every joke, he failed to stand up for himself in any significant way. He never regained his momentum.
It was for these reasons that I called for Ben to drop out the day after Iowa, before I knew my own candidate would bow out first.
Conservative pickings are slim at this point, however. If our main concerns are the size and scope of government and the national debt, and the role of the executive in furthering those aims, Ben Carson is at least in the neighborhood, if not in the ballpark.
What we won’t get out of any of the remaining candidates
We can probably completely forget about dovish foreign policy, criminal justice reform, and bringing in new young liberty-minded conservatives to the party, with any of the candidates left running. These prospects died with the campaign of our good friend, the Senator from Kentucky I’m afraid.
So what if we can’t get comfortable with one of those three options?
If the three options above don’t pan out, I believe we have lost. I don’t mean ‘we the republicans have lost the election’. Republicans may very well win this year, up against the terrible, horrible, no good very bad democratic slate of candidates the political gods have bless us with. But as we have learned, putting a republican in the white house does not advance our cause. When I say ‘we have lost’, I mean ‘we the libertarian-minded conservatives have failed to advance our cause.’
I don’t suggest abstaining from voting. I don’t suggest vowing “Never to vote” for any one candidate. In the end, there is some value in being pragmatic. Both Hillary and Rubio would expand the federal government and expand foreign involvement in conflicts. Is there a chance that Rubio picks better supreme court justices? I don’t know.
I plan on watching the New Hampshire debate this Saturday as a free agent. I expect it will be the last debate for at least 3 candidates, probably 4. Since I have seen them all before, I’ll be watching for different things this time. The intangibles. I know all of their positions. I’m looking for optimism now, and true leadership. I’m looking for the man or woman who I can proudly point to and tell my children, “that’s our President.”