Republican Senator Rand Paul, son of libertarian godfather Ron Paul, this month controversially endorsed Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidential nomination. POLSIS PhD candidate Jake Diliberto examines the consequences for Paul Sr.’s grassroots libertarians of what some in the movement see as an act of treachery by one of their favourite sons.
This news is troubling for the libertarian coalition. While Rand’s father may no longer be in the race for the Republican Party nomination, he is continuing to amass delegates ahead of the Republican Party Convention in August, as a show of libertarian strength within the GOP.
Rand Paul is a central figure in the libertarian movement. He is regarded as his father’s heir apparent and a potential future candidate for president. However, his endorsement of Romney has been highly divisive amongst libertarians. Hard-liners will not tolerate any political support for Romney. Moderate conservatives are still supporting him, but Neo-Cons hate him.
In a recent Reality Report he did his best attempt to persuade libertarians that he is trying to keep to his principles, whilst simultaneously playing the partisan political game. This has done little to satisfy the people in the Paul/Libertarian caucus, who have been speaking out.
Interestingly, Rand Paul himself is unlikely to suffer any damage from the endorsement. He has plenty of time before his next election and his state, Kentucky, loves him. Indeed, many see the endorsement as shrewd political positioning aimed at boosting his chances of a successful bid for the GOP nomination in 2016. The real predicament is for his father’s libertarian caucus. I see the libertarians as having three options:
- Accommodate: They can take this as Rand playing good politics, continue to support Ron Paul’s delegate strategy, and hope Rand can have an important voice for the future.
- Divide and conquer: They could push for more Libertarian Party candidates, continue to deny their support for the GOP, and grow the support for their cause. This would divide the GOP for several years, and could have a blowback effect that might be devastating. On the other hand, it could motivate conservative voters to back candidates like Sen Paul, Rep. Jusin Amash, Gov. Gary Johnson and others who are emerging as leaders of the libertarian cause within the GOP.
- Give way: Libertarians are not known for their extraordinary compromising skills. This particular avenue is highly unlikely, but Libertarians could adapt to the Rand Paul approach, accept the Romney candidacy, and hope to exert influence by working with the establishment GOP rather than against it.
Senator Paul is very influential amongst libertarians. He has put a stake in the road that they will either tolerate or reject. That said, the problem is not Paul’s; it’s the libertarians’. It’s hard to see how the movement can continue to attract so much support if their candidates alienate the base by endorsing establishment Republicans such as Romney.