Can idealism save the Grand Old Party?

Ron Paul

By Daniel Burton
I is for idealism, which may very much be the future of the GOP, if it is to regain relevancy.

For 37 years, Ron Paul was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Largely ineffective there, he earned the nickname Dr. No for his unwillingness to vote for government spending. It wasn’t until he ran for president, though, that he really hit his stride and reawakened interest in a national libertarian movement.

Now, Congress and Presidential campaigns behind him, Paul is almost more popular now than when he was in office. With his son, Senator Rand Paul, taking the baton, speaking out against war and the growth of government and regularly mentioned as a possible contender for the GOP nomination in 2016, libertarianism (little ‘l’) is coming out from the shadows and, to paraphrase Politico, going mainstream.

Could it save the Republican Party?

With post-mortem of the 2012 election continuing six months after the polls close, it’s clear that Republicans are taking a close look at what it takes to win an election, and whether the White House will be attainable in the foreseeable future.

Led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), libertarians hope to become a dominant wing of the GOP by tapping into a potent mix of war weariness, economic anxiety and frustration with federal overreach in the fifth year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

 The country’s continuing fixation on fiscal issues, especially spending and debt, allows them to emphasize areas of agreement with conservative allies who are looking for ways to connect with Republicans who aren’t passionate about abortion or same-sex marriage. A Democratic administration ensures consensus on the right that states should get as much power as possible.

Senator Rand Paul filibusters from
the Senate floor in March of 2013.

Libertarianism is no new member of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan famously stated that “libertarianism is the heart and soul of conservatism.” In the years since his 1980 election, though, the influence of evangelicals have pushed their own brand of big government into the forefront of the Republican Party, and libertarians have been largely left in the wings.

However, America has changed over the last generation. Whether it’s the war on drugs/poverty/terrorism/marriage–Americans are tired of the government telling them what they should, or shouldn’t do, and they are leery of the secrecy and expanse of a government that has colluded with Wall Street for big “bailouts” while compiling kill lists for drone hunter/killers.

When Senator Paul took to the Senate floor to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan as Director of the CIA, activists and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum applauded. As Harper’s Magazine observed

The antiwar left saw the filibuster as a challenge to the violence and the innocent dead left in the drone program’s wake. The antigovernment right rallied around Paul’s pointed question about whether a hypothetical Hellfire missile might just leave a crater where your neighborhood Starbucks once stood. Rush Limbaugh called him the future. Code Pink activists brought him boxes of chocolates. #StandWithRand was, for a moment, the most popular Twitter topic on the planet.

But can the popularity last? Can the anti-statist movement shift the Republican Party? Can idealism trump the establishment?

It’s an open question, but one that could hold the future of the Republican Party. For years Republicans have talked a good game, promising less government, then blithely creating programs that expand government’s reach and cost. For example, Medicare Part D, one of the largest expansions of government prior to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) received strong Republican support, including from conservatives like Congressman Denny Hastert and Senator Orrin Hatch.

But not anymore: with continued high unemployment and growth failing to return to pre-recession levels, Americans are starting to question whether a government that promises the world and delivers higher taxes and fewer jobs is a government “for the people.” Obamacare begins to take full effect in 2014, and already businesses are cutting workers hours to part-time levels to avoid providing mandated healthcare. It’s cheaper to pay a financial penalty.

And so, the rise of an idealistic view of government, where the government that serves best is that which weighs on us the least.

Can it work? Will it save the Republican Party?

PoliticIt contributor and creator Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Holladay, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on Twitter as @publiusdb or on his blog where he muses on books, politics and ideas. View additional posts by Daniel, here.

Daniel is currently participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, a month-long quest to post every day. Each day should match a letter of the alphabet. Today is the letter I, as in Idealism.


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