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Topic: Gary Johnson

Rand Paul’s Utopian Realism and 2016

Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

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Rarely is foreign policy decisive in a presidential election, and so it is that much less a factor in congressional midterms. The Iraq war provided an exception to this, both in George W. Bush’s second midterms and in Barack Obama’s election two years later. And although they have not resurfaced to quite that extent, foreign policy was still quite relevant to this week’s midterm elections, with implications for those seeking the presidency in 2016.

At Bloomberg View, Lanhee Chen (a top advisor to Mitt Romney) writes that foreign policy helped Republicans win over Asian-American voters on Tuesday. Chen looks at the exit polls, and notes that while “one should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a sample of just 129 Asian respondents, the marked emphasis on foreign policy among these voters is still noteworthy – and outside the margin of error for the poll.”

And at the Daily Beast Eli Lake goes into detail on how the Republican wave, and specifically its takeover of the Senate majority, could impact American foreign policy going forward. Republicans elected young, promising hawks like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, and more importantly the GOP will take the chairmanships of the foreign-policy related Senate committees. “You could call it the neoconservatives’ revenge or the year of the hawks,” Lake writes. “But it has produced an interesting moment in Washington, where even the dovish side of the Republican Party now acknowledges the midterms were a win for their party’s American exceptionalists.”

One person who wasn’t happy was Ron Paul, who tweeted his wild apocalyptic take on the election. And one person who could not have been happy about that tweet was Paul’s son, Rand, who plans to run for president and therefore would benefit from his father declining to set his hair on fire in public every time a Republican says something nice about America’s role in the world.

More substantively, however, it raises the question of whether the midterms produced a wave Paul can ride to his party’s nomination or one that washed him out of contention. Paul has noticed that what appeared to be a noninterventionist moment in the GOP has not solidified into a major shift in conservative foreign-policy circles. And so it was Paul who has shifted.

At first that shift was mainly one of tone, and I am sympathetic to those who felt that this shift was being exaggerated by hawks who wanted to portray Paul as someone who decided that he couldn’t beat them so he joined them. But with Paul’s speech to the annual dinner of the Center for the National Interest, it’s clear Paul wants to be seen as shifting more than his tone. The key part of the speech was this:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

President Obama claims that al Qaeda is decimated.  But a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.

Prosecuting the war on terror is far more consequential than standing athwart hypothetical ground invasions. The war on terror is far more relevant to America’s day-to-day security maintenance because it involves the prevention of the multitude of threats to the American homeland. It’s also significant because of the noninterventionists’ much-feared renewed land war in the Middle East.

The possibility of putting “boots on the ground”–or additional boots on the ground, depending on how you look at it–in Iraq and elsewhere is not because America is interested in toppling the Iraqi government but in preserving it. The entity threatening to bring down allied governments is the network of Islamist terrorists, in this case specifically ISIS. The global war on terror, then, can be just as much about preventing additional land wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rand Paul seems to understand this, if his speech is any indication. His supporters, especially his libertarian supporters who are once again looking to Gary Johnson, won’t like it. Others will, as James Poulos seeks to over at the Federalist, reimagine Paul’s limited policy aims as a broad and grand and ocean-deep set of assumptions about human nature. Aside from the unfortunate (but common) false characterizations about neoconservatives, Poulos interprets Rand Paul’s foreign policy as no less a utopian scheme than the strains of conservative foreign policy Poulos says Paul rejects. Elsewhere, Poulos credits Paul with ideas that neoconservatives have long been championing, such as the underestimated role of corruption in global affairs.

Suddenly, Paul’s unique approach to American foreign policy relies on nuance to even tell it apart from the status quo. That’s because Paul can read the polls, and he’s been watching the electorate he hopes to lead. One wonders, then, whether what will ultimately undo Paul is that he will have convinced his once-ardent supporters that he’s left their camp while failing to convince those who doubted him all along.

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Rand Paul, Gary Johnson, and Libertarians in the GOP

Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

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Rand Paul’s filibuster has already taken on legendary status and been championed as a libertarian challenge to the Republican Party’s conservative establishment. But what is often ignored is how much of a challenge it was to Paul’s own libertarian following. Paul’s triumph was by its own success also a keen declaration of libertarian failure. To understand why, you’d have to have noticed a tweet in support of Paul that came at nearly 9 p.m., toward the tail end of the filibuster. Using the #StandWithRand hashtag, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson tweeted the following:

garyjohnson

Johnson has close to 117,000 Twitter followers, and that tweet was retweeted almost 3,000 times. Yet I wonder how many noticed the irony. Johnson’s Twitter biography reads: “I am the Honorary Chairman of the Our America Initiative, two-term Governor of New Mexico, and was the 2012 Libertarian candidate for President.” It is that last part that tells the story of how Rand Paul is changing conservative politics.

Johnson ran as a third-party candidate for president, against the GOP after first attempting to win the GOP nomination and being generally ignored. But Johnson had another option in 2012: instead of running for president as a third party to take away votes from the Republican ticket, he could have run for Senate in his home state of New Mexico. Johnson was a popular two-term governor of the state and there was an open seat in the 2012 elections, which the Democratic candidate won. In 2011, Johnson was asked by a libertarian blogger why he wouldn’t consider running for the Senate seat. Here is that blogger’s write-up of the response:

Gary told me he would not consider making a Senate bid because he considers the role of Senators to “shoulder up to the trough” and bring home money to their constituents. He says they’re part of the problem, and that he doesn’t think he can make a difference in that position like he could as president.

Paul effectively proved him wrong. Johnson is marginalized now instead of possibly having been able to join Paul in his filibuster from the Senate floor. Not only is Paul a leading libertarian voice in the Senate on an array of issues on which he doesn’t hesitate to challenge party leadership, but he is also considered a frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That is, it would not be shocking for this libertarian contrarian to be crowned as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer three years from now.

Working within the GOP is the surest way for libertarians to influence national policy and politics. That may sound obvious–and it should. The GOP may not have a spotless record on libertarian issues, but of the two major parties it is the only place for someone like Rand Paul, who is a pro-life libertarian. Liberals consider such a politician to be at once a raging theocrat and Ayn Randian anarchist-lite. Rand Paul’s very existence is a source of horror and confusion to most Democrats. And a Senator Gary Johnson would have been justly welcomed by the national GOP. Indeed, Johnson’s–and other libertarians’–insistence on the White House as the only path to power in American politics shows he has fallen prey to what libertarians themselves rightly call the “cult of the presidency.”

Just before November’s presidential election, libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the creation of the Libertarian Party was a mistake. He made the correct point that Libertarian Party voters only make it more likely that a Democrat will be elected, and that since the Republicans have more in common with libertarians, the latter’s success will mean pro-libertarian policies become less likely. I find idealism, especially in Washington, to be an often-admirable antidote to modern political cynicism, but libertarians of all people should have a handle on the real-world unintended consequences of quixotic political action.

In his latest column, James Antle points out the extent to which attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference–not necessarily representative of the GOP overall but certainly a barometer of grassroots enthusiasm–agreed with Rand Paul on a whole host of issues. Paul seems to have reminded libertarians of a basic rule of politics: you can, and must, win the argument. Antle makes a key point when he writes:

It’s easy to see how this libertarian moment could be undone: elect a sufficiently hawkish Republican president and much of this sentiment on the right could recede. It’s also possible that this wing of the party tries to rise too fast for its own good. If Justin Amash were to run for Michigan’s open Senate seat next year and lose, followed by Rand Paul pushing forward with a competitive but unsuccessful presidential campaign rather than running for senate reelection in 2016, the movement could be without its two most prominent elected leaders.

There still may be a ceiling over the heads of libertarians in the GOP, which is staunchly pro-life and generally socially conservative, not to mention more hawkish on foreign affairs than Rand Paul (and much more so than his father’s legion of followers). That’s to the GOP’s credit. But if libertarians want influence in the party and on the national stage, they’ll need to work to elect libertarian voices to offices besides the presidency. Just ask Gary Johnson.

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Did the GOP Really Leave Gary Johnson?

When libertarians (and Libertarians) object that despite the popularity of some of their causes they are not taken seriously as a voting constituency by the two major American parties, it’s easy to see where they’re coming from. Republicans and Democrats seem to hate the TSA’s invasive and pervasive screening process; opposition to the drug war is growing in both camps; and the popularity of gay marriage on the left and opposition to Obamacare on the right would seem to remind voters on both sides of the political divides of their libertarian streaks.

Yet they are unloved. Instead of finding the Koch brothers convenient allies given their social libertarianism and dedication to funding the arts, the left has turned the Kochs into the villains of the election cycle, offering some of the most ignorant and self-defeating politics of personal destruction in years. And now Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, claims to be shut out by the GOP and feels that his voice has been trampled by Republicans who fear he could cut into Mitt Romney’s vote share in several key states. The New York Times reports:

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When libertarians (and Libertarians) object that despite the popularity of some of their causes they are not taken seriously as a voting constituency by the two major American parties, it’s easy to see where they’re coming from. Republicans and Democrats seem to hate the TSA’s invasive and pervasive screening process; opposition to the drug war is growing in both camps; and the popularity of gay marriage on the left and opposition to Obamacare on the right would seem to remind voters on both sides of the political divides of their libertarian streaks.

Yet they are unloved. Instead of finding the Koch brothers convenient allies given their social libertarianism and dedication to funding the arts, the left has turned the Kochs into the villains of the election cycle, offering some of the most ignorant and self-defeating politics of personal destruction in years. And now Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, claims to be shut out by the GOP and feels that his voice has been trampled by Republicans who fear he could cut into Mitt Romney’s vote share in several key states. The New York Times reports:

Both sides agree that Mr. Johnson, whose pro-marijuana legalization and antiwar stances may appeal to the youth vote and whose antigovernment, anti-spending proposals may appeal to conservative fiscal hawks — and to supporters of Mr. Paul — has the potential to draw from both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama….

The Republican efforts to impede Mr. Johnson’s candidacy have drawn charges of spying and coercion from Libertarians and countercharges from Republicans that the party had resorted to fraud while accepting secret help from Democrats.

That suggests that both sides think Johnson would hurt Romney more than Obama. Yet on the domestic front, Obama has given libertarians nothing but Obamacare-style policy and Solyndra-style crony capitalism, and on foreign affairs he has expanded virtually everything libertarians claimed to hate about George W. Bush’s national security policies. So why would Johnson cut into Romney’s vote instead of Obama’s? On paper it wouldn’t seem to make sense, until you consider the fact that Johnson actually branded himself, throughout his political career, as a Republican.

In an interview last month with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Johnson–who served as governor of New Mexico as a Republican–was asked why he left the GOP after running for president initially as a Republican. He said he was able to participate in two primary debates before the party abandoned and excluded him. He continued:

We requested of the RNC (Republican National Committee) that they step in and demand they give us a seat at the table; otherwise, the Republican Party is being dictated to by the media. The party would have nothing to do with helping me out. That was the Republican Party leaving me, not me leaving the Republican Party.

I’m sure there’s a case to be made that more than the dozen candidates invited to the debates was warranted, but is it really the Republican Party’s job to be “helping [Johnson] out”? It was no surprise that Johnson was going to run as a Libertarian candidate if he couldn’t gain traction in the GOP primaries. But there’s another Republican who is also a libertarian, but never dropped the party: Ron Paul. Paul didn’t need the GOP to be “helping [him] out”–he put in his time, over many years, as an elected Republican official, built a following, and leveraged that following into a movement that made itself heard in the party and kept Paul in the GOP primary debates through the new year and right to the end of the debate season.

Paul made a couple of strong showings in some states–mostly in caucus and open-primary states where ground game mattered and Democrats were permitted to vote in the GOP contests–and in February he joined Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum in the final four candidates’ debates. Paul was the only one on stage that remotely resembled a libertarian, and it seemed he had national appeal as well. One poll conducted by CNN in January found Paul keeping pace with Obama in a head-to-head race.

Of course, Paul had his drawbacks, notably the racist newsletters published in his name and from which he seemed to profit for many years, 9/11 truthers, and his ability to attract crackpots and Jew-baiters like moths to a flame. This earned him a weirdly crossover appeal, as his approval rating among Democrats shot up after the revelations of the racist newsletters, and his attitude toward Israel always attracted leftists and Occupy Wall Street types fretting about “Jewish bankers.”

All of this is to say that Johnson has much less baggage than Paul, but also much less of a following. That’s not really the GOP’s fault–a more libertarian candidate than Johnson was able to thrive in the GOP, and Ron Paul’s son, Rand, has quite a following as well. While the Tea Party isn’t strictly libertarian, it was an indication that libertarian distrust of big government still has a home in the GOP. Johnson’s political success has come as a Republican. He’s free to run as a Libertarian, but in doing so, he very publicly and unequivocally is leaving the GOP—the party that facilitated his political career—not the other way around.

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