I’ve always had a pet theory about when the long-awaited “libertarian moment” would happen. There would be a tipping point of sorts. Governmental debt, the logical victory of civil liberties arguments. and a general realization that the American prison-industrial complex was too bloated, inefficient, and corrupt would converge to bring about some common-sense solutions to what is currently called “mass incarceration.”
My heart tells me that eventually could happen. My head wonders, meanwhile, from where viable proponents for true libertarianism will manifest. In 2016, as with every election cycle for the last few decades, libertarians both nationally and in the Sunshine State find their arguments unable to gain traction, in no small part because of their champions.
Exhibit A, who arguably should come with a caveat: Kentucky U.S. Sen. and soon-to-be-former Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul.
Paul is in the doldrums, a mild surprise to some who thought that his willingness to talk about the failures of the war on drugs and racial disparities in prison populations would give him a unique position in the crowded Republican field. Paul had sought to triangulate between the so-called paleo-libertarians that made up his father’s base, while reaching out to traditional Republicans with policies he famously described as “libertarian-ish.”
In attempting to build a bridge between two disparate groups, Paul took a risk, and ended up creating a position that satisfied neither constituency. The former fans of the Ron Paul Survival Report newsletter think he’s soft; the traditional Republicans think he’s an unprincipled wackjob in search of his next filibuster.
There are open questions now about how long Paul will be in the race, open questions about his campaign fundraising, and an open revolt from the Super PAC side.
“I have stopped raising money for him until I see the campaign correct its problems,” said PurplePAC head Ed Crane to Politico. “I wasn’t going to raise money to spend on a futile crusade.”
Crane, a founder of the Cato Institute and one of the progenitors of 20th century libertarianism, understands the fusionist approach Paul advocates. He understands, also, that it has been a non-starter this campaign season, effectively setting back libertarianism in the national conversation for yet another few years.
Of course, Sen. Paul can take heart. He likely will just run for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky again, and life will go on. Florida’s libertarians could use a senatorial candidate as electable as Paul. Instead, what have they gotten so far?
In his hilarious article about the Invictus campaign last week in Politico, Marc Caputo notes that the candidate’s “adopted name” means something like “Invincible Sun Emperor.”
It also means something like “another embarrassment for the Libertarian Party.”
Invictus has gotten some “earned media” during his campaign for his willingness to say things that most rational people running for office might not say.
Things like “I am a war machine engineered for higher worlds, and I would make each and every one of you a weapon…You want freedom? Prepare for war.”
And complaints like saying the federal government “has abandoned its eugenics programs & elitist mindset in favor of a decadent ideology that rejects the beauty of strength and demands the exponential growth of the weakest, the least intelligent, and the most diseased.”
Is Invictus the product of an Ayn Rand Random Meme Generator? He’s an acolyte of Aleister Crowley, who freely admits to a past penchant for animal sacrifice, and much of the discussion of Invictus up until the last week has been of the “is this for real” variety.
Now for at least one prominent Florida libertarian, it’s too real.
Invictus so appalled Adrian Wyllie, the chair of the Florida Libertarian Party and 2014 Libertarian candidate for governor, that Wyllie gave up the chair.
Of course, Wyllie isn’t exactly an exponent of policy moderation himself. Best known for his quixotic crusade against the Real ID Act, he doesn’t seem to have much of an affirmative way to extend the libertarian brand beyond its current “single white loner males with guns” base.
As Wyllie told me during his campaign, after I asked him how he was going to bring the libertarian message to minority voters, he said it was a “tough sell to the minority community” as “certain groups seem more suspicious” of “liberty” than others.
In news that is perhaps completely unrelated to the Invictus/Wyllie war, Marc Caputo mentioned in Politico that Roger Stone, whose relationship with Donald Trump has been interesting in recent months, is being touted as a potential opponent for Invictus. Which should at least make for some interesting quotes.
And quotes are great… especially for deadline journalists. For those who might be hoping against hope that libertarians somehow find a way to make their long-standing policy prescriptions part of the mainstream discourse, however, it’s clearly not part of the discussion in any meaningful way in the 2016 election cycle.