By Kenneth Casey | United States
On August 7th, former Libertarian Presidential Candidate Austin Petersen was defeated in his attempt to receive the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri. Establishment Republican-backed Josh Hawley came out victorious as Petersen finished a distant third. Petersen’s defeat added onto what has already been a very tough year for libertarian Republicans.
To start off with incumbents, three out of the thirteen Republicans in the libertarian-leaning House Liberty Caucus chaired by Justin Amash will not be returning to Washington at the end of the 115th Congress. The sole Democrat in the caucus is running for re-election. Idaho’s Raul Labrador decided to give up his seat for an unsuccessful run for governor. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee has decided to retire at the end of his term. Duncan is the lone remaining Republican to vote against the invasion of Iraq in 2002. Lastly, Mark Sanford of South Carolina lost in a primary to a Trump-endorsed candidate. for not being “loyal enough” to the president.
For newcomers, Shane Hazel was unsuccessful in his attempt to primary an establishment Republican in Georgia’s 7th congressional district by campaigning on the cause of freedom and limited government. Nick Freitas, the staunch libertarian Republican from Virginia, narrowly lost his primary to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate of Virginia to Corey Stewart, a nationalist who happens to be a hard-core Trump supporter.
The one victory I see from a libertarian Republican newcomer is held by Maine’s Eric Brakey, who won his primary to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. However, he was uncontested in the primary.
With the departure of a few of the most liberty-leaning incumbents of House and defeat of other liberty-friendly Republicans, 2018 is not looking like it’ll be a good year for the libertarian wing of the Republican Party that went under significant growth after Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Why is this?
There are a couple things you can point to as reasoning of libertarians not being so successful in the GOP this year. The first one is obvious, that the establishment of the Republican Party is not interested in helping libertarian Republicans get elected. Even when the only two libertarian-leaning members of the Senate, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, were first elected, they faced huge opposition from the establishment and had to rely on grassroots support. But the establishment of the party has always opposed candidates who were more liberty-minded and favored limited government. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
In my mind, the biggest reason as to why libertarian Republicans haven’t succeeded in the Republican Party so far this year is the rising influence of populist and nationalist thought within the GOP which has grown in the age of Trump. Although not all of Trump’s policies have fully embraced represented the growth of those ideas within the party, some policies and some of his rhetoric have helped the rise. Specifically speaking, his calls for protectionism in trade and anti-immigrant rhetoric to go along with the support of spending bills such as the $1.3 Trillion Omnibus Budget has increased popularity for such policies within the party. Because of this, many candidates running under the Republican Party banner this year have embraced Trump’s positions on these issues and those who do not usually find themselves being declared an enemy of the president’s politics to many of his supporters and in many, it ends up hurting their chances of winning within the GOP.
As mentioned above, libertarian ideologues who make the decision to run under the Republican Party are always seen as non-establishment candidates, and usually face challenges from the more mainstream, establishment faction of the Republican Party. In the last four election cycles, candidates labeled as non-establishment within the party usually earned the label by being more libertarian in ideology and by being supportive of limited government and acknowledging the government getting bigger is caused by both Democrats and Republicans.
In this year’s midterms, it seems as if the definition for a non-establishment Republican has shifted – more and more candidates labeled non-establishment are named as such because they rail against the establishment by supporting right-wing populist policies in contrast to the mainstream ideology of the Republican establishment.
This has left libertarians politically homeless within the Republican Party – as both right-wing populists and establishment-friendly Republicans are vastly unlike and don’t represent libertarianism well whatsoever.
Maybe the Republican Party was never interested in liberty when they elected libertarian Republicans such as Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and Rand Paul. Massie expressed similar beliefs in comments to the Washington Examiner back in March of 2017: “All this time, I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race.”
Massie’s comments seem very true at this point in time, it appears as if Libertarian Republicans have not been successful in this year’s midterms because the “craziest son of a bitches” in Republican primaries this year have not been libertarians in the age of Trump.
Despite this, I am confident the liberty movement will be long-lived even in times of trouble. But this does leave the age-old question open as to whether libertarian ideologues should even bother running in the Republican Party if they can only win when they’re considered the craziest candidates in the race.
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