For libertarians, this has been a difficult year. After years of building and preparing, Senator Rand Paul fell short in the Republican presidential primary. Not only did he fall short, but he was barely a blip on the radar in the Iowa caucus vote. In the time since, the alternative proposed by the Libertarian Party is Gary Johnson, who has been criticized by many more harder line libertarians for not being in line with principles. Debates about Johnson aside, there is a clear absence of a staunch libertarian in the race.
The social media response to the first presidential debate by many liberty movement activists lamented the fact that it wasn’t Senator Paul on the stage. Would he have been a better representation of the libertarian philosophy than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Would Senator Paul have delivered a stronger takedown of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton?
It ultimately depends on whether we’re talking about the Rand Paul who originally ran for United States Senate or the Rand Paul who is surrounded by bad advisors with terrible political advice.
When Senator Paul ran for President everyone expected the campaign to go better than it did. This was not a wrong expectation, given the performance of his father in 2012. Former Congressman Ron Paul never compromised his principles and refused to bend to the party establishment, but still took his presidential primary fight to the end. How would his son fare, given he seemed to be better at maneuvering the system and making friends?
As it turns out, that was Senator Paul’s problem. Instead of taking a stand for libertarian principles, he was throwing down standard Republican rhetoric. Instead of taking a stand against an entire field full of pro-war neoconservatives and big government hawks, he decided to become an obsessed Anti-Trump candidate just like everyone else.
In terms of style and identity in the primary, Senator Paul blended in with the guy to his left and to his right. Everyone was running on recycled rhetoric and everyone was running to stop Trump – it wasn’t exactly unique. As a result, Senator Paul didn’t stand out, and that’s why he lost.
So would it have been any different this election cycle if Senator Paul made the debate stage?
Donald Trump may not be the ideal liberty candidate with his embrace of “stop-and-frisk” and his position on whistleblower Edward Snowden, calling him a traitor. But would Senator Rand Paul have been any better? Any candidate must be able to deliver these principles. As a candidate in the Republican presidential primary, he refused to convince us of that. His debate performances were weak and ineffective, refusing to stand defiantly in support of the principles America needs. If anything, his refusal to embrace the message of liberty helped enable the rise of Trump.
Instead of having a conversation about a bombastic loudmouth running for President against Democrat Hillary Clinton, we could’ve had a libertarian speaking out against government surveillance, endless spending, and a constant state of war. Senator Paul, however, blew it. His not being on the debate stage is a direct result of his own terrible primary performance.