The Libertarian Implosion

Few Republican subgroups were harder hit by the rise of Trump than libertarians.


Few Republican subgroups were harder hit by the rise of Trump than libertarians. Not that long ago, the libertarian message had appeared to be equivalent to conservatism. But while small government and deregulation were appealing, the libertarian foreign policy agenda was a disaster. Their romance with the Russian agents of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden didn't help matters any. Libertarians got Republicans to cheer for Rand Paul's drone filibuster, but ranting about drones and the NSA stopped being a viable foreign policy when ISIS began releasing beheading videos.

But the real problems were domestic.

A genuine deregulation focus might have redeemed Congress, but instead it led to inside baseball battles, like the one over the Export-Import Bank which were quite significant to the donor class, but weren't of much interest to the Republican base.

The capper came when the Koch Bros and Norquist allied with Obama and the left to back a pro-crime agenda. Just as Americans became worried by rising crime, libertarians began campaigning on behalf of drug dealers.

And they're still at it.

Non-ideological candidates like Trump and Carson stepped into an intellectual vacuum created when libertarians imploded and took chunk of the conservative movement with them.

The split predated Trump. Few conservatives were enthusiastic about amnesty. Trump picked up an issue that had already become a wedge when Cruz and Walker embraced it, setting them against establishment types like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but also hard core libertarians like Rand Paul, and Koch cronies like Paul Ryan and Rick Perry.

Trump just expanded the split into a larger protectionist position that has libertarians impotently fuming. He picked up chunks of Perot's message and picked up a Republican base that felt abandoned.

The conservative collapse also killed the ideological purity test. But then the purity test had already stopped making sense. Libertarians are currently advocating for drug dealers and illegal alien amnesty. Some are pushing straightforward transnationalism and not on Reason, but in more mainstream conservative outlets. They define this as a "Liberty" agenda, but its appeal is extremely limited at best.

And if ideological purity means drug dealers, illegal aliens and more jobs going to China, plenty of conservatives have decided they don't want any part of it.

Libertarians had their hour, but their embrace of dubious causes made them irrelevant. The movement needs to think hard about how to reengage conservatives again. But there's no sign of that. Instead it's pursuing its alliance with the left in support of freeing drug dealers... a program that has no possible positive outcome either for America or for them.

If the libertarian movement is to reemerge, it needs to take a cue from Trump by thinking about what Americans want rather than about the tenets of their ideology. Because if Trump is successful, they are going to end up buried in the rubble.