It was a disappointing election for Republicans—but not all Republicans.
Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, an emerging “Dr. No” in the House, was re-elected by a comfortable margin. In a neighboring congressional district, Kerry Bentivolio won a full term, succeeding Thad McCotter. Rand Paul ally Thomas Massie was elected to replace retired Kentucky Rep. Geoff Davis.
Groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus were pleased by the election of Ted Yoho in Florida. Yoho defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns in the GOP primary earlier this year. Steve Stockman, a one-and-done veteran of the ’94 elections, returned to Congress as the representative of Texas’s newly drawn 36th district.
The “liberty movement” also backed the successful Senate candidacies of Ted Cruz in Texas and Jeff Flake in Arizona. Flake was a rare House Republican who voted against the Medicare prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, and the Wall Street bailout. Cruz’s opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act and calls to eliminate the TSA won him the endorsements of Ron and Rand Paul.
That’s not even counting the re-election of longtime stalwarts like Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee. Overall, Ron Paul Republicans—and other conservative GOP politicos who actively sought libertarian support—did better than the party as a whole.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney hemorrhaged libertarian support in his failed presidential campaign. Neither Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” nor Barack Obama’s record could prevent small-government defections from the Republican ticket.
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson received more than 1.1 million votes, a record for the perennially ineffective third party. Not all of them came at Romney’s expense. But an analysis posted at the Daily Paul found that Ron Paul’s 2012 primary vote total was greater than Obama’s margin of victory over Romney in four key battleground states—New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.
It is impossible to know from these numbers whether Paul primary voters cast their ballots for Romney, Johnson, some other candidate or stayed home. But if Romney had won those four states, he would have reached 270 electoral votes.
Johnson may not have cost Romney the election—Obama won an absolute majority of the popular vote nationally and in the swing states. But having won 48 percent of the vote, Romney could have certainly used his supporters.
After losing the presidential election and several winnable Senate races, there has been no shortage of stories about the votes Republicans need if they are to turn their fortunes around: young people, single women, Hispanics. But if GOP is truly the party of limited government, libertarian-leaning voters should be low-hanging fruit.
It goes both ways. As a third-party candidate, Gary Johnson was considered a relative success by winning close to 1 percent of the vote. As a Republican, he won two terms as governor of New Mexico—and might have been a competitive Senate candidate this year. The last Libertarian presidential candidate to finish third in the popular vote was Ron Paul in 1988. As a Republican, Paul was elected to Congress 12 times.
Come January, there will be a Paulite caucus several members strong within the Republican congressional ranks. There will be libertarians on Capitol Hill, but none will have been elected on the Libertarian Party ticket.
Yet the two strategies may not be mutually exclusive. For years, libertarians have squandered money and organization on fruitless third-party efforts. The religious right, by contrast, has gained a foothold in the Republican Party, but has been less successful in using the GOP than being used by it.
Libertarians and small-government conservatives can work within the Republican Party to elect like-minded candidates, such as Rand Paul and Justin Amash. They can build coalitions with more conventional Republicans who work to gain their support. But they don’t have to take whatever the party gives them.
Call it the liberty swing vote.
Many Republicans would rather win with the help of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson voters than lose with the architects of Romneycare and the Iraq War. Libertarians who would rather shrink government than participate in a debating society will be drawn to more effective political action.
That would be a real Republican revolution.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a contributing editor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.