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The Liberty Swing Vote

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 [1].

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "The Liberty Swing Vote"

#1 Comment By kim serca On November 13, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

so gop senators got up in texas and arizona – wow, really broadening the map there

and you dont know if paul’s supporters voted romney or not, but the might not have and that might have tipped the balance or not – tks for the scientific analysis

and instead of going after 30m hispanic votes – people from countries with catholic social traditions who see no contradiction between enterprise, hard work, success and proactive welfarist govt – you’ll go for goldbugs, black helicopter spotters, aynrandians, and flat taxers.

love your work. the dems will have the same streak the gop did from 1865-1912

#2 Comment By libertarian jerry On November 14, 2012 @ 2:17 am

It took the Progressives(socialists) over 100 years to get their tax,spend and regulate collectivist society into Law. You can’t expect that edifice to be torn down overnight. With the Republican party electing viable individuals who will chip away at that edifice,over time,maybe some day it will fall of its own weight. In the meantime what a great cause. All those mostly young,enthusiastic and eager Ron Paul supporters holding up the flag of Liberty. Indeed, the Ron Paul supporters who,through the voting process,could help get into position libertarian leaning Republican politicians who could really make a difference to America’s future. Now that would truly be a Republican Revolution.

#3 Comment By Tom On November 14, 2012 @ 9:03 am

“It took the Progressives(socialists) over 100 years to get their tax,spend and regulate collectivist society into Law. You can’t expect that edifice to be torn down overnight. With the Republican party electing viable individuals who will chip away at that edifice,over time,maybe some day it will fall of its own weight. ”
CORRECT, and yes the welfare state like communism, and socialism will fall of its own weight, because they all violate human nature. The more people are given without producing to earn it the less inclined they are to produce and the less productive the society becomes. First each individual has to be productive then the family unit then society.
The Republicans problem is that their greatest source of strength the religious right(neocons) is also their Achilles heel, in that they drive others away who might be inclined to vote for limited government.

#4 Comment By JR On November 14, 2012 @ 9:14 am

Unfortunately for the Libertarians (whose appeal is already very, very limited), when pot is legal in more states, the lure of libertarianism for the young will vanish.

Pot has been the gateway drug for the Libertarians, and that won’t go on forever.

#5 Comment By BobbieMac On November 14, 2012 @ 9:43 am

“Libertarians who would rather shrink government than participate in a debating society will be drawn to more effective political action.”

Well said. In the past, I think the libertarian movement has spent too much time “crying fool” because some movement or personality is or was not ideologically perfect. You cannot pine away for some fantasy that can never exist.

#6 Comment By Amarus Cameron On November 14, 2012 @ 10:22 am

“Pot has been the gateway drug for the Libertarians, and that won’t go on forever.”

I believe you are incorrect, discussion on colelge campuses and with the young working class is not based on pot but rather fiscal realism, and foreign policy that can be sustained and is beneficial for the country in the long term. All of us young folk see the writing on the wall, the people in power now, and our parents will not be footing the bill, we will. That does not sit well when most of the architecture for your country’s fiscal collapse was constructed before you were even born, that is downright criminal but it is also the nature of American politics.

No JR I can tell you that young people are definitely more understanding of what is at stake than you give us credit for.

#7 Comment By Lou On November 14, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

Its really the neocons and the neoliberals that are the problems. They are really neocommunists, neosocialists and neofascists …exports from Europe and Russia and Israel.

Most americans are still true to their roots (even our new Asian and Central/South American immigrants) who want to engage the world through trade and technology but remain outside of empire and war and colonialism.

#8 Comment By Dennis On November 14, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

There is a problem with this being true “But if GOP is truly the party of limited government, libertarian-leaning voters should be low-hanging fruit.”, it is called hypocrisy. There are many positions between those in the Republican platform and those that candidate Romney professed that are blatantly incoherent. I believe Libertarians consistently hold that citizens should be free do lawfully do as they wish, and that the laws put in place should not infringe on this personal liberty unless an overwhelming public policy interest is present. A coherent application of this outlook, for example, would not make a law against the consumption of marijuana, as, even in the face of a public policy health interest, that interest would not overrule the individuals right to do as he pleases with his life. If it does not infringe upon the rights of others it should be legal. Not to mention in this case it is inconsistent to allow alcohol and not marijuana.
Such a viewpoint, coherently applied, would not make a law infringing on a woman’s right to abort the child in her womb. You say the child has a right to life, I do too, once that child can survive on its own outside the mother. If the state is going to force birth, than the state has ‘birthed” a responsibility, equal to the father and mother to care of the child. Libertarians think about the ‘unintended consequences’ of restricting personal liberty. I don’t think we are prepared to take care of all children the state forced be born, are you?
Then there are tax expenditures that influence in one way or another the actions of the free market, I see oil and agricultural subsidies as examples here. Libertarians are coherent, there should be no subsidies interfering with the free market.
Before thinking Libertarians are ‘low hanging fruit’, ponder this; while your putting that fruit in one pocket, agricultural subsidies will be coming out of the other.
The question for the GOP is not to pick or not to pick the fruit, but are the ready to coherently apply freedom?
I think I saw that one in Genesis.

#9 Comment By Rossbach On November 14, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

There are many Republicans (and Republican-leaning Independents) who would like to break Wall Street’s death grip on the Republican Party, but I am not sure that the Libertarians are the ones to do it. While Ron and Rand Paul have done a really excellent job explaining to the American people why they should not support perpetual deficit spending and perpetual warfare, they also need to explain why we should continue to support perpetual outsourcing of American jobs and perpetual mass immigration.

When the Libertarians stop advocating for labor arbitrage masquerading as “free trade” (i.e., seeking absolute competitive advantage in labor costs by shipping US jobs abroad and then importing cheap foreign labor to fill US jobs that cannot yet be exported), then they can ask for the support of Main Street Republicans.

The Republican Party can never end domination by the Wall Street element while it supports the Libertarian principle of “free trade”, a policy that only advances the interests of the robber barons. You can’t credibly claim to be against stealing if you are helping someone else to pick your neighbor’s pocket.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 14, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

Some Ron Paul primary voters cast their ballots Nov. 6 for Barack Obama.

It would be cheating to count myself, because when I voted for Paul in the primary, I knew Obama didn’t need my vote on the Democratic side. I thought Paul was the best of what the Republicans had to offer. But I saw a car parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot, a month before the election, with an Obama-Biden sticker conspicuously pasted over a Ron Paul sticker.

Voters don’t move in blocs. Nobody knows how many of Ross Perot’s 1992 voters would have chosen Bill Clinton if Perot were not in the race. But the number was not insignificant.

#11 Comment By Wink winkler On November 14, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

At the ripe age of 74 I have concluded that Republicans betray liberty. It’s in their genes. They can’t help it. I will vote Libertarian for as long as there is a Libertarian on the ballot. I am nobody’s low hanging fruit. I have been deceived too many times by such as Nixon, Ford, Bush I, and Bush II. Huge amounts of the mess we are in was created by Republican presidents and Republican congresses. I have believed Republican lies for the last time.

#12 Comment By David Sommer On November 14, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

The idea that all Libertarians care about is pot, or that they are paranoids fearing U.N. black helicopter is laughable and a clear example of the type thinking that is alienating younger free thinking voters. If the Republican party is going to focus almost exclusively on abortion then why not change the name to the Anti-Abortion Party and have done with it. Although I am not in favor of abortion, I am inclined to consider any life-form that lives in a parasitic relationship with any human to be at the discretion of the host.
The idea that just like the founding fathers; Libertarians fear that individuals will use the government to try to exert control over the lives of populace, and thus they seek small government and little of no constraint of their personal liberties is true. If you seek a theocracy or christian oligarchy then maybe the bilingual approach is your best bet.
If you seek a reforging of the ideals “life, liberty, and property” then work with you may want to seriously consider the points made by this article. Would it really be such a bad thing to have a stable currency tied to gold, equal taxes across the board (even if it means no deductions), and freedom to live your own life eating, smoking and believing what-ever you like without a government trying to protect you from yourself for your own good?

John Stuart Mill said it best:
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.”

#13 Comment By Adan Rodriguez On November 14, 2012 @ 7:12 pm

The GOP can no longer win without seriously standing up for Individual Liberty, Constitutionally outlined federal government, honest money, and state rights. The future is the Liberty movement.

#14 Comment By Jarnor On November 14, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

Calling a human being with unique DNA a “parasite” is precisely why people won’t go for Libertarian ideas.

Both of the Pauls are pro-life, which is the only position coherent with our Founding Fathers’ commitment to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I will vote for them, but nobody who would murder infants for convenience will ever have my vote.

#15 Comment By Steve Sailer On November 15, 2012 @ 2:15 am

Libertarian-leaning voters tend to be idealistic, civic-minded, and patriotic. Perhaps they aren’t as realistic (or downright cynical) as the facts suggest they ought to be, but the GOP should not go out of its way to alienate them by, say, mistreating their heroes at the convention.

#16 Comment By Andrew Bissell On November 15, 2012 @ 2:57 am

“Unfortunately for the Libertarians (whose appeal is already very, very limited), when pot is legal in more states, the lure of libertarianism for the young will vanish.”

As long as both major parties and vast swathes of the “Serious People” contingents of both liberalism and conservatism continue to support an interventionist foreign policy, bailouts & corporate welfare, and a raft of other meddlesome policies meant to socially engineer us all into better citizens, I think libertarianism will continue to do just fine.

Besides, after pot is legalized, there’s still mushrooms, cocaine, heroin, meth …. The drug issue still has plenty of gas in the tank left for libertarians.

#17 Comment By JR On November 15, 2012 @ 9:57 am

David Sommer–I didn’t say that ALL Libertarians care about is pot or anything else–although for many college age “Libertarians” pot is clearly the draw.

The problem of Libertarianism is the kooky, disturbing and racist views of some of the most famous proponents: see Ron Paul.

You’ll never get anywhere with cranks like him.

#18 Comment By Don Yarish On November 15, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

I am a Pro Life Libertarian like Ron Paul. Libertarianism limits government to protecting from harm individuals and property. A baby in the womb is a person entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness like the rest of us. Laws against murder are Libertarian.

By the way JR, Ron Paul is not a racist and most college kids who supported Dr. Paul are more interested in Austrian economics rather than pot. Pot is no better or worse than alcohol not sure why that is such a bugaboo for your ilk. But I suppose Austrian economics which predicted all the financial turmoil correctly is crackpot stuff as well even though it guided the US to success all the way until 1913, then well Keynes guided us to ruin.

#19 Comment By indyconservative On November 16, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

I think part of the problem is that the Republican party is not libertarian in character, has not been for a long time. On social matters (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) it is decidedly authoritarian, believes in using political means to accomplish moral ends. For economic libertarians such as myself this has forced us into an uncomfortable choice, namely, do I stomach social authoritarianism in the name of economic libertarianism, or do I do the reverse and vote Democratic. Not a happy choice, but then if Republicans want the libertarian vote they will need to decide whether or not they really want the social conservatives to have as large of a voice as they do today.

#20 Comment By Paul T On November 16, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

If you are counting upon libertarianism to save the GOP, perhaps you should reconsider your hopes. In fact, your thinking might be clarified by reading about the “nonaggression axiom”, as Rothbard put it in For a New Liberty. This axiom doesn’t leave any room for ethical double standards when practicing statism, a religion, yet only by double standards can Republicans and their statist allies of other parties rationalize old tricks, such as robbery, by which government is maintained.

So, what does the GOP offer the libertarian, i.e. the liberal, during every election cycle? The Republican says to the liberal, ‘vote for me, and I’ll set you free from crime that I’ll organize better than the other guy’. The Republican says also, ‘join me in a debating society that was set up under the rubric of law and order and that is carried on to hide the fraud and aggression intrinsic to any monopolistic government. Together we will secure the blessings of liberty!’

In response to that scam artist, that disingenuous purveyor of a hoax, the liberal says ‘I’d prefer not to. Now get lost’.

#21 Comment By indyconservative On November 16, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

I went ahead and read it, per your advice. Very creative, although I would say the critics are right to state that there are limits to the philosophy. Political philosophies are seldom absolute (especially successful ones), but they convey a sense of priories. Some might describe this as creating a double standard, but that is because they are viewing things in isolation, not in our real world of conflicted priorities and values. Not to say double standards don’t exist today (many libertarians tend to be selectively libertarian and self-interested), but that is not necessarily the case. And of course you have to worry about the slippery slope when your philosophy is no longer pure (basically part of your argument), but that is always one of the central issues in politics and their philosophies – where do you draw the line at which point other values matter more.

The real issue is not whether libertarianism is achievable in its absolute form, it is whether the Republican party can have more libertarian social values. To oversimplify a bit, the question is whether the contest in the future is between those who want less government and those who want more, clearly not today’s contest. I tend to believe that as long as the Republican party is conflicted in this area they will not succeed in either the economic or social spheres, and instead will continue to cede ground to Democratic ideals one step at a time or lose/fail to gain political power. Such is the price of the current alliance, of allowing contradiction in your philosophy of government in order to gain short-term political advantage.

#22 Comment By Mugwump On November 20, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

Although a social libertarian and a fiscal conservative, the GOP has not presented either a presidential or senatorial candidate (in my home state of Ohio) committed to either of my interests. On the social side, the GOP is prepared to use the Constitution to mandate whom I can marry, what I can do with my body, who my god should be, etc. On the fiscal side, the GOP advocates for big business not for a conservative fiscal paradigm that addresses the means of commerce, taxation, the environment, health care, etc. So, true to the Mugwump moniker, I vote for Democrats, who fail me on the fiscal side but are far more libertarian on the social side. A registered Republican, I look forward to the day that I can return to the party.