Yesterday brought news than many libertarians long thought was inevitable, but nonetheless wished wouldn’t happen – Rand Paul decided to give up his presidential ambitions. With Rand’s departure, there is no significantly libertarian candidate in the race. There are a couple others who have shown libertarian tendencies, but none of them were as clear about expressing it as Senator Paul. His removal from the race makes it hard for any libertarian to know who to support, if anyone.
First of all, to be sure, Rand is not a pure libertarian by any stretch, and became even less so in trying to win the nomination. He is definitely on the non-interventionist end on foreign policy, but in recent months has put forth very restrictionist views on immigration and has in general taken more hawkish stands than he ever did as a senator. Many of his long-time supporters, including myself, hated this pandering and saw it as selling out in order to pander to voters who, in all honesty, he never could win over. Rand did not run a great campaign in general, and this cycle turned out to be particularly hard for him to really stand out in.
But for all his flaws, Rand was the only candidate offering a real possibility at moving the needle. A President Paul would almost surely be less eager to intervene abroad, less eager to use the cudgel of government to force his will on the people, and more willing to adhere to the Constitution. He wouldn’t be perfect, but he’d be 1000 times better than anyone else running. If elected Dr. Paul would be a good ally for the goals of criminal justice reform and ending the War on Drugs. There would be letdowns, sure, but it would be a sizable improvement.
Without Senator Paul, there are scant options left in the main parties. The only two candidates remotely supportable by libertarians, in my view, are Ted Cruz in the GOP and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. These two could not be farther apart on most issues, but both have some appeal. I can see former Paul backers going into either camp.
Cruz at least SOUNDS libertarian on some issues, even if many of his positions then go on to reveal egregiously un-libertarian tendencies (carpet bombing, for example). The biggest problem with Cruz is in his authenticity. It’s clear he is willing to lie, almost pathologically. And his social views are utterly terrifying. The best term I’ve seen for Ted Cruz is “Christian nationalist”. It’s clear Cruz thinks very little of non-Christians and would very likely favor discriminatory policies in office. Cruz at least would be better than others on privacy issues, and somewhat better on foreign policy, but again no one knows if anything he says is even true or how he really would act.
Bernie Sanders seems an odd choice for libertarians, given his claim of being a socialist. I’ve gotten more than a little guff from other libertarians when I suggest Bernie is not a terrible option. Clearly, many of Sanders’ views are utterly anti-libertarian – ultra high taxes, wealth redistribution, attacking free speech, government healthcare, and in general massively increasing the size and scope of government. But on other issues, he is far better than Hillary or anyone remaining in the GOP. He is very willing to discuss criminal justice reform. He is not a reflexive hawk and seems less eager to invade other countries. He voted against the Iraq War. And he’s, at least historically, decent on civil liberties and gun rights.
In truth, I think it really depends on where you fall in the libertarian world. Clearly, a “conservatarian” or right-libertarian is going to favor Cruz. Left-libertarians and those more worried about civil liberties and non-interventionism will be tempted by Bernie. Personally, I’m much more of the latter. The biggest issues to me now are criminal justice reform (specifically, ending the War on Drugs), ending mass surveillance, and preventing wars with Iran, Russia, and whoever else is the enemy of the day. Bernie’s better on all of those things. In addition, the things that Bernie is most noxious on also are those things he is least likely to get through Congress, especially if the GOP retains the Senate.
There are, of course, also the options of supporting a third party candidate like Gary Johnson, or not voting. Both are possibilities. Clearly, if it comes down to Hillary against Rubio or Trump, that’s the only option. No libertarian could ever support any of them. And since that seems like a likely scenario, I’d bet my money on once again filling the dot for Gary Johnson and hoping that the next four years will be less awful than feared. Libertarians really don’t have a great option without Paul, so I don’t think there is any one obvious path to take. For another cycle, we’re left without a standard-bearer who can really start to change things.
This doesn’t mean 2016 is a total failure or that there is nothing that can be done. There will be referenda and ballot initiatives, as well as other elections. It would be foolish to see failure in the Presidential race as a total defeat. Progress is being made in many other areas, and views are changing. We need to keep on fighting for change even if it’s on “smaller” issues or scales. So no one should be getting too upset about Paul leaving the race. He was only one element in an ongoing, generations-long battle we all must be committed to fighting.