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Title: Hey, Tooconservative And Other Libertarians, Maybe Republicans Just Aren’t That Into Your Libertarianism [Appropriately Modified Title]
Source: Reason
URL Source: https://reason.com/blog/2018/06/13/ ... tarians-maybe-republicans-just
Published: Jun 13, 2018
Author: Matt Welch
Post Date: 2018-06-28 22:50:40 by Gatlin
Keywords: None
Views: 1544
Comments: 29

June 12 was not a good day for free-market constitutionalism in the modern GOP.

Libertarian-leaning Republican congressman Mark Sanford got primaried in South Carolina last night by immigration hawk and late-breaking Donald Trump endorsee Katie Harrington, whose main line of attack on Sanford was that he was disloyal to Trump. But that was just one event in a day unusually swollen with reminders that the modern GOP at the national level is not welcoming to libertarian ideas.

Take two issues that we've been banging on about at Reason for years: tariffs, and Congress's paralytic fear of doing even its minimal constitutional duty. In a remarkable speech yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is retiring at the end of his term this year, combined the two issues in a damning indictment of his colleagues' cowardice. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Corker charged, blocks all amendments—including one Corker introduced last week requiring congressional approval for "national security" tariffs—because "Well gosh, we might poke the bear" (meaning the president). Watch:

Not to be overly tautological, but it's difficult for even the most libertarian-leaning legislators to get meaningful stuff done if they are prevented from legislating.

Then there was the defeat last night of liberty-movement Republican Nick Freitas in the Virginia GOP primary for U.S. Senate at the hands of Confederate monument enthusiast and recent Paul Nehlen fan Corey Stewart, who is fond of saying stuff like "I was Trump before Trump was Trump" and tweeting jibber-jabber like this:

All of the above was enough for Daniel McCarthy to write the latest version of "How Donald Trump eclipsed the 'libertarian moment.'" McCarthy's grim conclusion: "The revolution begun by Trump in 2016 is continuing at the state and congressional levels. And the Ron Paul revolution begun by Senator Paul's father now seems marginal, if not utterly defeated—a remarkable reversal of fortune from just four years ago."

Politicians respond to incentives, and right now the imperative Republican incentive is to kiss Donald Trump's ring. Less than 15 months ago, Trump was warning that "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Last night, as one Freedom Caucus incumbent lost to a Trump-backed challenger and a Rand Paul–backed Senate candidate lost to a #MAGA nationalist, Freedom Caucus stalwarts Reps. Mark Meadows (R–N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) went on Laura Ingraham's Fox News program not to sulk but to talk about possibly impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his role in overseeing the Mueller investigation. They have gotten on the team.

Libertarian policy goals will still sometimes be met under Trump, some of them intentionally, some not. He will continue deregulating and appointing some good judges, may yet contribute to genuine peace on the Korean peninsula, and has proven surprisingly malleable on marijuana enforcement and prison reform. But as an organizing body, particularly anywhere near the levers of federal power, the GOP is an increasingly unreliable ally to libertarians.

Daniel McCarthy, in his essay, provides some interesting food for thought about the unsatisfying-to-many penchant among libertarians for calling balls and strikes in a more emotional age of with-us-or-against-us polarization:

The other great issue at the libertarians' disposal, smaller government, simply never mattered in the ways they thought it did. Anti-government sentiment was most powerful with Republican voters as an expression of anti-elitism and resistance to a government run by a liberal Democrat like Barack Obama. Emphasizing cutting government on principle, as libertarians did, would never be as effective as emphasizing fighting the liberals, with or without shrinking the state. Trump was not the most anti-government candidate, but he was the most anti-left. The libertarian position, by contrast with Trump, seemed like just a more thoroughgoing version of what every other supposedly conservative Republican believed about cutting government....

Urgency matters in politics, and Trump is a master of creating a sense of urgency in both his supporters and his opponents—as Michael Anton's "Flight 93" essay and the left's continual cries of "authoritarianism!" have shown. Ron Paul did create a sense of urgency in his campaigns, largely by capitalizing on powerful issues that had been ignored by the establishment in both parties, such as disastrous wars with bipartisan support and the mysteries of the Federal Reserve. The elder Paul said a further financial meltdown was imminent. But Trump outflanked the libertarian line in this respect as well. And today the most urgent question in American politics, the one that quickens pulses the most, is simply whether you are for or against Trump. Mark Sanford has said he's not really anti-Trump, but that he simply applies to Trump the standards that derive from his libertarian-ish principles. If those standards lead to a good grade for Trump, Sanford is happy to apply it. If not, then not. But his kind of abstraction and fixity, whatever its merits in other respects, cannot convey a sense of urgency. The libertarian way proves over time to be oblivious to circumstances and psychological conditions, which are in fact the essence of real politics....

Those who look to the likely rout of Republicans like Corey Stewart in November as the shock that will turn the Republican Party against Trump are profoundly misunderstanding what the GOP has been going through for a decade, which is a search—whether through libertarians or nationalists or whomever else might arise—for the perfect anti-establishment vessel.

Or as Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) put it to me last year, "How could these people let us down? How could they go from being libertarian ideologues to voting for Donald Trump? And then I realized what it was: They weren't voting for the libertarian in the race, they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race when they voted for me and Rand and Ron earlier. So Trump just won, you know, that category, but dumped the ideological baggage."

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#8. To: Gatlin, Koch fake libertarians, aka Trump globalist neocon establishment (#0) (Edited)

You Trumpkin/Koch brothers Fake libertarian global crony-capitalists, are headed for the ash heap of history. Your neocon moment is about over.


No, Libertarians Have Not Thrown in With Trump

Jonathan Chait's accusations to the contrary ignore a great deal of the actual libertarian reaction to the president's policies. But some libertarians are indeed too soft on both Trump and right-wing nationalism generally.

|||The hedgehog
is often considered a symbol of libertarianism.
The porcupine is often considered a symbol of libertarianism.

In a recent New York Magazine article, prominent political commentator Jonathan Chait argues that libertarians have largely come around to supporting Trump, despite some previous doubts:

When Donald Trump first emerged as a genuine threat to seize the Republican nomination, Charles and David Koch represented the epitome of elite right-wing opposition to the populist interloper....

The latest development in the relationship between the Kochs (right-wing heirs to a business fortune) and Trump (also the right-wing heir to a business fortune) is that the former have thrown the weight of their massive organization unhesitatingly behind the latter. Largely satisfied with Trump's conservative judicial appointments, lax regulation of business, and regressive tax cutting, the Kochs are spending several hundred millions of dollars to protect the Republican majority. Whatever points of contention remain between the two have been reduced to squabbles between friends.

The Koch rapprochement mirrors a broader trend: Among the conservative intelligentsia — where resistance to Trump has always run far deeper than it has among the Republican rank and file — libertarians have displayed some of the greatest levels of friendliness to the Trump administration.

Chait reaches this conclusion only by completely ignoring several of the nation's leading libertarian organizations and intellectuals, and the positions they have taken on the administration. The only libertarian critics of Trump he mentions are those associated with the Niskanen Center, which he describes (with some justice) as having moved away from traditional libertarian positions on many economic issues, and therefore not very representative of libertarians generally.

He does not even discuss the Cato Institute - by far the best known libertarian think tank or Reason (the nation's most prominent libertarian magazine and website). Cato and Reason writers such as Alex Nowrasteh and Shikha Dalmia have been among the toughest and most prominent critics of Trump's attacks on immigration. Others at both organizations have been harshly critical of the administration on trade, government spending, civil liberties, executive power (Gene Healy, Cato's leading expert on this subject, has argued that Trump should be impeached), health care reform, and a good many other issues.

Rep. Justin Amash, probably the most libertarian member of Congress, has also been one of the most thoroughgoing GOP critics of Trump. The same goes for libertarian-leaning GOP Senator Jeff Flake. Chait cites Ron Paul and Rand Paul as examples of libertarian-leaning politicians who have "staunchly defended the president." I am, to understate the point, no great fan of Ron Paul. But Chait is simply wrong about his take on Trump. Paul has been consistently negative about the president, whose economic and foreign policies he recently denounced in the course of an interview in where he also expressed the hope that Trump will be vulnerable in the 2020 GOP primaries.

Unlike his father, Rand Paul, in my view, has indeed been overly friendly with the administration on some issues. And he has gotten - and deserves - considerable libertarian criticism for actions such as voting to confirm Jeff Sessions as attorney general. But he has also publicly attacked it on important issues like sentencing, electronic surveillance, marijuana legalization, and others. It is entirely fair to criticize Rand Paul for being too soft on Trump. But it is also important to recognize that he has been at odds with the president considerably more often than most members of Congress typically oppose an administration of their own party.

The main villains of Chait's piece (as of many other recent left-wing attacks on libertarians) are the Koch brothers - the libertarian billionaires who fund a variety of political and social causes. It is indeed true that they plan to spend a lot of money trying to maintain GOP majorities in Congress. I think they are wrong to do so. In addition, to imposing tougher constraints on Trump, the return of divided government is desirable from a libertarian point of view, because divided government tends to reduce government spending relative to unified government.

It does not follow, however, that the Kochs have "thrown the weight of their massive organization unhesitatingly behind" Trump. Far from it. In addition to spending money on congressional races, the Kochs have also, in recent months, devoted extensive resources to lobbying Congress to protect DACA recipients without simultaneously reducing legal immigration (the latter, of course, a major priority of Trump's), protecting immigrants more generally, opposing Jeff Sessions' efforts to expand the War on Drugs, and promoting criminal justice reform of a sort that is largely the opposite of the administration's philosophy.

I am obviously not privy to the Kochs political calculations. But it is possible they believe that, given various tensions between the congressional GOP and Trump, supporting the former does not imply supporting the latter, and that continued GOP majorities in Congress won't do much to help Trump on those issues where he is especially odious (immigration, trade, civil liberties). It is also possible they think that - given his record unpopularity - Trump is unlikely to be reelected, and they want to maintain GOP control of Congress as a hedge against what might be a very liberal Democratic president elected in 2020. If these are indeed the Kochs' views, I have considerable reservations about them, for the reasons I noted above. But a libertarian can hold them without "unhesitatingly" supporting Trump, and indeed without necessarily supporting him much at all.

To say that Chait's indictment of libertarians is wrong, is not to say that all is well with the libertarian world. Some libertarians have indeed supported the administration far more than can be justified - in most cases not because of love of Trump, but because of fear of the left. At least for the moment, Bernie Sanders-style left-wing populism is gaining ground in the Democratic party, and it is understandable for libertarians to fear the rise of a movement that seeks to massively expand government control over the economy and society, especially one led by a man notorious for his praise of brutal communist regimes. Unfortunately, such fear leads some libertarians to take it easy on an administration they see as a valuable "enemy of my enemy." It may also account for the Kochs' overly optimistic take on the consequences of maintaining GOP control of Congress. Many libertarians (like many other people) may not realize that the administration's extensive expansion of regulation on immigration and trade increase government control over the economy and society a good deal more than its relatively limited deregulatory actions elsewhere have reduced it.

Even more troublingly, a small but vocal group of self-described libertarians have supported the administration and right-wing "blood and soil" nationalism not as a lesser evil, but as a positive good. In my view, and that of most mainstream libertarian intellectuals, such ideas are utterly inimical to the libertarian tradition, properly understood. But it cannot be denied that they have appeal for some people who think of themselves as libertarians, and that libertarians need to do more to counter their rise.

In sum, Chait is wrong to tar libertarians, as a group, for supposedly being thoroughgoing supporters of Trump. But it would also be wrong for libertarians to become complacent about either Trump, or the more general threat to liberty posed by the kind of nationalism he exemplifies.

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