“The challenge in working in politics, particularly if you’re working in a political party, is that everyone’s a messenger.”
After Mitt Romney’s November 6th defeat at the hands of President Obama, the Republican party has been left in shambles and scattering for answers to account for what went wrong. Pundits across the political spectrum have put forth myriad examples of where the party needs improvement if they wish to remain relevant in future elections. Most of the suggestions focus on increasing Republican likability among a number of different groups, such as women, latinos, low-wage earners, the youth and libertarians. Appealing to these groups will require addressing their separate needs or special interests, something that often requires changes that could enrage what’s left of the Republican base. However, one of these groups are a natural constituency for the GOP, and coincidentally, it’s the only group that believes in a set of limited government ideas that appeal to people in all of the other groups in which the party seeks to increase voter support.
That group is the libertarians, who, with mixed results, are actively trying to become part of the party. It should be noted that there is a difference between those who hold libertarian beliefs and those who are a member of the Libertarian party. More importantly, there is a far greater number of people who enjoy the libertarian message than there are members of the Libertarian party itself. In fact, many of these people, including myself, are already members of the Republican party and identify as part of the Republican liberty movement. Yet still, most of these “libertarians” are actually independents who span a broad range of demographics. So, just how big is this group? In the past few years, polls from Zogby-Cato and Reason-Rupe have shown that 59% of the American electorate identifies as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, in other words, libertarian friendly. A Pew poll shows that 28% of people identify as socially conservative (it’s safe to assume the majority of these people are also current members of the Republican party). Combining the numbers, potentially up to 87% of the population falls into these two categories, an unstoppable majority if a political party were able to bring the two groups together. If Republicans at the national level were to back off social issues and endorse the constitutional principle of federalism, a states rights approach to social matters, they would have enormous potential to capture this majority of voters.
The fact that there are currently people actively engaged in becoming part of the Republican party in an effort to make the party more appealing to this majority of Americans begs the question as to why they are having limited success? There are many reasons but I’d like to focus on a few which I think are the most important. Liberty activists would have you believe that it’s the GOP’s fault, that the party, in spite of claiming to support the principles of limited government, actually sabotages those who try to advance the agenda. They will point to the countless examples of the greater party engaging in subversive and immoral activity as a means of preventing a Ron Paul uprising in the 2012 primary. While considered annoying and dismissed by most party regulars, these liberty activists’ complaints are not without merit. The “powers that be” within the Republican party are deeply entrenched and naturally resistant to those who wish to remove them from office. To them, if new ideas are to become part of the party, change will have to be on their terms, if it is to happen at all. This does not sit well with many liberty activists who would potentially be involved in Republican party politics, leading them to conclude that it’s a lost cause, often resulting in these activists pursuing third party or educational paths as a means of achieving their objectives, giving the GOP establishment exactly what they want… control.
This is where it gets personal for me. Last year I had the “pleasure” of being part of a focus group run by well-known Fox News contributor and pollster, Frank Luntz. During my time in the group, Mr. Luntz was quick to figure out that I was a supporter of Ron Paul. He complimented me, saying that Ron Paul’s supporters were, by far, the most well informed supporters of all the GOP candidates. What he said next surprised me: “You are Paul’s greatest strength… and his greatest weakness”. He then went on to say that collectively, we were jerks, which is why Ron Paul ultimately wouldn’t win. This brings me to my next point. The biggest hurdle to the success of the liberty movement is the liberty movement itself. The problem is that most of its members fail to examine their own shortcomings, which has led to more failures than successes in our attempts to gain political capital. If we’re going to successfully sell liberty and bring the GOP back to its roots, we’ve got to learn to be great messengers for the cause. The most powerful and inspiring message in human history requires advocates that embody it’s values. We must do better. Here’s a few things that are stopping us:
1. Libertarian A**holes
I’m personally guilty of this more than most of my liberty friends. Frank Luntz was right… mostly, we’re a**holes. In my experience, most libertarians are, as Mr. Luntz said, far more informed than other voters. We’re smart, we know it, and we don’t hesitate to show it. Confidence is one thing, but arrogance isn’t good. While it might make us feel good to point out the poor record of a politician who claims to be a “limited government conservative,” it does us no good to rub their supporters’ noses in the dirt, instead of working to gain their respect. If we mean to become part of the Republican party and show them what makes us so passionate about liberty, we’ve got to become friends with the people in the party first. Once that happens, they’ll be more open to understanding our beliefs and in turn, more willing to work with us. I realize this won’t change the hearts and minds of party leadership, but it can change the opinion of those that elected them in the first place. With all of the terrible things that happen on a daily basis, it’s really hard to have a positive outlook, to project the hope associated with liberty and freedom, but nothing worthwhile comes easy. Play nice.
2. Conspiracy Theorists
There’s nothing wrong with questioning authority and seeking truth. Real conspiracies do exist. However, does talking about all of the potential conspiracies help the liberty movement? No. Absolutely not. As others have pointed out, there are plenty of terrible things that happen on a daily basis in plain sight that we can talk about without the risk of being perceived as having recently escaped from an insane asylum. Part of effectively delivering the message of liberty is being skilled at marketing and anybody in advertising will tell you to know your audience before coming up with a strategy. Talking about conspiracy theories does little more than appeal to people who are susceptible to believing them, specifically, other conspiracy theorists. There’s a time and place to dig for facts, ask hard questions and promote alternative possibilities. Since it’s widely understood that most people are driven away by those who promote extreme beliefs, the time and place to talk about conspiracy theories is not when you’re trying to appeal to new people. So, until we help build that 51% majority and you have an audience that “might” listen, please leave your tin foil hats at home.
Last but not least, to promote the message of limited government and individual liberty, you actually have to understand the message, not just what it is, but how it works and why it works. Repeating lines from Ron Paul’s stump speeches makes you only marginally better than those who repeat the same tired platitudes we’re used to hearing from other candidates. If you can’t explain the ideas you’re trying to sell, you’re better off appealing to a person’s emotional interests and hoping they don’t ask you tough questions. Being well informed about the constitution, current events, politicians political records, and supreme court cases is great, but it’s not the same as having a firm understanding of the principles of liberty, much less being able to justify and explain things in a concise and eloquent manner.
Currently, the United States is faltering. Dark times lie in our wake, from plunging off the fiscal cliff to the potential of sending more American kids off to die in yet another war. Our massive debt, crushing regulations, and the loss of liberty have left people aching for a solution that will free us from our problems. At the end of the day I don’t know which direction the Republican party will take. Perhaps they’ll notice the silent majority sitting right under their nose. Maybe they’ll compromise on some of their principles in an attempt to garner support from select demographic groups. Maybe they’ll try to entice Latino’s into voting for them by hoisting up Marco Rubio. Who knows? At this point, the party is lost, leadership is in trouble, and people’s confidence is slipping. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
For the liberty movement, what must be glaringly obvious is the possibility that the men currently at the helm of the GOP, who do not understand or care about the cause of liberty, will move in our direction in an attempt to ingratiate themselves to the millions of voters who are dying for what we’re offering. These charlatans will not do our principles justice. They will not carry the banner of freedom earnestly. This is why it’s imperative that the liberty movement get involved in the Republican party. It’s imperative that we better ourselves and address our shortcomings. It’s imperative that we swallow our pride, make friends, and stand up to lead the way not just for the for the party, but for the country. Will we let our story be written by men who care more about power than freedom, or will we claim our birthright as Americans? If “We are the Future” as Dr. Paul says, it’s time for us to prove it… not just for him, but for liberty!