Digby wrote a great article over at Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones, No, the GOP Has Not Lost Its Lust for War. It is about all the garbage that we’ve been hearing from “centrist” pundits about how the Republican Party is finally turning libertarian. The truth is that Republicans have never been libertarians. It is an affectation. And during the glory months of the Tea Party, it was a delusion.
The main thing you have to remember is that most Republicans are sheep. They don’t really think anything; they just feel — mostly, outrage and fear. And so, when the Tea Party was big, they were willing to follow along with the libertarian bent of the early days. Of course, that libertarian bent was only there so they could justify the policy that they were suddenly for. Remember that the Tea Party did not start because of the bank bailouts. It started when the federal government wanted to help homeowners. So supporters of the movement didn’t want to come off as the complete jerks that they were. So now they were against all government intervention! And that meant they were “libertarians”!
Once the coast was clear and there was no Fox News drum beat about this stuff — no Amy Kremer interviews to explain what they were to think — they went back to their base instincts. As Elvis Costello put it in Suit of Lights, “If it moves then you fuck it. If it doesn’t then you stab it.” In the case of the Republican base, it is about “getting those people.” And that means cuts to welfare for the poor and more foreign wars. In other words: the standard conservative line. And the elites were fine with it, as long as the base kept voting Republican.
Of course, even in 2010, the main thing that distinguished Tea Party candidates was there extreme social conservatism. The single most important issue was abortion absolutism: no abortions for any reasons at all (even the anti-libertarian belief of no exception for the life of the mother). So none of this should come as any surprise. The truth was that Rand Paul’s non-interventionist positions were treated with either mystification or hostility. And as I predicted, Rand Paul has been willing to abandon even his tepid libertarianism. Why? Because he has to — there is no appetite for it in the Republican Party.
Digby’s article quoted an NBC-WSJ poll that found that a whopping 27% of Republicans said that national security/terrorism was the most important issue facing the country. This has more than tripled since the question was last asked in 2012. And way? Check out this amazing reason that goes right along with what I’ve been saying, “[A] ‘savvy Republican operative’ explained that this threefold increase in concern can be attributed to the rise of ISIS and the movie American Sniper arousing the militarist urge in the GOP base.” A movie! Of course, as Digby commented, “That may be true, but let’s just say it was never exactly deeply buried.” That’s right: outrage and fear.
I’ve argued a lot in the past that if libertarians were serious, they would be more attracted to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is much stronger on individual rights. What the Republican Party is good at is the rights of the wealthy. That may be great in a theoretical sense, but as a practical matter, it is the Democratic party that increases liberty. The Republican Party is still dead set against cannabis legalization. Of course, the vast majority of libertarians are not serious.
What Republicans mean when they say they are libertarians is that they are for “smaller government.” As should be clear by now, Republicans Are Not for Smaller Government. And in the same way, they are not for libertarianism. (Not that many actual libertarians are either.) But Republicans will call themselves anything as long as they are told to. They are excellent followers.
See also: Republican Party’s Libertarian Fantasies.