What are we to make of the Republican Party's future now that libertarian Rep. Ron Paul won the presidential straw poll at the well-attended Conservative Political Action Conference last week?
Is the GOP about to transform into the party of the gold standard?
Let's, for a moment, forget Paul (and how I wish this could be a permanent condition, considering the congressman is neither a serious politician nor -- and I can't stress this enough -- a serious thinker).
Libertarianism offers conservatives -- many of them new to political activism -- an earnest ideological alternative to the process-heavy politics that dominate Washington.
It allows Republicans to cleanse themselves of the GOP's failure to deliver on promises of smaller government and fiscal restraint.
None of which is new. The 1964 Barry Goldwater would be considered a libertarian today by many measures. The National Review constructed a "fusionist" effort to bring the parties together. Ronald Reagan explained to Reason magazine back in 1975 that "the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."
Two sticking points preventing this fling from turning into something more serious have been social issues and war. Has anything changed to alter the dynamics of the relationship? Probably not.
Patrick Buchanan recently claimed that the GOP is showing signs of turning away from its recent foreign policy positions. The focus of policy may have changed -- and perhaps there's more reluctance in nation building -- but polls pretty clearly illustrate Republicans still believe in a robust and proactive national defense.
Social issues are far more complex -- and they always have been, despite caricatures. But the reality is that most of the cultural issues that divide Americans have been mired in political stalemates. You can debate abortion all day long; policy won't be changing.
Economics, on the other hand, touches almost everything in a tangible way. That -- and one of the most aggressive left-wing economic agendas in American history -- makes the libertarian fiscal message seductive.
Does that mean we need Paul?
"Congressman Paul is committed to bringing the conservative movement back to its traditional platform of limited government, balanced budgets and a foreign policy of nonintervention," claims Jesse Benton, Paul's spokesman.