After two long years of speculating, campaigning, hoping, and voting the Ron Paul presidential campaign has come to an end. At the end of this year, Ron Paul’s bid for the presidential ticket will be eclipsed by his retirement, after the completion of his four decades as a congressman. At the dignified age of 76 it seems unlikely that Ron Paul will make a fourth attempt for the presidency in 2016. And with Ron Paul’s certain departure from political life there stands a looming question of whether the Gen Y libertarian/populist movement can move beyond his legacy.
The Ron Paul Revolution or Liberty Movement is younger, more tech savvy, more enthusiastic, and steadfast in their principles than typical conservatives. These differentiating qualities that separate the Liberty Movement from the average go-along-to-get-along establishment Republicans gives the Movement the potential moxie to create a significant and enduring effect in both the Republican Party and American politics as a whole. The youth, which make up the majority though not entirety of the Liberty movement, switches the longstanding paradigm of right-left politics in America, in which the liberal was always the enthusiastic college student and the conservative was always middle aged.
“Meathead” from All in the Family exemplifies this classic construct of the counter culture thinking college student, a liberal egalitarian as opposed to the former archetype conservative of a middle age working man – “Archie”. In this new scenario the Ron Paul “Meathead” argues for a Robert Taft foreign policy, the gold standard and free market capitalism against his elder, the statist, “Archie”. This seismic shift is a far turn of events from the more middle-aged but still very much non-establishment Buchanan Brigade of the early to mid 90’s. The Ron Paul campaign’s fervent youth support pushed Ron Paul over the top in the 18-29 voting demographic in seven of the 24 states that had exit polls or entrance polls. And their die-hard activism enabled the Ron Paul campaign to raise tens of millions of dollars, attain over two million votes, and comprise more than 160 delegates for the Republican convention in Tampa.
This blind love some Ron Paul supporters have for the Presidential candidate, however deep, can also prove to be fatal to future liberty candidates. Much in the same way that comparing one’s first love with future dating prospects causes disillusionment; nothing can ever be so perfect as when it is viewed from a nostalgic perspective. Possibly Ron Paul’s most appealing characteristic is his consistent principled record, an extreme rarity, throughout his four decades in Washington. It seems that few can be passed such a mantle and the litmus test as to what defines a liberty candidate from another run of the mill Republican is too rigorous even for candidates endorsed by Ron Paul himself. Writer and Ron Paul blogger Jack Hunter was booed onstage at the Texas Freedom Festival when discussing Paul’s endorsement of Ted Cruz, a supporter of the Patriot Act.
This does not even begin to describe the betrayal felt by many Liberty activists over Senator Rand Paul’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. One reaction by libertarian activist and former congressional candidate Adam Kokesh described Senator Rand Paul as “fundamentally a statist” and “a dangerous man”. Purists to the libertarian cause, who make up a significant number of the Ron Paul activists, are in opposition with another faction of the base, which wants to become a more politically viable and legitimate wing of the Republican Party and American politics. This friction could run deeper as the more purist elements of the Liberty movement are finding their future with the same political relevance as the John Birch Society. And without the purists, the rest of the movement could be subdued into mainstream Republicanism with small wonky oppositions that are as significant to the national platform as the pro-choice Republicans.
The other major crisis facing the future of the Liberty movement is the lack of leadership; without congressman Ron Paul there isn’t a clear candidate who can unify the movement’s diverse crossbreed of old right, libertarian, and one issue voters who align themselves with a small government platform. It is very unlikely that Senator Rand Paul brings the same appeal to the hardcore libertarian factions and even unsure if the more libertarians leaning Justin Amash, also considered a future leader of the movement, can sustain his redistricting past 2012, as he will be in a less Republican house seat.
The liberty movement claimed that its foundations are based upon the principles of Ron Paul, not on the man himself. However small government Republicans like Texas US Senate candidate Ted Cruz and Senator Rand Paul cannot measure up to a bulk of Paulites who see Ron as more of a folk hero than politician. Ron Paul’s bedrock principled fight for limited government at home and abroad has made him all things to all people. If the Movement wants one of its own at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2016 or 2020 they will have to give up their folk hero and side with a politician, who will at one point or another have to let them down.
Ironically even with the establishment GOP attempts to ostracize and ignore Ron Paul, the Republican Party has drifted toward the Congressman’s principals. Once considered a niche issue, the auditing of the Federal Reserve has now broad support amongst most republicans in congress as well as former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Former Presidential candidate and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. even spoke candidly about rolling back the American Empire. Every year more Republicans vote against the continued funding of the Afghanistan conflict, the Patriot Act, and the Federal Reserve, positions the good congressman use to hold alone. It is unclear whether this shift has been due to the Liberty Movement or a natural shift independent of Ron Paul’s candidacy.
Optimistically, the movement that Congressman Ron Paul has led will manage to continue to broadening out and become a bigger part of Republican tent, which along the way elects more candidates like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie and one day a President from their own ranks. Or the movement will slowly decline in activism as the man who started the movement fades from the political spotlight and no one manages to unite the factions of the liberty right. In which case all Gen Y “Meatheads” can take a note from their activist ancestors’ who watched their stalwart George McGovern go down in flames, became university professors, media personalities and convert the subsequent generation.