Part of Ronald Reagan’s brilliance was not apologizing to critics. Instead, he explained confidently and cheerfully why limiting government is a better approach than growing it, and would produce better results for normal Americans. It drove crazy the sophisticates who were sure they were way smarter than him.
It also cheered millions of Americans who knew Reagan was right. Before and since then, however, they often despaired of finding a leader who could go toe to toe with the liberal establishment, defend conservative principles, and not sound either like an accountant extolling a strong balance sheet or a Sunday school teacher calling sinners to repentance.
In 2012, the liberty movement searched from candidate to candidate, looking for a standard bearer they could rally behind—someone not just with exceptional skills and resume, but with a Constitutional vision of freedom and limited government, and the ability to make a comfortable, appealing case that touched average Americans.
But a new crop of leaders is rising. The field for 2016 could present the opposite “problem;” with several able, articulate, and philosophically strong possible candidates. Instead of a brutal triage that culls the field by blemish or blunder, leaving a last man standing, the primaries might be a race for distinction. The winner could be the one who most impresses and inspires, and becomes the best choice rather than the survivor.
Recent buzz surrounds Rand Paul, the doctor-turned senator from Kentucky, who electrified the nation and caught the administration flat-footed with his largely impromptu 13-hour lesson on why the President deciding whether he can kill Americans in America is a bad idea. Paul easily and lucidly shared the constitutional principles that define a different America. Paul combines his father’s libertarian outlook without some of crazy-uncle persona Ron Paul couldn’t quite shake.
Expectations are high also for Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, who fluently explains we don’t need different ideas; the idea is America, and it still works. Rubio electrified the GOP convention last summer with a mix of idealism and practical policy rooted in Constitutional philosophy. He ascended to the speakership of Florida, a major, competitive state and GOP must-win at the tender age of 35. It appears Rubio’s gifts are polished by the skills and tact to lead older, ambitious politicians without putting them off.
Eyes also are upon the phenomenally able governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has been leading and reforming an array of large state institutions since his early 20s. His mix of boyish earnestness, wonkish numeracy, and American fundamentals are meeting their sternest test as he pursues reform in a state famous for corruption and hostility to Republicans. His popularity and approval ratings suggest he’s passing with margin to spare. Critics say his Republican response to the State of the Union a couple years ago fell flat. But people said the same thing about Bill Clinton’s convention keynote four years before he became president.
Another newcomer that turns head hard is Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Youthful, handsome, and a former Supreme Court law clerk with a Harvard pedigree, Cruz displays brains to match anyone, with finesse to drive his points home. His encounters with Eric Holder and Dianne Feinstein among others have left liberals fuming and conservatives cheering at all the weapons their team can put on the field. Like Rubio, Cruz’s heritage can make him a target of liberals who fear a high profile Latino’s appeal to Hispanic voters. The attacks can be low and personal. Cruz shrugs it off and keeps punching with a smile
Americans recently discovered a potential new weapon for reform and liberty at the national prayer breakfast. African American Ben Carson, head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and perhaps that field’s most distinguished practitioner electrified the nation with plain talk about values, the problems we face, and how Washington’s policies make them worse. It was a gutsy punch out of the president sitting right behind him, carried out with surgical precision that never directly named him.
The performance from a man whose very life story rebukes the government and dependency-centered society that Barack Obama wants to create had many, including the Wall Street Journal Editorial page, calling for him to seek national office.
Paul Ryan in the House retains respect and affection for his substantive role in the presidential campaign, for his unparalleled knowledge of the budget, and for his successful confrontations with both the president and the vice president.
So, the winter of the liberty movement’s discontent is already warming into the green shoots of spring hope. Some or most of the candidates mentioned might not run. The nominee might be someone different.
The important thing for the grass roots and the national party is that there are strong players on the field. It’s enough to get excited about, and motivated voters beat discouraged voters every time.