A dagger was driven into the heart of the libertarian movement on Wednesday when Sen. Rand Paul announced he was dropping out of the 2016 presidential race.
Considering the status of the Ayn Rand wing of the Republican Party nowadays, with it barely breathing, Paul's withdrawal might actually be considered a mercy killing.
A few months ago, Time Magazine called Paul "the most interesting man in politics and The Atlantic's Peter Beinhart claimed he was the Republican front runner. But Paul's lackluster campaign, based on neo-isolationism and the cold-hearted rhetoric of libertarianism, could not withstand the windstorm that was Donald Trump. We could blame Paul's failure all on Trump, but the fact is, Paul was boring and didn't really seem all that interested in waging an exciting campaign. Even if he had many agenda points that appealed to people across the political spectrum, he just couldn't muster the gumption to sell it to an American public that loves its red meat, overblown terror tantrums, and narcissistic celebrity culture.
David A. Graham, writing for The Atlantic, noted Paul failed to exploit his moment in the sunlight just two years ago, when "Liberals and conservatives alike were joined in their backlash against an overweening security state ... Newfound skepticism about the police fit in, too, and Paul was talking about the GOP's dire need to reach out to minorities like no other candidate."
While Graham wrote that "The libertarian moment, if it was ever real, ebbed away ..." because Americans became less concerned with privacy and more concerned with security, McKay Coppins blames Rand Paul's failure on his relationship with his father — Ron Paul, he of the racist ghostwriters and the darling of the Ayn Rand set. In 2012, shortly after Rand Paul started exploring a run at the presidency, his dad threw his hat in the ring, short-circuiting his son's nascent campaign. "After 2012, many in the Pauls' concentric inner circles felt compelled to pick sides — with the more pragmatic political pros signing on with Rand, and the true-believing purists sticking with Ron," noted Coppins.
"Paul never totally managed to escape his father's shadow, either," wrote Graham. "He worked to move past Ron Paul's more fringe beliefs, and he also made some gestures to accommodate the Republican mainstream. Those tentative moves only succeeded in alienating the Ron Paul base, who began to view Rand as a sellout and just another Republican."
And, as Graham wrote, Rand Paul never did appeal to the Republican base, which wants to bomb everything in sight, is OK with a little NSA skulduggery and believes Jesus Christ helped write the Constitution. Without the support from his father's cadre or the Republican establishment, Rand Paul's candidacy fared little chance in escaping the clown car that is the GOP slate.
Graham also noted that Paul's withdrawal from the race was a pragmatic move by a senator who faces a stiff challenge from Jim Gray, the Democrat mayor of Lexington.
"Paul remains the favorite, especially after several heralded Democrats have flopped in recent Bluegrass State elections, but the advent of a well-funded challenger meant Paul couldn't really waste any more time on a presidential campaign that was clearly going nowhere.
Politico noted that while Rand Paul's "libertarian-infused brand of conservatism" could have been transformational for the Republican Party, "with increasing instability in the Middle East, terror in Paris and an attack in San Bernardino, Paul's risk-averse brand of foreign policy has fallen out of favor, as the Republican Party has returned to its roots as proponents of a more muscular and aggressive international posture."
It's too bad Rand Paul couldn't find the support or fire up interest in his campaign, because his voice is needed in a field crowded with extremists and knee-jerk jingoists. While we don't agree with some of his libertarian views as they related to regulation and the free market, on many other issues, he was a lone voice of sanity in a field crowded with lunatics baying at the moon. The fortunate thing is, he is only 53, so we expect we will hear quite a bit more from him and perhaps in four, eight or 12 years, his message will drown out the reactionaries in his party and allow for a more reasoned and nuanced debate leading up to a presidential election.