While I was reading Conor Friedersdorf response to David Frum’s critique of Ron Paul, as well as Andrew Sullivan’s endorsement of Ron Paul, one question kept coming into my mind: “What about former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson?”
Friedersdorf makes the case for Ron Paul on the basis that he is different from all the other Republican candidates, but that is just not technically true. Gary Johnson is essentially Ron Paul but without the racist newsletters.
Has Johnson been treated unfairly in the current primary? Absolutely! I would agree with Friedersdorf that the debates would have benefited from giving him more exposure. While Johnson does not match my ideal profile of a candidate, I do think that his influence is more positive than negative, and that he is a less embarrassing standard bearer for the libertarian wing of the Republican Party than Ron Paul.
I have spoken with staff who migrated from the Ron Paul campaign to Gary Johnson’s camp. One thing I have been told is that they are frustrated that many libertarians in the Ron Paul camp equat being a libertarian with supporting the Paul clan. Many supporters of Ron Paul find that they can only support Ron Paul and Rand Paul, and that all the other candidates are not worthy of their attention. This past week, the FrumForum mailbox has been getting angry emails about how we’ve recently attacked Ron Paul. We’ve critiqued other libertarians before, but when you attack a person’s political savior, they take it a bit more personally.
When Kevin D. Williamson reported on the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa, he captured what this feeling was like:
[This] much they [Ron Paul fans] are certain of: The United States of America is an “empire,” the Federal Reserve is the capitol citadel of wickedness in the modern world, and Ron Paul — Doctor Paul — is “the one man in America who is willing to tell the truth,” “the one man who truly cannot be bought,” “the one man for the people,” and, in the Paul campaign’s own fevered imagination, “the one who will stop the spending, save the dollar, create jobs, bring peace — the one who will restore liberty. Ron Paul: The one who can beat Obama — and restore America now.”
Gary Johnson does not have followers like this and he shouldn’t. The entire Ron Paul campaign is a decidedly unlibertarian political movement. Here is a candidate who supposedly stands for absolute freedom, yet his followers believe that if they want to save America from the bankers who run the Federal Reserve that they have to support him and his family. The 2008 Obama campaign shows that liberals are equally capable of succumbing to the same misplaced delusions but at least when Obama fails to oversee an economic recovery his support among liberals languish. In contrast, it seems there is nothing that can reduce the enthusiasm of the Ron Paul fans.
One project that libertarians may want to consider is how to give the libertarians in the Republican party prominent voices that are not called Ron Paul. These voices would not have to make evasions on issues such as whether the Confederacy was a bad idea. Then the debate over whether we need a night-watchmen state can be done without Paul’s considerable baggage.