Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tucker’s Apologia II

Jeffrey Tucker is making a habit of defending individuals who water down the liberty message.  I have written about this in the past regarding Tucker’s defense of Mark Skousen and his FreedomFest that has little to do with actual freedom.

Today Tucker offers his case for the failed (yes, it is appropriate to write in the past tense) Rand Paul campaign for president.  From Tucker:

I’m not ruling out a sudden surge, but, as for this writing, it seems very likely that Rand Paul will not get the Republican nomination, at least not this time. Maybe the future will be different.

While Tucker reads many who suggest Rand has failed because “he departed too much from the script” and instead “should have been more upfront about his libertarianism,” Tucker has a different view:

As much as that would have delighted me, and as much as I long for truth in public life, it is very reasonable to assume that doing so would not have helped him politically.

Now, before you jump on Tucker’s statement with a shout – “Rand should have been about education and not about politics and winning,” calm down.  That isn’t for you to say.  Rand is the one who invested time and energy. 

Now let’s presume that his goal at the outset was to get the nomination.

OK, let’s presume this.

On the contrary, all available evidence is that taking this [libertarian] position would have made his loss a sure thing.

Maybe, yet Tucker goes on to present a series of three charts that demonstrate exactly the opposite of what he is suggesting (and demonstrate that Rand took the wrong strategy from the beginning).

He offers charts from the current and previous two Republican primary runs.  He points to Ron Paul’s success (or lack thereof) in the previous two cycles.  First the facts, as presented by Tucker:

In 2008, Ron Paul regularly polled at about 6% - 7%.

In 2012, Ron Paul polled as high as 10% early on, but as the campaign wore on – and other contenders fell by the wayside – his support grew to 15%.

In the current cycle, Rand peaked at 17% in November of 2014, but since then has fallen to the low single digits.

Let’s agree that Rand wanted to win and not to teach.  What do these numbers suggest?  They suggest to me the following:

Ron was slowly building a base (to add a data point, I remember well in 1988 when he received something less than 1% as the Libertarian Party nominee): from 6% in 2008 to 10% early in the 2012 cycle. 

Given the very dedicated support that Ron’s consistency generated, Ron had staying power (a key point that would have served Rand well in this election cycle, had Rand not flushed this dedicated support down the toilet).  Ron was able to outlast all candidates but Romney, and eventually reached 15%.

In late 2014, when many still believed that Rand was close enough to the second coming of Ron, that dedicated support was still there and growing – Rand was at 17% at the beginning of this election cycle.

What conclusion would you draw from this?  My conclusion, from the numbers: Ron spent a lifetime generating a very dedicated base.  He further spent two election cycles greatly expanding that very dedicated base.  Rand began with the luxury of having perhaps the most dedicated political base of any candidate in my lifetime.

Libertarian strategy was winning, not losing.  The numbers were increasing, not decreasing.  Tucker’s numbers demonstrate this, yet Tucker draws the opposite conclusion.

What’s striking about these polls is the complete absence of any evidence of breaking from the pack. …the libertarian occupied a stable but relatively small niche and never got beyond it.

From below 1% to 6% to 19% to 15% to 17%.  These were the numbers.  This is not small, this is not stable, this is not a niche.

But think of this from a tactical standpoint. Losing your base is not a risk if the sole goal is to get beyond the base and enter into the mainstream. I’m guessing that the Rand campaign had every confidence that the libertarians would eventually come around — just as they always come around.

Every good businessman understands the USP – unique selling proposition.  There is no viable, healthy business without one.  Without a USP, your business will at best muddle along, no worse and no better than the herd.  This was the base that Tucker callously throws away – Rand’s USP.  Dumping his USP, Rand became – at best – indistinguishable from the pack.

Further, what does this even mean – “the libertarians would eventually come around — just as they always come around.”?  On what basis is this drivel written?  They aren’t “coming around” to Rand today, are they?  When did libertarians “always come around”?

I don’t know of any way to objectively measure the idea that come every fourth November, libertarians all march to the polls to vote for the lesser of two evils.  The best objective factor I can offer: if libertarians “always come around,” why hasn’t the LP ever secured more than 1.07% in a presidential election?

So Rand wanted to win and not teach.  His “winning” strategy was to put a knife in the base; his strategy was to take for granted the reasons that the base was dedicated.  His strategy was to win over the neocons while holding on to those who were philosophically diametrically opposed to the neocons.  He failed with both constituencies.  It will go down as perhaps one of the most politically inept strategies in the last 50 years.

Rand’s strategy was certain to do one thing, if nothing else – scatter the remnant that was drawn together due to Ron’s efforts.  It will be the only thing successful about Rand’s strategy.

Tucker offers:

But this much is true: a libertarian cannot win the Republican nomination.

Probably true this year, but the numbers suggest less and less true with each passing election cycle.  In any case, in this election what we see so far is those candidates that are perceived to be from outside of the establishment are making significant progress, while those who make the establishment comfortable are falling by the wayside. 

More important, had Rand kept to a strategy of holding his base he would have had the staying power to run to the end and build on his early 17% – very valuable when there are a dozen other look-alikes that will quickly drop out one by one. 

Rand was the ultimate outsider, until he gave up that mantle along with his USP.  He couldn’t read the political winds of the country – the people want something very different.  They may not all know exactly what, but they want something different.  Rand was different before Trump, Carson, or Sanders even considered running.

Nothing about this post from Tucker makes any sense.  Not from a libertarian perspective and most certainly not from an “I want to win the presidency” perspective.  The facts clearly supported the strategy that Rand should continue to build the base gifted to him by his father.  Tucker’s own charts demonstrate this, yet Tucker draws the opposite conclusion.

By the way, as long as three years ago, the aforementioned Skousen was strongly favorable toward Rand’s moves toward the mainstream.  Just sayin’.


  1. I don't know if I necessarily agree completely with your argument against Tucker. To me the following seems true:
    1. Ron spent a lifetime building a base and greatly expanded it during the 2 election cycles.
    2. Many of those who voted for him are not necessarily his base, but voted for him. Those votes were not necessarily Rand's for the taking. I believe the 6-7% were Rand's for the taking, and the other 10% were leaning towards Rand but not really libertarian.
    3. I think Tucker is correct that in the short term, libertarianism has a upper ceiling. Our philosophy of peace and non-aggression is so far removed from the mainstream that people will not likely convert overnight unless someone comes up with some genius strategy, which doesn't seem likely to me.
    4. Therefore, if Rand wants to win in the short term, he will have to essentially not be a libertarian in his positions. He could certainly tell people he was a libertarian and deep down wants to cut the govt to virtually or completely nothing. But that can't be his platform to win.
    5. However, whatever platform he takes won't be a libertarian one, and he won't really be converting people to libertarianism through his campaign. The numbers of hardcore non-aggressionites won't really grow if the goal is to win in the short term.
    6. He can't run on a non libertarian platform and end up changing in office. he would lose all credibility on any issue and won't get anything that he wants done, whether libertarian or not.
    7. The only way to actually convert people to libertarianism is to run on libertarian principles. As Tom Woods says, he's not going to trick people into a libertarian foreign policy.

    So I see elements of truth to both your and Tucker's arguments.

    1. By item:

      2) Tucker introduced the data, I didn't. Take your objections up with him.

      3) Before 2008, I thought the upper ceiling was 1%. The laugh was on me. I don't think claiming to know an upper ceiling is credible.

      4) Shows what good that idea was - Rand has done far worse than Ron. A politically bankrupt strategy. He convinced libertarians he is a war monger and he never convinced neocons that he was a war monger.

      Anyway, it was his time and energy to spend.

    2. I agree it is his time and energy, which is why I don't want to criticize him much unless I run for office one day.

      3. I think there is a practical upper ceiling in the shot term. Conversions of philosophy that you have held your whole life takes a long time, and I don't think it is reasonable to expect people to change overnight. That's what I mean by the upper ceiling. The difference between the 1% you expected and the 6-7% libertarians Ron got was due to people who had never really heard about libertarianism before, including myself. But at this point, most people have atleast heard of this philosophy. That is the upper limit I was talking about. Of course, after hearing about it for a short period of time, it takes many peopel longer to actually understand the philosophy, which would result in another upper limit which may be much higher.

      4. Yes, Rand's strategy has turned out horrible, but I don't mean his strategy necessarily, I just mean out of the collection of non libertarian strategies, one of them would work better in the short term to get more votes than the pure libertarian one. Not necessarily the one Rand chose.

      Of course all of this assumes Rand is actually a libertarian at heart, which I don't know one way or the other.

    3. Zee, in the end we are both speculating on what an alternative strategy might have accomplished; who really knows.

      In any case, the main reason I wrote this post was to deal with Tucker's arguments. They aren't very logical, in my opinion.

  2. Bionic,

    Love the blog and read it daily, but, I have a minor quibble about this particular post. Very minor, actually.

    I believe Ron Paul would have outlasted Romney had the PTB not cheated. The way you have it phrased makes it sound, to me, like Romney alone is what outdid Ron Paul.

    Carry on.

  3. Right! Rand Paul's presidential campaign fails according to its own standards.

  4. Modern libertarianism as a political movement has been around since 1972 when John Hospers was the candidate for the Libertarian Party. To date that's a period of 43 years. As a political philosophy it's been around a bit longer. How long after the publication of Marx's Communist Manifesto in 1848 did socialism start to gain a foothold in parliaments around the world? 1890's perhaps? How long had German nationalism been around as an ideal before the Nazis exploited it to storm into power in 1933? About as long? It seems to me that Libertarianism has now undergone a long enough gestation period that it too has embedded itself into people's consciousness especially with the proliferation of libertarian blogs and web sites. Ron Paul left politics with a support of 15%, and Rand started with 17%.

    The failure of government intervention on all fronts has left voters disillusioned and desperate for something new. I think that Rand's 17% base could have been leveraged enormously, especially with young voters trapped with huge school loan debts in a no growth economy. It's no secret that for the last eight years Ron Paul's energetic young supporters have been burrowing into the Republican party at the grassroots level and probably have party power in their hands well beyond what their numbers would suggest. This would have been a huge plus for Rand if he had continued to steer ahead on his father's libertarian course. And yet he threw it all away in order to curry favor with neocons who still despise him and his father.