Former Michigan Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter says his party’s future belongs to the libertarians.
It’s a message McCotter has been spreading in interviews and to anyone who’ll listen. He’s even laid out his case in a smart book, “Liberty Risen: The Ultimate Triumph of Libertarian-Republicans, where he claims libertarians even have something to say to the Budweiser-drinking, boxer-wearing, pro-life, Boston sheet metal worker.
Most Republicans who hype the libertarian moment are libertarians themselves. Not McCotter. He is a Russell Kirk-quoting social conservative. “I’m not a libertarian,” he jokes. “I just play one on TV.” But while fellow social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum slam libertarianism, McCotter believes the GOP will find a way to integrate libertarian activists who care about government surveillance the way it once assimilated evangelical Christians who cared about abortion.
“When I was still in Congress I noticed younger Republicans saying, ‘I am a conservative, but I’m libertarian on some issues,'” McCotter told The Daily Caller. “They hadn’t grown up with Reagan and seen how [conservatism] had worked. All they had seen was the decline of the Republican Party.”
“Now if you read your Russell Kirk, you can’t be both a libertarian and a conservative at the same time,” he added. “But America being what it is, you can be whatever you want.”
In the past, Republicans might have used “libertarian” as a codeword for moderate. Arlen Specter, for example, liked to describe himself as an “economic-fiscal conservative and a social libertarian.” But libertarian is no longer a Republican euphemism.
“Moderate Republicans would like Common Core,” McCotter told TheDC. “Libertarian Republicans wouldn’t like it.”
According to McCotter, the shift isn’t just political and generational. It’s mainly cultural. “The 21st century doesn’t operate top down,” he said. “You wouldn’t let someone else program your iPod. Why let a top-down bureaucracy choose your health care?” The consumer-driven, highly personalized economy will eventually have an impact on a bureaucracy mostly designed in the distant past. He quotes Andrew Breitbart as saying, “Politics is downstream from culture.”
The Libertarian Party won’t go away, he said, but libertarians who actually want to govern will do so as Republicans, like presidential candidate and former 12-term Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash.
Libertarian Republicans can come to an accommodation with social conservatives, McCotter said — note that all of the above libertarian GOPers are pro-life. Even when they disagree on the substance of a social issue, he argued they can agree federal judges shouldn’t be the final arbiters of morality. He also believes “the failure of the neoconservative movement and even some of the realist movement” and a “war-weary” country gives libertarians an opening on foreign policy by appealing to voters who want to “crush the terrorist threat there without creating a government threat here.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean Rand Paul will be the next Republican presidential nominee, however. “2016 may be too soon,” McCotter told TheDC. “In many ways, Senator Paul has an advantage in that his father was the pioneer, in other ways it’s a disadvantage.”
“Libertarian Republicans need a national aspirational message,” McCotter said. “That’s hard to do, because libertarians are so individualistic.” Purist libertarians will resist, but liberals and conservatives aren’t immune to infighting over ideological points themselves.
If Rand Paul did win the nomination, McCotter doubts many Republicans who disagree with him would sit out the race. He noted the tight 2008 Democratic contest in which Barack Obama upset Hillary Clinton, concluding, “They kept their eyes on the prize, which is the presidency.”
W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.