Last month, the Republican Liberty Caucus endorsed Texas Congressman Ron Paul for president – a historic endorsement considering the organization had not endorsed a presidential candidate since 1996, when it endorsed Steve Forbes. As we made our endorsement for Paul public, I wondered what current Republican Liberty Caucus members would make of the 1996 Forbes endorsement: would our ‘tent’ be wide enough for Forbes?
As National Vice Chairman of our organization, I voted to support the recommendation our state chapters made to endorse Paul though I personally support and sit on Jon Huntsman for President’s New Hampshire State Steering Committee: two weeks before our Board voted to endorse Paul I made a “Libertarian Case for Jon Huntsman.” In some respects, what I write here is a direct follow-up to that opinion piece: I want to speak of the case for a larger Republican Liberty Caucus ‘tent’ and how candidates like Governor Jon Huntsman fit the ambitious mission of the Republican Liberty Caucus.
The purpose of the Republican Liberty Caucus is to promote “the ideals of individual rights, limited government and free enterprise within the Republican Party of the United States of America by… promoting these ideals among Party officials and its various organizations; identifying and supporting candidates sympathetic with these ideals; developing Caucus membership among Party registrants, officials, and office-holders.”
In a way, membership in the Republican Liberty Caucus, (which requires membership in the Republican Party), is an acknowledgement of a fundamental difference between us and members of the Libertarian Party: we recognize we belong to a larger entity that is more diverse. It is the vehicle we have chosen to advance our views more effectively, and by virtue of this we recognize that we will not always be in full agreement with our Republican family but that we will always strive to find common ground where possible and, when fertile, to nourish it in order to establish an aggressive, tactical, and strategic approach toward bringing the Republican Party back to the principles that initially made it the political party of free-market ideals and individual liberty.
We acknowledge our political universe is currently dominated by a two-party system and we have chosen which of these two parties is most receptive to our beliefs.
>We also recognize the Republican family has not always excelled in advancing our principles, but that the values we hold are the true heart and soul – the glue – that keeps the Party moving forward, and that without this glue the Party and the principles we believe in might not advance as quickly or as broadly as we wish. The Libertarian Party has never been in a position to do this – and this is, most likely, the reason a standard-bearer of libertarian ideals like Paul is seeking the Republican nomination rather than pursuing the Libertarian nomination for president again, as he did in 1988.
In the “Libertarian Case for Jon Huntsman” I make it clear that Huntsman is not strictly a libertarian, but a Republican whose platform and ideas are a manifestation of a movement within the Republican Party toward more libertarian principles. As the title implies, it’s a libertarian argument for Huntsman, not a solicitation to cast Huntsman as a libertarian.
One reason I personally support Huntsman is that I believe he is, simply stated, a ‘Huntsman Republican’: he has never exhibited a particularly partisan streak but an ideological paradigm that has enabled him to govern and serve our country usefully and in ways many factions of the Republican Party can appreciate – those who lean libertarian included.
Among those positions we have in common with this candidate: his views that the Federal Reserve ought to be audited, that the issue of medicinal marijuana should be left for states to decide, that our Party and government should allow civil unions for all consenting adults, that our right to bear arms must be protected, and that our foreign entanglements are costing not only our reputation in the world but resources we need to make the United States a stronger nation. Governor Huntsman’s credentials on fiscal policy have been endorsed by Pew Center (rated Utah as best-manage state), Cato Institute (‘A’ grade on tax policy), and Forbes (best for state for business). His economic plan as a presidential candidate has been endorsed by the Wall Street Journal. I point this out not to engage in a ‘my-candidate-is-more-libertarian-than-yours’ banter but to clarify that support among libertarian-leaning Republicans for Huntsman is not arbitrary.
From an organizational standpoint (Republican Liberty Caucus), I believe it is only fair that we look at all candidates carefully, as our Candidate Review Committee did over the last few months before issuing a recommendation to our state chapters on potential candidates to endorse. Even if a candidate doesn’t quite fit our paradigm, it’s worth keeping an open mind with respect to supporters who might consider some of that candidate’s positions reasonably libertarian – even if we disagree with that candidate’s supporter.
A ‘Libertarian Case for Romney’ has been made, for example, on LDS Liberty (a forum for libertarian Latter-day Saints): Greg Peterson, an associate of the Romney family and supporter of Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign acknowledges Paul’s popularity among libertarian Republicans. But Peterson makes his case to our constituency at LDS Liberty. I listen respectfully, and think – even if I disagree with him – that his desire to bridge the gap between libertarian Republicans and his presidential candidate says something about the GOP’s libertarian movement and about the inroads the Republican Liberty Caucus is poised to make as more presidential candidates find themselves surrounded by advisors and supporters who seek to broaden each candidate’s interest in our constituency and the issues we are most passionate about. Even if I personally disagree with Peterson and our organization has endorsed Paul, there is no harm in maintaining an open dialog with someone who acknowledges the importance of our constituency in the process.
In the end, our Candidate Review Committee and Board agreed on a handful of candidates that we felt were reasonably aligned with our views before chartered states voted (by a sufficient majority) to extend the national endorsement to Paul.
In Huntsman’s case, a focus on fiscal issues and foreign policy over domestic issues was the first clear indication of priorities that are most similar to mine, (personally), as a libertarian-leaning Republican.
As a former member of the Armed Forces I place great weight on a candidate’s ability to manage our foreign policy and their commitment to reducing troop levels abroad. I wanted to support a candidate with an interest in a more surgical approach to intelligence gathering and work – in order to reduce our investment overseas at a time when we are in such dire need of greater investment at home. Huntsman fit this mold and has, in my view, the strongest foreign policy credentials on the table.
One of the most fatal mistakes libertarian-leaning Republicans – those who are principally interested in advancing free market principles and restrained foreign policy – can make is to define “libertarianism” through the lens of less than a handful of political candidates.
I would posit to some degree this is the type of political culture that marginalizes a candidate like Governor Gary Johnson. Anyone who embraces the libertarian label in any of its manifestations could agree that despite clear differences of opinion on a number of issues (such as abortion and foreign policy) each Johnson and Paul embody ideals that are acceptable if contrasted with the general principles our organization espouses.
As much as I believe Huntsman is a great example of another candidate that fits that mold, we should ponder additional presidential aspirants who may have potentially fit it as well, e.g., former Governor Mark Sanford, and Governor Mitch Daniels (all other reasons why a Sanford candidacy never materialized aside).
With each of these candidates, Paul and Johnson included, there are more reasons to believe they could have earned our support than not. Of course, there are issue areas where we will disagree with each of these candidates: but ultimately, our ability to discern where they share the beliefs of the Republican Liberty Caucus is what will help us expand our voice in the Republican Party and to avoid philosophical ghettoization.
One of the points I made sure to raise in my previous opinion piece was that Huntsman’s libertarian-leaning positions in no way diminish the impact Paul and Johnson have each had on the Republican Party – only that his candidacy should give pause for thought to those who are considering the long-term potential for impact that the candidates we support might have, not just on the Party but also on the course of our nation.
We should be especially cognizant of the fact that the case I am making here is for members of our organization to consider candidates on a comprehensive set of questions beyond simply defining who is or isn’t most libertarian (another point raised in my initial opinion piece – because I feel that debate is purely academic). Among the questions to consider:
• Which presidential candidates show the potential to work together and in what capacities, e.g., running mates, cabinet positions?
• What type of coalitions can the candidate build and how will these play out in the effort to bring Party unity and growth?
• Is the candidate capable of raising the bar on the amount of libertarian principles embraced in the Republican Party platform?
• Where do these candidates fit in the bigger picture – when we take into account congressional seats and even state offices they might run for should a presidential bid come short?
• Have we nurtured a relationship, as an organization, with each of the candidates we agree with in enough issue areas to develop a post-presidential campaign partnership that is useful to each the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Republican Party, and even the nation?
Passionate support for one candidate or another is crucial in our process – I certainly feel a deep level of commitment to Huntsman’s presidential campaign on a very personal level. But as a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus I also take into account the future of the organization and the long-term goals the organization has established. In that context, I choose candidates to support and keep my eye open for those that are likely to expand their sphere of influence and impact on federal, state, and local governments.
We must remember that parts of our efforts are invested in courting what many would regard as the ‘establishment’ or ‘mainstream’ Republicans. We want to inspire them to move in a new direction: toward a more traditional standard of beliefs and ideas. Those that we believe will advance truly Constitutional standards.
Members of the Republican Liberty Caucus are not all initially cut from a libertarian cloth. Many awaken to the need to protect civil liberties with greater fervor, to restrain our foreign policy, and to do better at emancipating our market from government intrusions that result in lost jobs and cluttered economic vessels at different times and for different reasons.
Here in New Hampshire I have met supporters of each of our Republican candidates – even candidates I disagree with strongly. They all tend to share some traits: they are hard-working and truly concerned about the future of our country.
One thing we all fundamentally agree on: we want to beat President Barack Obama.
Given the fundamental things we have in common, I make the effort to consider what aspects of their preferred candidate’s platform I find appealing as well. At the very least, this is a barometer for where they stand in relation to the principles we believe in at the Republican Liberty Caucus. I truly believe dialog with these Republican voters – a respectful one – can help bridge gaps and advance our efforts within the GOP with greater vigor.
I think I can speak from my personal experience: I came from a more ‘traditional’ strand of Republicanism. Over time I became disenchanted with the Party’s overwhelming concern with social issues over fiscal and foreign policy ones. I felt there had to be an organization out there looking to bring our Party’s agenda back into focus and that’s when I discovered the Republican Liberty Caucus.
The Republican Liberty Caucus’ mission transcends particular candidates and elections. It is my sincerest hope we will continue to advance our agenda by identifying commonalities with our candidates whenever possible and by accepting that even within the liberty movement there can be diversity of opinion. I’m reminded of Reagan’s 80/20 rule and believe it is worth applying as we broaden the Republican Liberty Caucus tent.