Paul’s libertarianism doesn’t just create a gap between him and Democrats and independents. It causes problems within his own party. To be sure, Paul got a surprising amount of support from his Republican colleagues during the filibuster. But the big surge came only after hour three, and only after the filibuster’s popularity was obvious. The support may have been opportunistic, aimed at slapping down Obama, and limited to the narrowest part of Paul’s concerns. But it does matter that other senators saw standing with Rand as a political plus.
Paul went beyond civil liberties as the day went on, and started ranging into the principled libertarian “extremism” that had gotten him into trouble back in 2010, when he criticized civil rights legislation for redefining private and public spaces. As the filibuster wore on, Paul pushed into territory where most of his Republican colleagues would be loath to follow. He conjured up some serious libertarian juju—like that we are not a democracy and that that’s a good thing; that the Lochner decision was good because it restricted majority power in the name of 14th Amendment rights; he namedropped specifically libertarian heroes such as Hayek (for the rule of law) and Lysander Spooner (for his abolitionism, though not his belief that the Constitution doesn’t mean we have any contractual obligation to obey the state).