The most prickly anti-libertarian constituency – one Paul is trying to woo — are Evangelicals, who aren’t especially keen on seeing heroin-shooting atheists running wild in the streets. The idea that libertarians believe expanding personal choice means celebrating or condoning stupid behavior is a myth that Rand has been trying to push back on. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot. I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative,” he said (because, you see, the average libertarian advocates for mass nudity.) He’ll have to come up with a more compelling line to convince them that he’s not a proponent of libertinism. Certainly his personal beliefs will help. And social conservatives, who should be increasingly skeptical of state power as voters turn on issues of religious freedom, may find libertarian ideas worthwhile out of necessity. But with all the schisms within the GOP it seems unlikely that the word “libertarian” will be detrimental enough to end pro-life Rand’s candidacy.
In its Randian incarnation — a highly watered-down version — libertarianism syncs up quite well with growing sentiments of many grassroots conservatives on an array of fronts. It’s a comfortable anti-establishment position that offers a measure of ideological consistency often missing in politics. But it’s worth remembering that libertarianism isn’t inherently offensive to secular and independent voters, either. When government fails, people grow cynical about the state, and libertarian instincts kick in. For the average voter, “libertarian” is just shorthand for a position that falls somewhere within a vast ill-defined – but purportedly growing – outlook that is vaguely opposed to Big Government. As you’ve probably noticed, most people are libertarian-ish on some issues some of the time. The concept is no longer as alien or exotic as it once was.