The false rise and fall of Rand Paul

Whether Paul stays in the race or not, the libertarian moment he symbolized is over. To be more precise, it never existed.

Libertarians, like neoconservatives, are overrepresented among op-ed writers and TV talking heads and think-tank wonks on the right. But neither the Club for Growth wing nor what conservative writers Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat call the Sam’s Club wing of the GOP is libertarian, except when it suits them.

Unlike ideological libertarians who fantasize about the replacement of fiat money with gold or bitcoin, most Wall Street Republicans object to regulations they dislike, such as Dodd-Frank, while remaining content with a system that gives capital-gains income preferential tax treatment and socializes the cost of bank bailouts while privatizing the benefits.

For their part, white working-class conservatives—nativist, protectionist and often religious—are to libertarians what matter is to antimatter. Over the years, Rand Paul’s father, Ron Paul, managed to attract a variety of right-wing extremists who were not consistent libertarians, like gold bugs and racists. Since the Nixon era, the small number of actual Republican libertarians have been fleas hitching a ride on the dog of George Wallace-style populism—and in the Time of Trump, the fleas have fled the dog.