CPAC’s Libertarian Infiltration

Um. ||| Chris Moody/Yahoo! NewsAdam “vs.
The Man
” Kokesh leaned in, conspiratorially. “I think
there’s about 2-3 percent hardcore An-Caps here,” he said,
approximately (I wasn’t recording our conversation). “And 20
percent libertarians!” The notion filled us both with some wonder,
and not a little bit of pre-emptive dread.

We were at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC),
the annual inside-the-Beltway convention of grassroots political
activists from the hinterlands, national conservative celebrities,
and D.C.-based advocacy groups. CPAC has long been the lowest
hanging fruit for political journalists looking to write
conservative-freakshow articles
(or post some fine photo
thereof), but over the past few years two overlapping
stories have competed for shelf space: The organizers’ ongoing
tussles over all things
, and the rising tide
of libertarianism
within the grassroots faithful. (In a tidy
conflation of the two strands, the panel discussion I participated
in, “Can
Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?
“, was
organized primarily around the potentially civilization-destroying
question of having government recognize same-sex marriages.)

The libertarian momentum was on jarring display
last year
, as an army of “Stand With Rand” kids, with
OMFG-I-can’t-believe-I’m-here looks on their faces helped propel
the Kentucky senator to the top of the conference’s
straw poll
, just days after his epic
anti-drone filibuster
scrambled political ideologies from coast
to coast. But this year those same activists looked…a year older,
with considerably less shock value. Assimilated. “That
feeling you have,” Kokesh told me (again, approximately), when I
admitted to—horrors—actually liking one or two elected
politicians nowadays, “is what it feels like when you’ve become
part of the Borg.”

“Imagine a time when our great country is governed by the
Constitution, imagine a time when the White House is once
again occupied by a friend of liberty,” Paul said during his
well-received speech today. “You may think I’m talking about
electing Republicans—I’m not, I’m talking about electing lovers of

As the Washington Examiner’s Charlie Spiering pointed
out, “That line would have been a slam-dunk for a conference of
libertarians, but it drew a loud cheer from the standing-room-only
crowd in the room.” The National Journal put it this way:
Paul Is the King of CPAC

Libertarian-leaners inside CPAC haven’t quite adjusted to the
new reality. “Hey man, can’t believe they let people like
us in here!” I heard a half-dozen variations of from young
libertarians on Thursday and Friday (Kokesh, too, reported having
similar conversations).  

Or maybe the kids are just savvy enough not to trust the Borg.
After all, it was only 18 months ago that the establishment GOP
kicked Tea Party activists and Ron Paul supporters (as well as Rick
Santorum’s grassroots army of social cons) to the curb at the
Republican National Convention, in a display of raw (if
) power that no participant
will ever soon forget
. Sure, Rand Paul and the various campus
4-liberty groups can pack a popularity contest decided by powerless
activists, but if you think CPAC supremacy is determinative, then
I’ve got some spare tickets to the inauguration ceremony for

President Ron Paul

Of potentially more import than personality-based politics is
the way that the booth action and policy discussion at CPAC have
changed. Today on the main stage in front of a packed audience of
several hundred I watched a Republican governor from Texas
brag about closing prisons
while mocking California’s woefully
over-stuffed corrections facilities. Rick Perry’s criminal justice
record is
by no means angelic
, but he is at or near the head of the
gubernatorial class when it comes to meaningful reform.)

Groups like Right on
now compete for booth space with Families Against Mandatory Minimums,
, and—shockingly to those of us of a certain
Concerned About the Death Penalty
. The libertarian project of
criminal justice reform is coming to this country in 2014, and
though some important impetus has come from
self-identified libertarian Republicans
(as a CPAC
video on this subject will show later), much of it has also come
from social conservatives with hearts open to redemption, and
fiscal conservatives shocked at the bottom line. Libertarian
projects become viable when non-libertarians (and even
anti-libertarians) embrace them.

Demographics, as Students for Liberty President Alexander
McCobin pointed out during our panel today, are pushing
conservatives in at least a more federalist, if not explicitly
libertarian, direction. (For an example of how Republicans are
changing their tune on pot and gay marriage, see this video from CPAC
.) Younger conservatives do not share
my co-panelists’ view of heterosexual marriage-sanctity as holding
western civilization together by a thread, and as Senior Editor
Jacob Sullum has

, the generation gap between younger and older
Americans on these issues is
. (Consider for a moment
that half or more of Republican-leaners under age 45
support legalizing weed and same-sex marriage.)

Throw in the fact that Millennials are potentially
the most politically unaffiliated generation in history
, and
that Republicans have steadfastly
failed to stop bleeding support
even under the lousy record of
Barack Obama, and you have the pre-conditions for a more
libertarian GOP.

Would I bet on that? Not even for a second. But I see no reason
not to cheer on the symbolic and occasionally even substantive
libertarian tack by Republicans. Now if only we could get more

 to play along….

from Hit & Run

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