During our conversation, Paul made a point of characterizing libertarianism as being "moderate" rather than liberal on social issues. Movement leaders would likely object, but Paul's preoccupation is with swaying the center-right. "The party can't become the opposite of what it is," he told me. "If you tell people from Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia, 'You know what, guys, we've been wrong, and we're gonna be the pro-gay-marriage party,' they're either gonna stay home or -- I mean, many of these people joined the Republican Party because of these social issues. So I don't think we can completely flip. But can we become, to use the overused term, a bigger tent? I think we can and can agree to disagree on a lot of these issues. I think the party will evolve. It'll either continue to lose, or it'll become a bigger place where there's a mixture of opinions." In effect, Paul was saying that the way for Republicans to win was to become more libertarian -- though only up to a point.
Robert Draper had a lengthy piece yesterday asking whether the "Libertarian Moment" has arrived. The premise will likely be familiar: to thread the political needle and address its demographic difficulties, Republicans may need to undergo a libertarian-style shift, mixing laissez faire economics with an end to the right-wing culture war.
For a variety of reasons, I'm skeptical about the arrival of this "Libertarian Moment," though there was one part of Draper's piece that stood out for me.
It's a curious perspective. On the one hand, Rand Paul sees himself as a leader of a libertarian movement predicated on free markets and free people, free of government regulations. On the other hand, Rand Paul also believes that the government should place harsh restrictions on American women's reproductive rights, and supports using the power of the state to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
It's what constitutes social-issue "moderation," apparently.
Part of the problem with this approach, of course, is the cold ideological calculation. Sure, libertarians could endorse equality, but according to the Republican senator, treating all Americans with human decency shouldn't factor into the equation. Why not? Because he doesn't want some voters in Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia to "stay home" on Election Day.
Say hello to the Libertarian Moment, circa 2014 -- it's libertarian, "though only up to a point."
But then there's the other problem.
Paul told Draper, "I don't think we can completely flip" when it comes to marriage equality. I suppose my follow-up question is, why is it fine to flip on so many other issues, but not this one?
Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky senator has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.
And that's just one senator. In the Obama era, the Republican Party overall has also changed its mind about cap-and-trade, the individual health care mandate, the Earned Income Tax Credit, payroll tax breaks, civilian trials for terrorist suspects, the Dream Act, and clean debt-ceiling increases, among other things.
The point is, the contemporary GOP has changed its mind on all sorts of things. Why draw the line on marriage rights?