Español The United States possesses a schizophrenic political landscape. She has a constitution of brazenly limited government and a populace more tilted towards self governance than anywhere else on the planet. Yet the policies of the nation bear little resemblance, particularly at the federal level, and the United States fails to make the top 10 in the world for economic freedom.
This disconnect — between constituents and what goes on in Washington, DC — leads many presidential candidates to brand themselves as outsiders and tap into popular discontent. The purported outsiders seek to contrast themselves with the DC establishment, who enjoy crony money and support when it comes to campaigning. Even 10-term congressman and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared himself anti-establishment in 2012, not that anyone believed him.
Unfortunately for voters, candidates with insider support almost always receive the party nominations and win. As public-choice economics predicts, regulatory capture and asymmetric incentives rig the game against private citizens.
This tragedy was a key theme in Lincoln Steffens’ journalistic classic The Shame of the Cities, which documented US corruption and the failures of reformers all the way back in 1904. In recent times, genuine outsiders such Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Howard Dean, Gary Johnson, and Dennis Kucinich have fallen by the wayside. The latest betting odds also place Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — candidates with monarchy-like status — comfortably at the top of the list for likely winners in 2016.
This does not bode well for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who formally announced his candidacy yesterday for the GOP primary. Even if Rand has never been as confrontational or ideologically libertarian as his father, there is little doubt that he is an outsider. The author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington opened his campaign with a platform of “liberty and limited government … a different kind of Republican leader.” He has also used his time in the US Senate to court disenchanted social conservatives and various ethnic blocs.
There is, however, a big but. The game is changing, and this time can be different. There is reason to believe that popular discontent can be tapped into better than before and work in Rand’s favor.
As Reason magazine editors wrote in The Declaration of Independents, the largest political faction in the United States is not of the Democratic or Republican parties; rather, it is independents, at 43 percent of the electorate and rising rapidly. In comparison, 30 percent of US Americans identify as Democrat and 26 percent as Republican.
And guess who Rand polls best with: independents, of course. Rand is the GOP candidate with the greatest crossover potential with disenchanted voters and progressives who prioritize civil liberties, all while still cruising to victory in conservative straw polls. Already, there is a movement of Democrats, the Blue Republicans, who made the switch to support Ron Paul in 2012, and they will likely do the same for Rand.
The key is unlocking these voters in the primary process, and here is where his father’s work will prove immensely useful. Even if Ron Paul failed to garner the GOP nomination himself, he brought many people together and sewed the seeds for organizations that have grown in influence: Students For Liberty, the YAL Political Action Committee, Campaign for Liberty, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, among many others. There is even a homeschooling curriculum designed in his namesake.
The fundraising game has also changed and is more accessible to smaller donors. Rand, for example, is the first presidential candidate to accept bitcoin for donations. On the other end of the spectrum, major GOP donors allied with the Koch brothers are likely to relish a Rand candidacy, given his electability and limited-government bona fides. They have, after all, been supporting free-market organizations and economic liberalization for decades.
Whether this changing environment will be enough to bring Rand the nomination — against the wishes of the RINOs and neoconservatives — remains to be seen, but the invincibility of establishment candidates is eroding.