Have Libertarians Been Driven Out Of The GOP By McCain’s Raging Christianity?

Over at Reason, Ryan Sager has a half-baked election analysis that I thought was worth addressing,

Based on an analysis of the American National Election Studies, Cato found that between 2000 and 2004, there was a substantial flight of libertarians away from the Republican Party and toward the Democrats. While libertarians preferred Bush by a margin of 52 points over Al Gore in 2000, that margin shrank to 21 points in 2004, when many libertarians–disaffected by the Iraq war, massive GOP spending increases, and the campaign against gay marriage–switched to John Kerry.

Polling on libertarian voters is somewhat sparse during elections, but there are a couple of data points and some broad trends that can give us an idea of where things stand now. An early October Zogby Interactive poll found that self-identified libertarians (about 6 percent of the poll’s sample) give McCain only 36 percent of their vote, lower than the 45 percent and 42 percent Zogby found them giving Bush in the last two elections. The libertarian voters claim to be defecting mainly to Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr and other third-party candidates, not to Obama. A Gallup poll conducted in September, which identified libertarian-minded voters with a series of ideological questions about the role of government in the economy and society (pegging them at around 23 percent of the electorate), found that only 43 percent of these voters plan pull the lever for McCain, slightly fewer than did for Bush in 2004. The Gallup poll also finds a significant uptick in libertarians planning to vote third-party, with 3.5 percent supporting Barr.

…Why would libertarians abandon McCain? After all, they believe in low taxes–and McCain is the one promising those. And if they’re concerned about social issues, well, McCain’s never shown much of a stomach for cultural warfare.

That is, of course, until now.

The real McCain, whoever that is or was, may still believe that major swathes of the Religious Right represent “agents of intolerance” in our politics. But he has decided to stake both his election and the Republican Party’s future upon them–from the barely coded racial refrain of “Who is Barack Obama?,” to the rallies with shouts of “terrorist” and “kill him,” to the corrosive choice of pipeline-prayer Sarah Palin as his running mate and heir apparent.

Let’s set aside the fact that Sager isn’t even well informed enough to know that no one shouted “kill him” at a McCain rally, that the term “terrorist” gets tossed around by people at rallies on both sides, that calling “who is Barack Obama” a “racial refrain” is perfectly ridiculous, and that a lot of demographic groups have had their level of support for the Republican Party drop between 2000 and today, and get to the main point I want to address.

Sager has been beating this drum about Christians being the big problem with the Republican Party for years, at every opportunity, and his argument makes less sense than ever today.

John McCain is not a social conservative, he hasn’t made any particular effort to please Christians beyond picking Sarah Palin (who Christian conservatives tend to like more because of her life than her rhetoric), and he hasn’t made socially conservative issues a significant part of his campaign despite the fact that Obama has a huge, glaring weaknesses in that area.

Obama famously noted that he doesn’t want his kids “punished with a baby” and he said that abortion was “above my pay grade.” Additionally, Obama favors doing away with DOMA, which could potentially give the Supreme Court an opening to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. Those are two huge issues McCain could have and in my opinion, should have hammered away at Obama on. Yet, he didn’t.

In other words, Sager is just another one of these guy like David Brooks, Colin Powell, and Christopher Buckley who got exactly what he wanted, sees the hand writing on the wall, and is trying to come up with an excuse to explain why his theory didn’t pan out. Granted, the flavor is a little different. The three aforementioned sell-outs wanted a moderate candidate while Sager wanted one who wasn’t socially conservative, but they all got what they wanted, concluded that it wasn’t going to work, and now they’re trying to explain it.

Furthermore, there are two other salient points I’d like to address. First off, from what I’ve seen, Libertarians have become much more negative about the Republican Party for three reasons

The biggest issue most Libertarians have is deficit spending and bigger government. The Republican Party has been terrible on that count over the last few years.

Secondly, there a large number of Libertarians who are opposed to going to war under any circumstances other than an attack on the United States. The war in Iraq turned a lot of these people off.

Last but not least, Libertarians tend to be opposed to any and all measures designed to safeguard American security. After 9/11, it was inevitable that new security measures were going to be put in place and just as inevitable that some Libertarians would be made furious by them.

Granted, Libertarians do tend to be philosophically (although not necessarily personally) in favor of just about any of every moral vice known to humankind, but the ones who feel really strongly about that are always going to vote Democratic anyway. The GOP can more compete with the Democrats in sleaze than they can in the big spending category. No matter how far Republicans are willing to go down the slippery slope, Democrats would be willing to go further.

PS: Also, there’s another thing I’d like to address. There’s a rather odd idea that has been floated by people who don’t like the influence of social conservatives on the Republican Party. What is it? That social conservatism is incompatible with fiscal conservatism. Granted, there are some social conservatives who aren’t fiscal conservatives and vice-versa, but for the most part, we’re talking about two overlapping groups. In other words, Thomas Sowell & Walter Williams probably agree with James Dobson & Charles Colson 90% of the time, even if they tend to put more emphasis on different issues.

So, the idea that the GOP can either be fiscally conservative or socially conservative is a false dilemma because there’s no need to choose between those two positions.

PS #2: Whenever I talk about libertarians, I always feel compelled to note that I like them and that I like Paulians (the ones who aren’t conspiracy theorists or part of the “I hate Republicans” crowd anyway) and want them in Republican Party. I’m a conservative, not a libertarian, but I consider libertarians and conservatives natural political allies on issues like small government and spending.

PS #3: That being said, here’s the thing I think too many Libertarians forget: Politics isn’t just a theoretical exercise. Just because a policy might be best in a perfect world doesn’t mean that it would be the best one for the real world we live in. Moreover, even if it would be best, you still have to be able to sell it to the American public and get into a position to power to implement it. It doesn’t matter if you have the best policy proposal on earth; if the American people think it’s a bad idea and you can’t get anybody into office who will put it into practice, you have nothing.

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