The Republican Race So Far: A Disinterested Perspective

A couple of months ago I publicly stated my intent to be involved in the discussions generated by the race for the presidency, despite the fact that I truly have no horse in that race. I have since proceeded to almost completely ignore the campaigns of both the Democrat and Republican aspirants to the American throne.

Oops.

Now, ordinarily I would accept full responsibility for breaking my word, but some of the blame has to be shared by the candidates themselves for being such an uninteresting, unlikeable bunch. Looking at the 2016 candidates has been like walking through a deserted supermarket, trying to figure out if I like rotten apples or rotten bananas better.

But, with the caucuses and primaries right around the corner, it seems like a good time to jump back into the conversation and offer my disinterested, curmudgeonly take on the Republican candidates so far.

My unscientific grades are based on my judgments on how much the candidates understand and intend to adhere to the Constitution and the principles of liberty. For the purposes of this article, the candidates are in the order of this poll.

Donald Trump

To be perfectly honest, I still can’t believe that Donald Trump ran for president. As a Republican. Or that he’s still in it. Or that he’s actually leading the polls. Every time I think about it I’m reminded of the scene in Back to the Future when Doc finds out that Ronald Reagan is President in 1985 and quips, “Then who’s Vice President, Jerry Lewis?” Jerry’s still around, right?

One the one hand, I get Trump’s appeal. Republican voters are sick of the establishment and want to show their disapproval by supporting an outsider. And Trump is certainly an outsider – as in, just a few years ago he was outside of the party. This kind of places Trump in the role of Wendell Wilkie, who switched parties to run against FDR in 1940. That didn’t work out so well for Republicans, and my guess is that a Trump nomination wouldn’t either.

As for his actual ideas, as few as they may be, Trump gets mostly negative marks from a libertarian standpoint. At various times he’s advocated building a literal wall around the country, shutting down or controlling the internet, economic protectionism and killing the families of terrorists. On the flip side, he has also embraced the now obvious truths that the Iraq War was a mistake and that supporting foriegn insurgent groups is not in our national interest. He’s also spoken out against raising the minimum wage, which is better than what the 2012 Republican nominee has said on the matter.

Grade: D-

Ted Cruz

Cruz is one of the more infuriating candidates in the Republican field. Here’s a guy who has read the giants of libertarianism like Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. He’s spoken out against the Federal Reserve and economic interventionism. He’s supported the gold standard and has expressed libertarian views on education and corporate welfare. He’s even occasionally supported an originalist interpretation of the Constitution

But, on the other hand, Cruz has repeatedly showed his bloodlust, such as when he implied that he will nuke the Middle East until he finds out “if sand can glow in the dark.” He has also fallen in line with the Republican Party’s unnecessarily antagonistic attitude towards Iran. His relentless foreign policy pandering even caused him to deliver a condescending speech to persecuted Middle Eastern Christians who Cruz accused of being insufficiently pro-Israel.

Furthermore, Cruz’s constitutional fidelity has limits, evidenced by his statements that the federal government should continue to exceed its constitutional boundaries and prevent states from legalizing drugs.

Ultimately, Cruz might be preferable to other Republicans on some domestic issues, but his foreign policy views are dangerous and extremely un-libertarian. He also strikes me as a very cynical politician who excels at crafting his ideology and messaging to be what he thinks people want to hear, not what he actually believes. Talk about New York values.

Grade: D

Marco Rubio

Rubio is another example of an alleged political outsider who holds strikingly conventional opinions on most matters. It is true that he has said the right things about some economic and social issues like the minimum wage, but he also supports unconstitutional measures like the NSA surveillance program. Add to this the fact that Rubio has missed a boatload of votes in the Senate and we get the picture of another pontificating opportunist who is trying to ride the faux liberty train to the White House.

Even worse, Rubio has called the deaths of innocent civilians “inevitable” during war. I find it difficult to take Rubio, or most of the other Republicans, seriously when he talks about the sanctity of human life when it comes to abortion, but rationalizes the deaths of innocent human beings when it comes to war. Combine Rubio’s lack of concern for human life with his desire to confront Iran, Russia and North Korea, and the atomic fallout shelter business could experience a boom during a Rubio presidency the likes of which have not been seen since the 1950s.

Grade: F

Ben Carson

I’m still trying to figure out why Carson is running for president. On the one hand, he seems like a perfectly pleasant person who holds standard conservative positions (meaning that he’s occasionally right on certain issues, especially regarding the economy). But Carson is also a top-notch gaffe generator and, additionally,  is painfully uninformed regarding domestic and foreign policy and the Constitution.

Ben Carson is Exhibit A for why being pleasant, smart and competent doesn’t translate into being a good statesman. He also brings to mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s observation that, “the most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Grade: F

Jeb Bush / John Kasich / Chris Christie / Rick Santorum

I’m lumping these four guys together as the establishment candidates. At various points during their political careers, their prospects in a presidential campaign might have appeared to have been promising. Unfortunately for them, the Republican base has taken a hard turn away from the establishment, and for good reason. All four are the epitome of the big government Republicans that the conservative base has revolted against.

And while I don’t think that the gap between the establishment Republicans and the so-called anti-establishment challengers is all that wide, it’s still kind of nice to see the Hillary Clintons of the right look confused about why voters don’t like them anymore.

Grade: F’s all around

Rand Paul

I’ve saved the best for last, although best in this case should be understood in relative terms. Is Rand Paul better than the other Republican candidates? Clearly. But the Kentucky Senator and his campaign have left much to be desired.

First, let’s look at the good. Rand Paul has a better grasp of the Constitution than any other Republican candidate. He’s spoken favorably of the Tenth Amendment and has defended the traditional rights that are supposed to be protected by the Bill of Rights. He’s much better on civil liberties and is more consistently free market in his economics. In foreign policy, too, he is better, pointing out the deleterious effects of America’s foreign policy and laying the blame for the spread of terrorism largely at the feet of the interventionists.

Where Paul stumbles is in being consistently libertarian. Some of this is understandable, since Rand has always tried to find a middle ground between his father’s more radical (interpreted, more consistent) libertarianism and the deplorable statism of mainstream conservative Republicans. The result is a kind of awkward libertarian-ish candidate that makes good points one minute, and then backtracks from them the next.

It is clear that Rand Paul believes his secret weapon is young voters who are more receptive to libertarianism than the Republican rank and file is. The problem is that many hard core libertarians find his wishy-washiness off-putting and, as a result, his base is a smaller and less energetic one than his father had four years ago.

Rand Paul would almost certainly be a more liberty-friendly president than any other candidate. But his inability to have a cohesive, consistent message has dampened the enthusiasm of his would-be supporters and has thus damaged his prospects.

Maybe the criticism of Rand is nit-picky, because in 2016 he is the quasi-libertarian in a field of raging statists. In what can only be described as low praise, Rand Paul is truly the best of the worst.

Grade: B