Carl Cannon writes of last night's GOP debate:
Kentucky’s junior senator pounced on Trump’s answer on party unity, but he later tangled heatedly with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over civil liberties. “I’m a different kind of Republican,” Paul said near the end of the two-hour debate. He may be understating the problem. Paul is actually a Libertarian, and a principled one, be he’s stuck in a binary political system. He did get off one of the best lines of the night, though, while turning a gay marriage question into a question about religious freedom and the Second Amendment: “I don’t want my religion, or my guns, registered in Washington.”Paul's basic problem is simple: he is a libertarian in a party that does not have a significant libertarian wing. His father, Ron Paul, ran twice for president but never won a single primary. In 2014, Pew reported that only about 12 percent of Republicans identified as libertarians, and many of them did not have consistently libertarian issue positions:
Libertarianism is associated with limited government involvement in the social sphere. In this regard, self-described libertarians are somewhat more supportive of legalizing marijuana than the public overall (65% vs. 54%).
But there are only slight differences between libertarians and the public in views of the acceptability of homosexuality. And they are about as likely as others to favor allowing the police “to stop and search anyone who fits the general description of a crime suspect” (42% of libertarians, 41% of the public).
Similarly, self-described libertarians do not differ a great deal from the public in opinions about foreign policy. Libertarianism is generally associated with a less activist foreign policy, yet a greater share of self-described libertarians (43%) than the public (35%) think “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs.”
An alternative way to identify libertarians is the process used to create the Pew Research Center’s political typology, released in June (for more on how the political typology was created, read our explainer in Fact Tank). That study used a statistical technique called “cluster analysis” to sort people into homogeneous groups, based on their responses to 23 questions about a variety of social and political values.
None of the seven groups identified by the 2014 political typology closely resembled libertarians, and, in fact, self-described libertarians can be found in all seven. Their largest representation is among the group we call Business Conservatives; 27% of this group says the term libertarian describes them well. Business Conservatives generally support limited government, have positive views of business and the U.S. economic system, and are more moderate than other conservative groups on the issue of homosexuality. However, they are also supportive of an activist foreign policy and do not have a libertarian profile on issues of civil liberties.(A slightly different version of this post is at the Besssette-Pitney textbook blog.)