The 2024 Republican Primary and Ron Paul’s Continued Relevance
Last night’s fourth Republican Presidential debate offered the most substantive outing so far of 2024’s political circus. It was also a debate outside the confines of the traditional corporate press. Broadcast on the up-start NewsNation and headlined by the moderation of podcast host Megyn Kelly, the debate touched on topics that outlets like Fox News and NBC refused to touch, including the victims damaged by covid-19 vaccines.
The narrowed debate field, featuring only four candidates: Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie, once again illustrated a common theme of the primary cycle, a the divide between the neoconservative old guard committed to the American empire, and a new wave of conservatives more skeptical of foreign entanglements and general hostility to the professional political class of Washington.
Given Christie’s withering polling numbers, it was Haley who faced the greatest scrutiny as the modern-face of the Bush-era GOP. Ramaswamy, her most aggressive and combative foil, frequently attacked the former UN Ambassador for connections to the military-industrial complex and the underlying corruption that has infected US foreign policy, at one point stating "This is a women who will send your kids to die so she can have a bigger house." If nothing else, Ramaswamy has made the term "neocon" into nothing short of a slur in Republican politics.
While the demand for leveraging debate performances into viral social media moments have long theatricality over substance, the focus of figures like DeSantis and Ramaswamy is worth noting. While campaign rhetoric should be best viewed from a cynical lens of political opportunism, the deliberate choices made by candidates seeking to elevate themselves out from the shadow of Donald Trump reflects their own beliefs of Republican voters desire.
In recent years, there has been a targeted crusade among elements of the “conservative movement” to dismiss the appeal of libertarian ideas. Elements of the national conservative movement have joined forces with progressive critics of free markets, lambasting free market capitalism as “failed neoliberalism” and absurdly suggesting that the modern failures of the Republican Party is the result of the GOP’s “capture” by libertarians (if only!) Others have advocated for replacing “woke” big government policies with their dream of a “conservative” administrative state. While this cynical rejection of America’s founding values has gained traction among a certain segment of intellectuals and think tanks, there seems to be little to demonstrate that it is gaining much traction among the Republican’s targeted electoral base.
Unsurprisingly, it was recently revealed that certain organizations at the forefront of this anti-libertarian right have themselves been beneficiaries of progressive financiers. American Compass, who has led the charge to revive Hamiltonian economic policy in the political right, was revealed to have received over a third of its funding from left-wing patrons.
This is not a surprise. As I noted in an article earlier this year, contrasting paleoconservativism from the economic nationalist right:
It is worth noting the differences in the stated goals of paleoconservatives and of the economic nationalists of American Compass. Paleoconservatives often voice a desire to protect the provincial life of rural and agrarian societies in the Jeffersonian tradition. Modern economic nationalists, in contrast, favor more ambitious plans for national industrial power and are far more comfortable in cosmopolitan company.
While one is far more likely to see quotes from Austrian economists shared by Elon Musk lately than offered from a Republican debate stage, many of the go-to targets from DeSantis and Ramaswamy echo a Rothbardian-hatred for Washington. Both call for the abolition of government agencies. Both have attacked the Federal Reserve. Both have highlighted the weaponization of the regime against political opponents and connect this to their concerns about Central Bank Digital Currencies. For good measure, Ramaswamy has included in his pitch calls to abolish the FBI.
Following last night’s debate, in an interview with Kelly, Ramaswamy was asked what he saw as a potential path to victory, he identified one his target demographics for Iowa and New Hampshire: "We are seeing a lot of people coming to our events...many of them are coming with Ron Paul shirts."
Again, while these rhetorical appeals to voters who shared the same libertarian instincts that helped propel Ron Paul’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 should not be viewed as a committed dedication to same principles that motivated Dr. Paul, and while current polling shows little chance of a candidate like Ramaswamy of taking his message to the general election, what it does show is that the appetite for such messaging is far greater than many in the national conservative orbit would want to believe.
There is no Ron Paul running in 2024, but the movement he inspired is still one that candidates have to reckon with.