The Corner

Republicans and Libertarians

David Boaz has been arguing (with David Kirby) that libertarians are a swing vote that both parties need to court. Both Jonathan Chait and I have noted that Bush lost support among libertarians between 2000 and 2004 while gaining support with the electorate at large. I then raised the possibility that the same policies that alienated conservatives attracted other voters, and went on to nominate some unlibertarian policies that probably aided Bush’s re-election.

In his latest effort , Boaz argues that there were no such policies.

Chait and Ponnuru would have us believe that Bush succeeded because his policies alienated libertarians and appealed to a larger group of non-libertarian voters. But what policies would those be? Did he achieve re-election on the strength of the war in Iraq? His massive over-spending and prescription drug entitlement? His support for the gay marriage amendment? Not likely. (For a discussion of state marriage amendments and the 2004 vote, see here.)

Indeed, the large question about 2004 is why a president with a strong economy won only 51 percent of the vote, 6 points behind what economic models of presidential elections predicted. The biggest answer is the war in Iraq, which was increasingly unpopular by November 2004 and which likely turned off both libertarians and other independent and centrist voters.

Meanwhile, along with the economy, what accounted for Bush’s gains from 2000 to 2004?

It’s terrorism, stupid.

I don’t see how invoking terrorism saves Boaz here. Kirby and he cite the Patriot Act as one of Bush’s libertarian-repelling policies. But most polls have shown it to enjoy majority support, and it helped to reinforce the impression that Bush was a strong terrorism-fighter. As it happens, actually, I think each and every one of the policies that Boaz mentions with a sneer in the first paragraph I’ve quoted helped Bush get re-elected. (Boaz’s internal link, by the way, argues that state marriage initiatives didn’t help Bush’s campaign, but doesn’t even try to disprove the claim that the federal marriage amendment or the marriage issue generally helped him.)

Boaz concludes: “If Republicans can’t win New Hampshire and the Mountain West, they can’t win a national majority. And they can’t win those states without libertarian votes. This may be good news for Democrat Chait. But Ponnuru should worry about it.”

He thinks I’m not worried because he takes my argument to be that “losing libertarian votes is no problem for the Republicans.” I don’t think I’ve said that. I do think that the more demands libertarians put on a coalition of which they are a part, the harder time that coalition will have in winning a majority–and that libertarians who will lose the most as a result.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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