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Why Rand Paul Failed To Capture The Libertarian Moment


Rick Santorum is the latest Republican to drop out of the race for president. Rand Paul suspended his campaign this morning. Paul took less than 5 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and decided sticking it out, even past New Hampshire's primary, wasn't the best use of his time. Rand Paul wasn't able to rally libertarians to get the support he needed to take his campaign further. To talk about why that is and who those supporters are, we turn now to Matt Kibbe. He's the founder of the Tea Party advocacy group FreedomWorks. He's now the senior adviser for Concerned American Voters, a super PAC that supported Rand Paul. Welcome to the program.

MATT KIBBE: It's good to be here.

CORNISH: So we spoke the other night, and you said you were going to be sticking it out with this candidate as long as you could. And that - it's not very long, right? What happens for you now?

KIBBE: That turned out to be 24 hours. I, you know - I viewed supporting Rand Paul as part of a larger long-term movement for the liberty community, and what he accomplished shouldn't be understated. He spoke to a brand-new audience of millions and millions of young people who were introduced to these ideas from him. And I think that's an opportunity to seed a new generation, much like his dad did in 2008 and 2012.

CORNISH: Let's talk about that because he was trying to build on something that his father awakened in the party. What, to you, were the maybe one, two, three key issues that would have been the kind of foundation for that, that drew those voters in 2008 and 2012?

KIBBE: I think foreign policy was a key part of that and opposition to permanent war and nation building and a lot of the neoconservative policies that are coming out of both parties, a respect for civil liberties and an understanding that the genius of America comes from free individuals, not government from the top down.

CORNISH: Now, when you look at this race with Rand Paul, did he also suffer from the fact that the party was no longer interested in reining in government surveillance and even as time moved on, people got more hawkish - right? After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, you have Republican candidates talking about carpet bombing in Syria. I mean, is there enough of an anti-interventionist sentiment left in the party for someone like him? Where do those people go?

KIBBE: I think there is, and it's almost generational, that the younger you are, the more interested you are in a new look at foreign policy. And Rand was really trying to get us to go back to Reagan to show more restraint and to understand that sometimes doing the wrong thing does damage and actually empowers terrorists. It is true that San Bernardino definitely changed the conversation, but I suspect that over the long run, you're going to see a whole new coalition, left, right and center.

CORNISH: So are the ideas that brought together this coalition of people - right? - this part of the party - are those ideas almost too desperate, and it ends up being splintered not just among Republican candidates but even on the far left as well?

KIBBE: In this year there, there was a divide between the liberty vote and the broader antiestablishment vote. And I think that did undermine Rand's coalition that might have been possible, and even some of the young people that were showing up at Rand Paul rallies actually ended up caucusing for Bernie Sanders. But the basis for those ideas is absolutely there, and it's stronger than it ever has been before. And politics is just a means to get there.

CORNISH: In looking at the other candidates in the field, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, in particular - candidates who actually had Tea Party support - and there's overlap between the Tea Party supporters and libertarian movement supporters - did that also hurt this candidate? Is it that those voters were splintered among many candidates?

KIBBE: Yeah. In a real sense, we might be victims of our own success. I used to work at FreedomWorks, and we supported Marco Rubio in his primary challenge and Ted Cruz in his as well, including Rand and a number of other candidates. So a lot of them have been certainly, on economics and on the question of whether or not the government's too big, a lot of them have been talking that language. But it was a bigger, more credible field of candidates that Rand was running in, unlike Ron Paul, who essentially owned both the liberty and the antiestablishment vote.

CORNISH: Where do you go now with your vote, with your endorsement?

KIBBE: I can only speak for myself and my suspicions about what the liberty vote does. I think we're going to watch and wait and see if there is a candidate that is willing to speak to issues like criminal justice reform, like a more modest foreign policy, a respect for all civil liberties, and we don't know who that is yet. The question for Republicans in particular is whether or not the liberty vote shows up because it's not that they will just settle for the better of two bad options. They may just stay home.

CORNISH: Matt Kibbe is a libertarian and the senior adviser for concerned American voters, a super PAC that supported Rand Paul. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

KIBBE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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