Asking Eric Dondero: Is Ron Paul libertarianism the GOP's future?

Veteran libertarian Republican activist Eric Dondero talks about Ron Paul's libertarianism and the future of the GOP as well as the relationship between social conservatives and libertarians, and much more. Photo: Eric Dondero, Ron Paul, Libretarian

FLORIDA, January 7, 2013 — For better or for worse, times are changing for the Republican Party.

After losing the presidency and several congressional seats in November, there is serious debate about which path the GOP will follow. Whichever this might be, few can doubt that libertarianism will play no small role during the years ahead.

Ever since the Ron Paul Movement gained popular attention, libertarian thought has increasingly found a home within the Republican ranks. Nonetheless, GOP-related libertarianism is not exclusively tied to the former Texas congressman.

Eric Dondero is a writer and activist. He has devoted much of his career to bringing about greater awareness of libertarianism in the Republican Party. In this first part of our discussion, he shares his views about how libertarian philosophy has attracted serious GOP support over the last few years.

Dondero also tells us whether or not he thinks that the center-right’s future belongs to Ron Paul-aligned libertarians, how social conservatives and libertarians can learn to get along, what impact social issues might have with a younger generation of Republicans, and more.  

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Joseph F. Cotto: Libertarianism is a philosophy with which most of us are familiar. Over the last several years, it has found serious support in the Republican Party. How did this come to pass? 

Eric Dondero: Hard work by a bunch of libertarians who left the Libertarian Party and joined the GOP in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We formed a group called the Republican Liberty Caucus, starting in Florida. We started attending Young Republican conventions all over the country, Fla., the Carolinas, New England states like New Hampshire, California. We were rejected at first. Cast off as crazy “drug legalizers.” But we scored some wins during the Republican Revolution of 1994, having done the shoe leather walking precincts work for some GOP congressman, and won grudging respect. By the late 1990s we were pretty much a welcomed, though not much respected, segment of the GOP coalition.  

Cotto: Many political forecasters are saying that the future of the American center-right belongs to libertarians; specifically those of the Ron Paul variety. Do you share this view?

Dondero: No. Not of the Ron Paul variety. The Ron Paulists are in the doldrums right now. They lost all around. They’ve split up. The few left are flailing around, looking for something to latch onto.  But the libertarian wing in general is doing well. It’s the counter-Jihadist, pro-defense libertarians who are on the ascendance, those of us who align with the Tea Party folks on defense matters. The TEA-ers are uncomfortable with the Paulists. Always have been. But with us pro-defense libertarians, they find some comradeship, even if they still think we’re crazy on drugs.  

Cotto: One of the GOP’s key voting blocs is the Religious Right, which consists of fundamentalist Christians. These Republicans are not in line with social libertarianism. Eventually, do you believe that this will result in a major intra-party conflict?

Dondero: No, I don’t agree. We libertarians most certainly can co-habitate with the Religious Right. Pat Robertson came out for marijuana legalization last year. Hallelujah!  

So long as the RR meets us libertarians halfway on matters that are important to us, we’ll gladly do the same for them. And surprise! We libertarians are not obsessed with the abortion issue. Hell, many of us are pro-life. And the rest of us who are not, (I’m personally pro-choice), are with the RR on 90% of the equation: We oppose all government funding of abortions, mostly favor parental notification laws, and are fine with reasonable restrictions such as bans on third trimester abortions.  

My message to our social conservative friends would simply be: Stand with us on repealing seat belt laws, lowering the drinking age to 18 for military personnel, stopping smoking bans on bars and restaurants, and yes, on legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. These issues are far more important to us libertarians. Meet us in the middle on issues that may not be that important to you all, and we’ll work with you all on issues of great importance to you all. (Gambling and legalized prostitution may get a little tricky for both sides, admittedly?)

Cotto: It has been noted that younger Republicans are far more moderate than preceding generations on social policy. During the years ahead, do you expect social issues to fall by the wayside and be replaced by fiscal as well as national security concerns?

Dondero: To some extent. But like my response above, we libertarians recognize that social conservatives are a valued and extremely important part of our coalition. Imagine a Republican Party sans the Religious Right? One made up solely of Fiscal conservatives, Scott Brown type moderate Republicans and libertarians. That’s a recipe for electoral disaster. Yeah, that will get us to 35 maybe 40%. But we need 50%+1. 

We need the Religious Right in the Republican Party. And we libertarians are very much prepared to work with our friends in the social conservative movement on issues we can find areas of agreement, like parental notification on abortion, parental choice in education, opposition to nanny-state regulations like outlawing of raw milk, and most certainly halting Obama administration attempts to force religious institutions and hospitals to provide free abortions.  

Cotto: National security is a subject on which libertarians are criticized due to their almost peacenik stances. From your standpoint, do libertarian Republicans differ from the stereotype?

Dondero: Yes. Absolutely. You must understand, our libertarian movement, specifically the Libertarian Party, was hijacked in the early to mid-1970s by a bunch of Peacenicks headed by Murray Rothbard, and Justin Raimondo publisher of AntiWar.com. They were extremely effective. So much so, that we pro-defense libertarians were sent out into the hinterlands. But we are the original libertarians. The libertarian movement in the 1960s before the Libertarian Party was stridently ant-Soviet, Ayn Rand, Barry Goldwater, even a young Californian named Dana Rohrabacher, who was Chairman of Libertarian Caucus of YAF in the late 1960s.   

We pro-defensers are winning our movement back. We’d like to think its because of our wonderful activism. But in truth, it’s just a matter of reality. Sharia Law is entirely inconsistent with libertarian beliefs. Simply put Islamists want to outlaw booze, jail marijuana smokers for life, hang gays from the nearest lamppost, and force our pretty wives and girlfriends to wear ugly black burkas from head to toe. Even the most diehard non-intervention Ron Paulist today will grudgingly admit that rising Islamism poses a threat to our personal liberties.   

And surprise, surprise! We libertarians who oppose Islamism, end up siding with our friends in the Religious Right on this. Yes, we come about it from an entirely different direction, but we end up being in the same exact spot. 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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