Can Rick Santorum And Ron Paul Really Get Along?

Libertarians and social conservatives stage rival Washington summits. Libertarians can be “very positive,” he says Santorum. posted on

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tony Perkins concedes that the Values Voter Summit was a little smaller than usual in 2012.

“We have 2,500 registered,” the Family Research Council chief told reporters at the annual gathering of conservatives, outside a “Values Bus” parked on the property of the Omni Shoreham hotel.

“It’s a little less than last year because the Ron Paul buses didn’t roll in this morning,” Perkins joked. “We were waiting for them but they didn’t show up.”

The annual summit has perennially been a showcase for Republican politicians to pledge allegiance to a key section of the church-organized, door-knocking, petition-carrying, and reliably-voting Christian base. But this year, the terms are different: The energy inside the Republican Party has shifted from the social conservatives toward a new generation of libertarian conservatives, some carried into the party by the Ron Paul movement, some simply — like Rep. Paul Ryan — enthusiasts of the resurgent libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. At their summit this year, the “values voters” — named for the group who, some argued, made the difference in George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign — feel especially beleaguered, burdened with a presidential candidate they don’t fully trust and the fact that the presidential campaign won’t be fought on their turf if the Republican candidates can help it. And with the tides shifting, some social conservatives at Values Voter have begun looking for a wary accommodation with their libertarian allies of convenience.

Former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum openly criticized libertarians in his speech to the audience, saying that “economic conservatism — libertarian types can say, oh, well, we don’t want to talk about the social issues. Without the church and the family, there is no conservative movement. There is no basic values in America in force, and there is no future for our country.”

Later, Santorum told BuzzFeed and a reporter from Reason that libertarianism could be “very positive, but you have to understand I’m conservative and not libertarian.”

His patience wore thin for the kinds of libertarians who might not vote for Mitt Romney. He encouraged those who might vote for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson to “vote for Barack Obama” instead.

Perkins rejected the idea that conservatives might have difficulty forging an alliance with libertarians and identified Santorum, however improbably, as the key link between the two factions.

“His candidacy was a large part of that by making the economic argument for marriage,” Perkins said.

“If you look at the libertarian viewpoint which I share in terms of I want a smaller government, I want less government, well how do you do that?” Perkins asked rhetorically. “You strengthen the American family. Because if you look at the government that has expanded, it has expanded to make up for the family which is in decline.”

“Right there is a good starting point for libertarians and social conservatives together.”

Perkins’ argument aside, there’s overlap between the two, especially in the Tea Party movement, whose roots are deep both in free-market libertarianism than in the Christian right. But not the weekend of Values Voter: libertarians organized their own conference an hour away in Chantilly, Virginia on the same days as their Christian brethren in D.C.

LPAC — the Liberty Political Action Conference — was held in a medium-sized hotel ballroom, organized by the Ron Paul-supporting Campaign for Liberty. Paul himself spoke to a crowd of some 250-300 people on Friday night, a downgrade from the audience of thousands he pulled in Tampa on the eve of the Republican convention, when he technically still a candidate.

Paul spoke for a lean (for him) 40 minutes, hitting his usual subjects of ending the Federal Reserve and calling for greater personal liberty. He’s done being a candidate and about to retire, so he felt free to wander a little, calling for people to be able to make rope out of hemp and smoke medical marijuana, as well as attacking Ben Bernanke by name and defending atheists. He no longer needs to impress the establishment that ultimately rejected him, and seemed confident about the longevity of his movement.

“They’re never going to put that back in the bottle, let me tell you,” Paul said, referring to his ideas on monetary policy.

“It used to be voting by myself was sort of a neat little event,” he said. “Now I have [Michigan Rep.] Justin Amash and other people, they’re voting with me and by my side.”

The evening finished with a showing of the trailer for “Atlas Shrugged II,” followed by a Q&A with the film’s producer. It was difficult to imagine this crowd — Ayn Rand-obsessed, slightly younger, toting beers — seamlessly blending in with any mainstream political party, let alone the most traditional and buttoned-down wing of that party.

The energy at LPAC, though diminished from Paul’s heyday, was a bit more cheerful than the scene at Values Voter. Even Bryan Fischer, the conservative radio host famous for aggressive culture-warring, seemed depressed by the proceedings; partly because of his animosity towards Mitt Romney, whom he feels has caused “energy to leak out of the campaign.”

“You kind of sag a little bit,” Fischer said. “At some point you have to generate some enthusiasm in the base, and I sense that leaking out of the Romney campaign — that energy.”

(Fischer also might not have been enjoying himself as much as usual because he didn’t speak this year; “I kind of enjoyed the challenge of [speaking] and it was just an enormous opportunity,” though “I’m glad to defer to the president [of the American Family Association] this year.”)

Over at Values Voter, Melissa Ortiz, a conservative disability policy activist (she’s wheelchair-bound and has a seizure-alert Dachshund named Lucy) voiced concerns about the new Republican coalition.

Libertarians “don’t care about anything,” Ortiz said.

“The problem with libertarians is that it’s their way or the highway, and that’s going to be an issue,” she said. “And the problem with social conservatives is it’s their way or the highway. And so you have two sets of people who both have their own agendas and own ideas.”

“So it’s going to be very interesting going forward,” she said. Ortiz is a big fan of Rand Paul, but thinks that Ron Paul’s “presentation far outweighs his ideas.”

Kansan Robbie Arney, 63, visiting the summit with her daughter, said “I wasn’t here last year and I know they bused a bunch of them in.”

“I don’t know if I approve or disapprove,” she said. “[Ron Paul] has a point of view that I think is valid in terms of limited government. That’s what we have too, but on top of that we have the values and the social things.”

But for Arney, “If you ever get a whole group of people who all believe in the same thing, don’t join it.”

“Diversity in our country and our lives is one of the most important things,” she said.

The problem for conservatives is that libertarians aren’t so far from liberals on the other side of a culture war that some feel slipping through their fingers.

For Tammy Baker, who helps run a site called PornHarms.com in D.C. and gives talks to kids about the dangers of sexting, libertarians and liberals alike are part of the decay of American values, at least on social issues.

“I think that the integration of people talking openly about gays and homosexuality — when I was growing up, that wasn’t something you talked about openly,” Baker said.

“This is an American issue, it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue,” she said.

And for others, the lax libertarian attitudes towards drug policy and marriage make little sense from a practical standpoint.

Darline Wolf, 40, a mother of nine from Manchester, Kentucky, pointed to her state’s meth problem as an example of why she mistrusts some libertarian positions.

“It’s touched everything,” Wolf said, citing hungry children and whole families torn apart by a meth-addicted parent. “What do you do, not put any policy there? There has to be something out there to regulate it, to stop it.”

But she respects Ron Paul for his commitment to the Constitution: “I’m sure that when Mitt Romney was running he gleaned some things from Ron Paul. The fact that he’s a Constitutionalist, he has some wisdom there. He has years too, there’s wisdom in the years.”

“We just have to learn which areas we have common ground in for the good of the country,” she said. “We’ll learn to listen as opposed to just protect our agenda.”

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