Will Wilkinson is a liberaltarian with a problem. Having some libertarian tendencies, he agrees with conservatives on some issues. The problem for him is that many conservatives do icky things like pray and have positive emotional connections with the American flag. The result is that Wilkinson feels a need to demonstrate that while he may agree with conservatives on some issues, he despises them as much as any MSNBC junkie. That usually wouldn’t be a problem as America’s political coalitions will do what they do as Wilkinson works out his issues, but his desire to disassociate himself from the center-right throws off his analysis.
Wilkinson cultural hostility makes it tougher for him to see the reasons for the strengths and limits of “libertarian populism”. Wilkinson describes the political success of the Pauls as being partly driven by their alliances with “racist and nativist movements”. He brings up Ron Paul’s racist newsletters.
The only problem is the calendar. When Ron Paul was publishing the newsletters, he was out of electoral politics after making an obscure run as a libertarian presidential candidate. Paul’s newsletters drew enough of an audience to earn an income, but he only barely won when he ran for the House of Representatives again in 1996. The Paul newsletter strategy (which despised its intended audience) was an attempt to sell libertarianism in a candy coating of white resentment. The result was that Paul had a mailing list, but was otherwise marginal. It was Paul running for president on nonintervention, drug legalization, and sharp spending cuts that drew progressively greater Republican primary support in 2008 and 2012. A libertarian might actually take heart that elements of the Republican primary electorate were increasingly open to the libertarian position on some issues and that white resentment had proven to be a political dead end- even if Paul himself remained a hopelessly flawed candidate. But if disassociating yourself from that electorate is what you need to do, best to pretend that the increase in Paul support was driven by decades old newsletters that only a small proportion of Paul’s current supporters had read and that the candidate had (disingenuously) disavowed. The scary alternative explanation is that the hated Republican electorate is moving in your direction on some issues (while continuing to pray and stuff).