This is not a prediction nor is it a suggested course. It is simply what I think will probably happen, based on my experience in the movement and my beliefs about the libertarian movement.
The era of Ron Paul is reaching a peculiar phase. His "revolution" reached its pinnacle in Iowa and New Hampshire, and now, just a month and a couple of underwhelming performances later, it's looking as if his campaign is moribund. Having already stated he would not seek re-election, it appears the Ron Paul era is soon to become history. While we cannot discount the effect he will have post-politics, the fact remains is that the man is in his late seventies. Though he is in incredible shape for a man his age, one can't help but wonder what will happen to the "liberty movement" post-Ron Paul.
To me, there's really only one logical possibility: it divides. Call it an ideological mitosis.bbI would venture to guess that the majority of those currently supporting Ron Paul will continue to support his efforts through his son. The others will follow different paths. But why the split, you ask?
Rand Paul is not Ron Paul. I've seen a lot of people say that he's a better politician than his father. If by that they mean he's a better panderer and goes along with the political game better than his father, then maybe so. But I can say without hesitation that Rand would not be a Senator from Kentucky right now if his father had not run for president in 2008. And it's not mere name recognition -- Ron Paul's popularity (for what it was) brought along with it unprecedented fundraising ability and a network of passionate volunteers. The '08 campaign was responsible for the creation of Young Americans for Liberty and the Campaign for Liberty, which are directly associated to Paul himself. In fact, he staffed the boards of both organizations with friends and family. Both organizations were involved in Rand's election campaign (in some cases illegally, not that I care). Rand inherits all of this effective immediately after his father drops out of the current presidential race.
Rand lacks Ron's charisma and the intangibles that make him a great leader and source of motivation. It is that aura about Ron Paul, his intangibles, that is the glue that holds the "liberty movement" together. Rand is pretty dry, and often contentious in interviews. Many will follow him, as they have followed the elder Paul, but I would suggest they will do so with noses held or with feigned enthusiasm. This post isn't intended to be a pile-on Rand Paul, although I'm sure I'll address him as time goes on. The point is that Rand Paul is not, in my opinion, capable of leading a movement. Even if he were, he's not enough like his father to be able to maintain the same sort of alliance. He's more closely aligned Mike Lee or Justin Amash (although I do have some admiration for Amash) than Gary Johnson or Harry Browne. The former are constitutional (in theory) conservatives, the latter are more classical libertarians (is it too soon to have a "classical libertarianism"?). When the glue is gone, something's gotta give.
Because of this, the movement will become a political Pangea and fracture into several pieces. Some will remain a part of the original mass. Tea party conservatives, paleo-conservatives, John Birch Society members, some mainstream conservatives and those with an unbreakable loyalty to Paul the Wiser will likely to continue supporting Paul the Younger. Those who were previously apathetic will likely revert to apathy. And what of the rest of the libertarian movement? The classic libertarians? The left-libertarians? The cosmotarians? The genuine independents who like Ron but who wouldn't find Rand appealing?
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson provides one potential avenue to consider. His platform is more in line both with classical libertarianism, and, I would assert, the American people. His promising 2012 campaign essentially became null once Ron Paul stepped into the ring and sapped practically all of Governor Johnson's potential supporters. Knowing this, Governor Johnson decided to drop out of the race and instead run for the Libertarian Party nomination. He's not exactly a shoo-in, but I can't see him not getting the nomination at this point.
Like any decision, this one has its positives and negatives. On the one hand, this could be one the most successful third party runs in modern U.S. history. That will help spread the message of more classical libertarianism. On the other hand, though, it essentially makes him electorally irrelevant henceforth. He's damaged goods now, and likely will be unable to run as a major party candidate again. As a third party candidate he's limited to being a spoiler. This leaves the cosmotarian element with more questions than answers. The potential left-libertarian savior is now destined to be national afterthought, potentially perennially.
All of this leaves more questions than it answers. I won't pretend to know what will happen, but what I would like to see is a bifurcation instead of a polyfurcation. A libertarianism of the left and of the right. Forthcoming posts will get into the strategy and details of this.