In an interview with the Washington Examiner two months into President Trump's administration, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) reflected on the president's ascent to America's highest office, offering fresh insights from his vantage point as a libertarian-leaning representative smack in the heart of Trump country.
To explain 2016, Massie looks to previous cycles. Rand Paul's upset victory in the 2010, Ron Paul's enthusiastic following in the 2012 presidential race, and his own win in the 2012 congressional primary all looked, at first glance, like a libertarian wave.
"I went to Iowa twice and came back with [Ron Paul]. I was with him at every event for the last three days in Iowa," Massie said. "From what I observed, not just in Iowa but also in Kentucky, up close with individuals, was that the people that voted for me in Kentucky, and the people who had voted for Rand Paul in Iowa several years before, were now voting for Trump. In fact, the people that voted for Rand in a primary in Kentucky were preferring Trump."
"All this time," Massie explained, "I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren't voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along."
Massie's observation that libertarian-minded voters, those who devoted passionate support to Sen. Paul and his father in previous cycles, are likely more attracted to "crazy" personalities than candidates with ideological purity bears important implications for the future of that movement. Do those voters, more than anything, crave change agents over philosophical disciples?
Massie sees Trump as more of a populist than a libertarian conservative, but noted important similarities between both camps. "There are some places where populism overlaps with libertarianism and contradicts the establishment here in D.C.," Massie said. "For instance, less proclivity to go to war, less appetite for having 20 or 30,000 troops in any one country to subsidize their defense."
"I see overlap there," he concluded.
Massie chalks Trump's success in the general election up to his pledge to shake up Washington, saying, "He had the change mantle and Hillary didn't."
Massie recalled an encounter he had with one of Trump's most powerful primary opponents during the election, reflecting, "I remember I ran into Jeb Bush in a hotel lobby in Iowa. He was just there, no staff and we started talking.
Bush, Massie said, "was adamant that Trump wasn't a real Republican."
"Ironic," the congressman noted, "because that was — in my circle of hardcore supporters — that's the charge leveled at the Bushes."
It's worth noting that Americans generally tend to be less devoted to ideological teams than we realize, as I outlined Tuesday in this analysis of Bernie Sanders' appeal to Trump voters. Populism transcends party lines for a reason.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.