WASHINGTON — For more than three decades, the Republican Party brand has been deeply tied to a worldview in which the aggressive use of American power abroad is both a policy imperative and a political advantage.
Now, a new generation of Republicans like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is turning inward, questioning the approach that reached its fullest expression after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and signaling a willingness to pare back the military budgets that made it all possible.
Put this together with Senator Rob Portman's crystallization of the Republican inner angst over marriage equality, and you begin to see the remaking of the GOP (for the third time in about 20 years).

During the Republican heyday of the 1960s-1980s the three legs of the GOP stool were foreign policy hawks, social conservatives, and libertarians.  That (often uncivil) union was kept together by a focus on winning elections, which included Ronald Reagan's famous 11th Commandment:  Thou shalt speak no ill of a fellow Republican.

During the 1990s, however, true social conservatives were replaced (albeit under the same label) by evangelical Christians, a group that Gipper himself had, ironically, kept at arm's length the same way the Democratic Party used to treat its gay constituents (feed them plenty of promises before every election and then do nothing, 'cause where are they going to go?).  The two primary differences between old-line social conservatives and evangelicals were (a) the soc/cons really did believe in small government, which the evangelicals don't; and (b) the soc/cons understood the nature of political compromise, which (again) the evangelicals don't.  It is difficult to compromise when your play-caller is Jesus, and it was therefore the evangelicals who gifted us with RINO ("Republican in Name Only"), a term destined to shatter GOP unity and make Reagan turn over in his grave.

At roughly the same time, the hawkish foreign policy wing of split into internationalist and neo-con wings, both interventionist and military hawks, but both also seeing the world in profoundly different terms.  It is a general tribute to obfuscation on the part of our journalistic class that most people do not realize that the fundamental difference between George HW Bush and Dubya was that the former was in an internationalist and the latter was a neo-con, and that they had considerable disagreement over foreign policy.

Then along came the Tea Party, filling in the spot formerly held by Libertarians, but being in reality the conservative populist reflection of the Occupy movement and sharing more affinity with the evangelicals than the Libertarians ever felt for the social conservatives.  The Tea Party is not, I say again, precisely Libertarian though it takes Libertarian stands on some issues.  The most notable would be civil rights and foreign policy, but the difference in the non-interventionist espoused by most Tea Partiers and the non-interventionism advocated by most Libertarians is as significant and the gulf between the internationalists and the neo-cons.

Libertarians (big-L) are still trying to figure out where they stand in all this.  Foreign policy hawks and evangelicals still held doggedly onto control of the party apparatus in 2008 and 2012, which is why Republicans like Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and Ron Paul could not gain any traction.  These men all took different routes.  Huntsman walked away; Johnson went Libertarian Party; and Paul committed to burrowing into the GOP to change it from the inside.  At the moment, Paul's strategy appears to have been the most effective in the longterm, as evidenced by the experience of his son, Senator Rand Paul.

Rand is not so much a libertarian, or even the elusive "libertarian Republican," but is really more of an attempt to be the "new model Republican."  His token endorsement of Romney in 2012, so reviled by many Ron Paul supporters at the time, seems now to qualify as a brilliant maneuver.  He made his bones inside the GOP, and his filibuster caused all the Paulistas and Tea Partiers to forget about his apostasy.  Rand is not yet a polished politician; he is capable of painting himself into some gratuitously stupid corners, such as he did with comments on civil rights legislation, but he has mastered the one essential of a 21st century politician:  he understands that it is all about moving on and re-inventing yourself as you go.  Given the attention span of today's voters (which compares unfavorably to that of gnats), this is a workable approach.

If Rand does represent the new quasi-libertarian face of the GOP, what will be the legs upon which the party seeks to stand?  If the party is actually to recover itself and become a legitimate national party again in terms of presidential competitiveness, their will be three new legs to the GOP stool, each exemplified by a rising politician:

Rand Paul represents the libertarian element in terms of foreign policy and civil rights; he will eventually have to modify himself to become somewhat less non-interventionist to make internal peace with the war hawks, which might have the odd (but desirable) impact of helping American elucidate an actual balanced and sensible foreign policy, both in terms of interventionism and defense budget.

Chris Christie represents true neo-Reaganism in the GOP.  Reagan talked tough about small government, but as both governor and President raised taxes when he really needed to.  Christie blusters in public and compromises in private.  He represents the opportunity for the GOP to find an actual governance model that straddles the social conservatives and the evangelicals, neither of whom trusts him, but neither of whom can figure out how he manages to keep governing.

Rob Portman (I'm sort of using him as a placeholder here) is the latest poster-child for social moderates in the GOP, with his Damascus moment on marriage equality.  Portman will not go anywhere nationally now, because he will be the last victim of the Old Guard, much as Bob Casey's anti-abortion views made him a victim in the Democratic Party.  But he heralds the generational change necessary for the GOP to re-invent itself.  He is what Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson were looking for and couldn't find.

Who gets lost in the shuffle (albeit not without a fight)?  Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Mitt Romney--all of whom will soon be dinosaurs that never saw ssthe meteor coming.  Ironically, in many ways, the new GOP that I am positing is one that Newt Gingrich would be comfortable with.

Back to the Libertarian Party then.  Does the Rand Paul/Ron Paul infiltration into the GOP make it a complete dead end?  I don't think so, but I do think its role has to become primarily one at the state and local level, about which I will be writing more soon.

But this analysis (which is worth what you paid for it) presumes two other things.

(1) That we will reach a position again wherein there are multiple views in both major parties, allowing for cross-party compromises.  If the GOP has its three legs of "new model" foreign policy, pragmatic small government, and social moderates, the Democratic Party is equally beginning to re-fracture along lines of social moderates, special interest coalitions, corporatists, and progressives.  Ironically, progressives are about to become, I think, the biggest losers in the Democratic Party because they are right now at the peak of the influence.  Unfortunately, they do not realize that as the influence of evangelicals declines in the GOP, so will theirs in the Democratic Party.  They are outliers, comprising only about 12-15% of the total spectrum, and about 20% within their own party.  Having failed to see that their current success is not the result of anybody being truly in love with their policies, but due primarily to being seen as a good counterweight to evangelicals, they are destined for another decline.

(2) That 12-15%, however, is ironically about the Libertarian number, and about the hardcore Paulist number (with some overlap).  Often people ridicule their political foes by pointing out that they are only in that range, but the reality is that 12-15% is pretty much all you need to be at the table and even in leadership positions, if you are properly organized.  Nobody, no hardcore political persuasion in America gets above about 20-24% of the population because we really are that diverse.  Diversity may or may not be strength, but it is certainly our reality today.

By 2016 Hillary Clinton will be John McCain.  The Democrats have to change or weaken as well, and they have no real understanding of that fact.  Obama's successor, be it Hillary or Biden, will almost inevitably be a one-term President, followed by the emergence in 2020 of the full-fledged new GOP.  Political parties move in complimentary cycles, after all.  Think of the 2016 GOP candidate, who could be either Rand Paul or Chris Christie, as the John Charles Fremont of 1856.  In 1856 everyone knew Fremont wouldn't win, but he scared the Dems of his day shitless about their future, and nobody knew at the time who Abraham Lincoln was.