I’m not ruling out a sudden surge, but, as for this writing, it seems very likely that Rand Paul will not get the Republican nomination, at least not this time. Maybe the future will be different.

Let’s reflect on the meaning of this and its implications for the future of liberty.

Based on my social feeds, many libertarians are drawing the wrong lessons. They say that the reason Rand didn’t pull it off is because he departed too much from the script. He should have been more upfront about his libertarianism. He should have been more aggressive in pushing a peaceful foreign policy and civil liberties. He should have been more radical on domestic politics.

As much as that would have delighted me, and as much as I long for truth in public life, it is very reasonable to assume that doing so would not have helped him politically. On the contrary, all available evidence is that taking this position would have made his loss a sure thing. Whether he would be a bit higher in the polls than he is now is hard to say. But this much is true: a libertarian cannot win the Republican nomination.

In the most recent debate, Rand seemed to shift toward a more openly liberty-minded position. He condemned the drug war. He said that we should not go back to Iraq. He was pointed in saying that he had always opposed the Iraq war. He made mention of the disparate impact of many laws on the poor.

The result of this excellent performance: he slipped further in the polls. Keep this in mind when you are critiquing his campaign. The people who ran it knew something that most libertarians don’t want to think about: liberty is not a popular position among Republican voters. That he fell further in the polls the more open he was is a demonstration of that.

Now let’s presume that his goal at the outset was to get the nomination. He was not running an educational campaign; his father had already done that. He was not running to delight you and me. His sole purpose in committing his personal resources was to become president, to actually get serious about doing politics — with the goal of doing good things for the country.

Keep that mind as you think through this. Can you get the nomination by opposing foreign interventions, calling for dramatic military cuts, or aggressively opposing the social fascism of the religious right, by directly taking on the whole ruling class and their sources of power and money? There’s no way.

How do we know? There was an empirical test that occurred a few years ago, in the 2012 presidential campaign. Here is the most reliable public polling data of the candidates.

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As you can see, the Ron Paul campaign stayed in the 6-10% range for the bulk of the campaign. Gingrich and Santorum, in contrast, polled as high as 35%. Ron’s polling pushed up to a height of 15% after Rick Perry (who had 32% at his height) dropped out — which makes sense given that they were both from Texas. In general, however, Ron’s support had a firm and impenetrable glass ceiling, simply because of the views of the typical Republican voter.

If we look back to the 2008 election, we see something very similar. Ron Paul polled at about 6% for most of the time, reaching a height of 7%.

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What’s striking about these polls is the complete absence of any evidence of breaking from the pack. Unlike the other candidates such as Herman Cain, who boomed up to 26% at one point, the libertarian occupied a stable but relatively small niche and never got beyond it.

What was the difference between Ron and Rand? Rand beat Ron’s polling at one point, coming in as high as 17%.

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He hoped to go beyond that, which accounts for the broadening of his rhetoric. The risk of doing that is losing your base, which did indeed happen.

But think of this from a tactical standpoint. Losing your base is not a risk if the sole goal is to get beyond the base and enter into the mainstream. I’m guessing that the Rand campaign had every confidence that the libertarians would eventually come around — just as they always come around.

After all, it would have been an amazing victory for him to get the nomination and gain the chance to be president. Libertarians would have been overjoyed — and the ones that vote might have helped him.

But again, remember that the purpose of the Rand campaign was to win the nomination. If that is the first goal, the way he went about it makes sense. It didn’t seem likely an entirely crazy goal either, given that the New York Times has been going on about the “libertarian moment,” that libertarian conferences are going on all over the country, that the polls indicate that people are fed up with government in so many ways.

But here’s the problem. It’s one thing to hate the status quo. It’s something else to embrace the only moral and viable alternative to the status quo. There are many other paths to break with the establishment besides cutting government to the bone.

One of them has been exploited by Donald Trump: run as a strong man and tap into nativist fears. This is the tried and true path of fascism. As an ideological structure it has proven far more popular among GOP primary voters than any form of coherent libertarian ideology.

Is this an indication that we should despair? No. Certainly there is no reason to be hopeful about the prospects of electoral politics and top-down reform. If the time ever comes when a true liberty-minded person has a real chance at the nomination, it seems further off than ever.

But do we need to wait to realize liberty until a majority of the population has come around to the case for the full libertarian loaf? If we believe that, we are living an illusion, and there is a good case for despair. It is not going to happen.

Liberty is part of the structure of human life, a longing of the soul of every person. It’s a universal feature of the human person. It’s in the particulars that matters bog down. The particulars could also be our salvation.

This is why I’m much more interested in the micro-strategies of reform, challenging system of compulsion and control through technological innovation and revolutionary entrepreneurship. Here we see real results.

That doesn’t mean that politics is a worthless enterprise. But it does mean that no one should expect politics to lead revolutionary change. As for those who do their best to use the system to beat the system, they deserve every congratulation.

This race hasn’t been easy for Rand. I felt like I could see the pain on his face during the second debate. He spoke the truth. He deserves credit for it. It is also to his credit that he can’t get the nomination.