Three years ago, Republican kingmakers cheered wildly after the landmark Citizens United decision. The Supreme Court had voted to dissolve limits on corporate campaign contributions, leading many conservatives to believe they now had a permanent electoral edge. But veterans of the Grand Old Party hadn’t prepared for the budding insurgency within their ranks. They had not prepared for John Ramsey.
In the spring of 2012, Ramsey and a coterie of fledgling, libertarian rebels threw their weight behind Thomas H. Massie, an obscure MIT-educated engineer—the Ayn Rand confection of the perfect man—who was running for a House seat in northern Kentucky. Massie had fallen behind the establishment candidate in the primary, but after the surge of support—cash for advertising—he won handily, defeating his opponent by 15 percentage points. And suddenly, John Ramsey, who like the Great Gatsby had come from nowhere, became the youngest power player in American politics.
In many respects, John Ramsey’s rise explains the rifts in the Republican Party. He is part of a new crop of politicos ascending within the ranks of the right. These young men and women are of a different strain, gravitating toward Ron Paul rather than George W. Bush. They came of age in the wake of 9/11 and grew disenchanted during the Bush years, feeling as though Republicans squandered American funds, mangled foreign policy and eroded civil liberties—all before the Great Recession.
Ramsey and his kind practice, ironically enough, a version of what the last president called “compassionate conservatism.” However, they come by the brand far more honestly, as they believe the federal government should leave well alone in all respects. In other words, they don’t feel compelled to walk the party line, and they have a carte blanche approach to politics—to life in general—picking and choosing what suits their unique sensibility, regardless of contradictions. It is, perhaps, the most natural extension of the Internet age, in which reality is a curated experience.