So, again: Most of the people you hear talking about the rise of libertarianism are traditional conservatives trying to get over with a new shtick. They're more interested in restoring the Constitutional right of rich people to take over public resources and make private profit from them, and in otherwise ceding the rich greater rights than the poor, than they are in your window-box of weed or, heaven forfend, your so-called right to abortion -- among libertarian deal-breakers, raw milk beats reproductive rights every time. Check out Mark Ames' nice preemptive post-mortem on Paul at Pando from October, and scroll down to the 1999 speech Rand's daddy, Ron Paul, made in defense of Microsoft versus the regulators who were sizing up Bill Gates' monopoly practices ("This is a good time for Congress to reassess the antitrust laws"). Hell, check out the Koch brothers. Money talks and hackey-sack walks.
Also check out Veronique de Rugy at National Review, responding to her colleague Ramesh Ponnuru's dismissive take on the LibMo. de Rugy does the routine about how libertarianism is more cultural than political -- a favorite of folks who want obscure the essential conservatism of what passes for libertarian politics -- and then adds:
...I don’t care particularly about getting libertarian candidates elected. I do, however, care about Americans with libertarian instincts electing more pro-freedom and pro-market lawmakers like Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul or Representatives Thomas Massie and Justin Amash. They may not consistently call themselves libertarians but they are clearly putting pressure on their Republican colleagues and pushing them to be more pro-freedom, to adopt more free-market policies, and to be embarrassed by their overspending and big-government tendencies.These three guys are best known for hollering about Obama tyranny every chance they get, and Amash recently distinguished himself by voting against federal water aid to Flint on the grounds that "the U.S. Constitution does not authorize the federal government to intervene in an intrastate matter like this one" -- though maybe he was just trying to get dehydrated citizens to explore raw milk. Plus he's really into the flat tax. Feel the freedom!
As for Rand Paul himself, he has his good points and his bad points; he's your basic ambitious Republican Senator, which is to say a potentially catastrophic grifter, and when he returns to the national stage in another political season who knows how much libertarianism he'll flash. Maybe he'll call for war against Iran, and be hailed for the bold political jiu-jitsu -- then, back to war with the EPA!
UPDATE. Though I had nowhere to put it in the main post, I'm re-upping this old thing about another popular favorite among conservatarians: Approving social safety nets only so long as they serve as corporations' no-cost health care plan. I mean, you can't have a post like this without some Megan McArdle.