For the Libertarian Party to Win Elections, They Have to Work Within the GOP

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson reacts as his microphone stops working during a campaign rally, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Scott Morgan)

We’ve all seen the 2016 county-by-county map, showing how Donald Trump carried 2,649 counties compared to Hillary Clinton’s 503.

But while the map is various shades of red and blue, there’s one thing missing: not one single county is colored yellow — or whatever color the media would use — for the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, or green for the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

As I’ve mentioned before, I voted for Governor Johnson. My reasoning was simple: Pennsylvania would be easily carried by Hillary Clinton — oops, got that one wrong! — because Mrs Clinton was well ahead in the polls, Mr Trump had no chance at all of winning the election, and even less chance of carrying the Keystone State, given that the last Republican to carry the state was the elder George Bush in 1988. Not liking Mr Trump very much, it was my belief that a vote for the Libertarian candidate would be seen as a protest vote:

Stein, who ran on environmental issues and ending student debt, consistently polled around 1%-3%. Johnson, whose signature issues were a flat tax and the legalization of marijuana, seemed poised to be the favorite. At his peak in late summer and early September, Johnson was garnering 9% of the vote on average in a four-way match up, and certain polls had him in double digits. During just two weeks in August, Johnson raised more money than he did during his entire 2012 run. Plus, he and his vice presidential candidate Bill Weld were both former governors, lending some gravitas to the ticket.

And while nobody thought that Governor Johnson had a chance to carry even a single state, there were a few stories suggesting that independent candidate Evan McMuffin McMullen just might carry Utah.

In 2016, we had the perfect opportunity for third party candidates! We had a thoroughly unlikable and dishonest Democrat who was nevertheless guaranteed to win, facing an absolute [insert slang term for the rectum here] who had bragged about grabbing women by their genitals running as a Republican. Yet, in the end, in a totally noncompetitive election, Mr Johnson won a whopping 3.28% of the vote, Dr Stein won 1.07%. The Libertarian candidate cracked the 5% threshold in only nine states, doing his best in his home state of New Mexico, but still at only 9.34%.

Gentlemen, this school is about combat; there are no points for second place. — CDR Mike “Viper” Metcalf, in Top Gun

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. — Vince Lombardi

In search of libertarians

By Jocelyn Kiley | August 25, 2014

The question of whether libertarianism is gaining public support has received increased attention, with talk of a Rand Paul run for president and a recent New York Times magazine story asking if the “Libertarian Moment” has finally arrived. But if it has, there are still many Americans who do not have a clear sense of what “libertarian” means, and our surveys find that, on many issues, the views among people who call themselves libertarian do not differ much from those of the overall public.

About one-in-ten Americans (11%) describe themselves as libertarian and know what the term means. Respondents were asked whether the term “libertarian” describes them well and — in a separate multiple-choice question — asked for the definition of “someone whose political views emphasize individual freedom by limiting the role of government”; 57% correctly answered the multiple-choice question, choosing “libertarian” from a list that included “progressive,” “authoritarian,” “Unitarian” and “communist.” On the self-description question 14% said they were libertarian. For the purpose of this analysis we focus on the 11% who both say they are libertarian and know the definition of the term.

These findings come from the Pew Research Center’s political typology and polarization survey conducted earlier this year, as well as a recent survey of a subset of those respondents via the Pew Research Center’s new American Trends Panel, conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults.

Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.

There’s more at the original, but it was the last paragraph I quoted, noting that few self-described libertarians hold consistent opinions on various subjects. The Libertarian Party is hardly an ideological monolith among its members, and as we get to the wider population of those who describe themselves as libertarian — and I have tried to be consistent between upper-case Libertarians, by which I mean those who are members of the Libertarian Party, and lower-case libertarians, who see themselves thus but are not necessarily members of the party — has about as much internal chaos as the two major political parties.

Using myself as an example, I struggle between the positions of believing that if people want to f(ornicate) themselves up by using mind-altering drugs, that’s nobody else’s business, and the fact that the vast majority of people have to care for children at some points in their lives, and being messed up and unable to hold a decent job winds up being other people’s business, the business of the children of drug addicts, and the business of a society which supports a welfare system.

Of course, I have no problem at all with being consistently pro-life, inasmuch as the unborn child is a separate person, but that isn’t the Libertarian Party’s position in the slightest.

Now, there are some 186 elected officials which the Libertarian Party lists as party members.  But you will never see a longer list of borough auditors, school board members, town councilmen and conservation district officials. Unless I completely missed it, there are no state legislators, no congressmen, no anything beyond local officials, primarily those who have won non-partisan elections.

Of course, there are libertarian elected officials, such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, but, as is typical, he is a Republican with libetratian leanings. From the Wikipedia article on “Libertarian Republicans“:

Public figures

Cabinet-level officials

U.S. Representatives

U.S. Senators

State governors

  • Former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico – served two terms as governor as a Republican,[27] but switched from the Republican Party to the Libertarian Party in 2011.[28]
  • Former Governor William Weld of Massachusetts – As a Republican governor of Massachusetts, Weld self-identified as a libertarian Republican. Later, Weld drifted toward the Libertarian Party. In 2006, Weld unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for New York governor; he gained the Libertarian Party endorsement that year before dropping out of the race; in 2016, Weld ran for vice president as the running mate of Gary Johnson on the ticket of the Libertarian Party.

State legislators

Authors and scholars

Now, that’s not a lot of people . . . but it’s a lot more than the official Libertarian Party has elected to such important policy making positions.

Yet when you couple the libertarian Republicans with the “Tea Party” Republicans in Congress, 23 in the House of Representatives and 13 in the United States Senate — and there is a bit of overlap — you start to see where influence can be had.

The Tea Party isn’t an official, organized political party, but a populist, grass-roots movement of people wanting smaller government, lower taxes and keeping the federal government out of the health care system, all things which the Libertarian Party supports.  The difference is that the Tea Party worked within the GOP, running candidates in Republican primaries, and did something very much different from the Libertarians: they won a few elections.

The purest Libertarian Party will not do that; for one thing, its “leadership” would lose their cushy jobs in Alexandria,  And many of the Libertarians on Twitter are just dead set against any sort of compromise with their principles, even though being so dead set against compromise means that none of their policies get enacted because none of their people get elected.

Which brings me back to that 2016 map.  In an election which was supposed to be a guaranteed win for Hillary Clinton, I would have expected a third party candidate to win at least one county, if that third party was credible.

It turned out that no third party was credible.

Gary Johnson was part of the problem; he was woefully unprepared, and some of his positions probably turned off some Libertarian Party members.  Then again, it’s doubtful that many people agree with every single thing a particular party candidate wants to do.

Winning elections means compromise; nobody gets everything he wants.  The first duty of any politician is to win his election, so that he and his supporters have the governing power to put their agenda into action.  That is something the Libertarian Party has not done, and will not do, not until they do as the Tea Partiers did, and work within the GOP.
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