Saturday, May 28, 2016

Will Libertarians (Finally) Be Competitive in the Presidential Race?

This weekend, Libertarians from across the country are meeting in Orlando to nominate a candidate for President.  No Libertarian presidential candidate since 1980 has broken 1% of the popular vote.  But this year, with the major parties nominating the two candidates who are the most unpopular presidential candidates ever, the Libertarians, with their fifty state ballot access, find themselves possible players in the presidential sweepstakes.

The leading candidate going into the Libertarian convention is former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson who was the nominee last year.  Johnson though apparently committed a sin before the convention in picking as his running mate, William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts.  Johnson was booed at the convention for the unpopular choice of a card-carrying Republican as his VP. But Johnson is a former Republican himself. Apparently though Johnson has
Austin Petersen
been able to cleanse himself of his sin of being a GOP elected official.

My impression is that many Libertarians are not serious about winning elections.  Libertarian meetings too often seem about socializing and pontificating about political issues.  Many Libertarians seem to have a holier-than-thou attitude criticizing Republicans and Democrats, with the chief topic being criticizing people in the two parties for being philosophically inconsistent.  Yet the past couple years, the Libertarians displayed their own philosophical hypocrisy, rushing to embrace the Supreme Court decision mandating that the 50 states permit same sex marriage while apparently forgetting the party's long-time opposition to judicial activism and support of federalism.  Then many Libertarians showed that they only like certain parts of the Constitution, and that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment was a provision they could live without.  Libertarians insisted they were okay with religious freedom in the Constitution, they just didn't support court decisions and laws that would actually protect and implement religious freedom.

Still this election presents an historic opportunity for the Libertarians...if the party can get its collective act together.  While Johnson is favored to take home the nomination, another candidate, Austin Peterson, might prove to have broader appeal.   Peterson is founder of the libertarian movement news and commentary site Libertarian Republic.  He was also a staffer on Judge Napolitano's Fox Business News show Freedom Watch.  The problem though is that Peterson is very young, only 35, and obviously doesn't have the electoral experience of a former Governor.  Experience though didn't seem to mean too much to voters this election cycle, however.  I would imagine that Peterson, a conservative with a libertarian bit, a man whose philosophy is similar to Sen. Rand Paul, could pull in mainline conservatives unhappy with the GOP failure to nominate a conservative this cycle.  Peterson could also appeal to younger Sanders voters who want a fresh, anti-Establishment candidate.

The other candidate is John McAfee, founder of the virus software company.  During his convention speech, McAfee complained about Republicans taking over the party.

In recent polls, Johnson was polling at 10% and 11%.  Most of that undoubtedly is a protest vote against the two party's candidates. But regardless of how those votes come, if the Libertarian candidate can get to 15% in the polls that candidate will join the Trump and Clinton on the main stage. After that, all bets are off.

If the Libertarians can't be competitive in this year's presidential contest, the party will never be competitive.  I'm just not sure that Libertarians are serious about winning elections.  So what if many people casting a vote for the party are people who are voting against Trump and Clinton?  It is time for Libertarians to grow up and the party to become a major player in American politics.


Anonymous said...

No, the game is rigged. How much more proof do you need?

Eric Morris said...

I don't disagree with your analysis. Though most of the few of us that are libertarians are small L non-party members. You can fault us for that, but the core principle of actual libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, and voting, government, and taxation all violate that. I'd rather read Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, and Robert Wenzel than waste my time voting. It makes not a difference--my informed non vote will matter as much as all your votes.

Pete Boggs said...

Unpopular- what accounts for record turnout in Republican primaries?

Your "not serious about winning" criticism of Libertarians is on the mark. For a party with such great ideas; they're woefully weak on strategy & execution. Libertarians (consider myself a small "L") remind me of my friend's dog "Me-too," so named because of its perpetual, cocked head, mutt worn expression; me too, can I go too?

Paul K. Ogden said...


What you saw with the high turnout in Republican primaries is Republicans-leaning voters who had never before voting in the GOP primary, voting in the GOP primary. These people reliably vote Republican in the general election. So there is no gain of Republican voters.

Poll after poll says that Trump is historically unpopular, even more unpopular than the second most unpopular presidential candidate of all time, Hillary Clinton. I don't think you can simply say all the polls which say the same thing about Trump (and Clinton's) unpopularity are simply wrong. Trump is extremely lucky in that he is running against the only Democratic candidate he has any chance of beating. If the D's nominated Biden, Trump would be history. If the R's nominated virtually anyone but Trump, Clinton would be a goner.

LamLawIndy said...

The LP blew it...they picked a sickeningly statist Johnson-Weld ticket this past weekend. Too bad for them, Petersen would've increased the level of interest in the LP.