Austin Petersen published an article, “5 Reasons Libertarians Will Never Win An Election,” a somewhat critical, at some times tongue-in-cheek criticism of the electoral woes of the Libertarian Party. I read it, and you should, too. It’s a fine cautionary tale for any political party, and especially for the Libertarian Party, a group that has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for years. And he brings up some great points – I’ll be giving credit where it is due below.
However, when I read it, my immediate first response was “I need to write a rebuttal”. The fine folks at The Libertarian Republic – which the aforementioned Austin Petersen founded, and he’s included in that – welcomed the opposing viewpoint. So, without further ado, here are 5 reasons why Libertarians are destined to win elections…
1) Third Parties enrollments and votes are on a consistent rise, and the Libertarian Party is outpacing the rest of the pack.
Austin quite accurately states in his article that districting – the creation of voting districts – is currently done by legislative groups who are exclusively controlled by Democrats and Republicans. That’s not something that is inside the control of the Libertarian Party.
However, he also points to the Larry Sharpe gubernatorial campaign in New York (full disclosure: I was a deputy on the Sharpe campaign) as a “temperature check for the upcoming political climate.” I completely agree with the statement, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Larry Sharpe’s vote totals as a Libertarian were nearly double that of the next best New York Libertarian campaign for governor – Warren Redlich’s 2010 run that garnered just north of 48k votes in the voting booths – and SIX TIMES that of the 2014 candidate’s numbers. Sharpe’s numbers were enough to gain the Libertarian Party of New York ballot access for the very first time. Furthermore and very confusingly, Larry Sharpe had to share a ballot line in most of the state with Stephanie Miner, candidate for the Serve America Movement. The SAM also (barely) obtained ballot access – anecdotal reports are that people voted for both candidates on the line, nullifying both votes and artificially deflating numbers by as many at 14,000 votes statewide.
When a typical party gains ballot access in New York, they usually don’t have any enrollees day one. An example of this is the Women’s Equality Party, founded in 2014 to assist in getting Andrew Cuomo votes on an additional line in this fusion-ballot state. When that party gained ballot access in 2014, they had zero enrollees. When they lost their ballot access this year, they had 6,191 (source). Because the Libertarian Party was able to field a statewide candidate in 2014, this was allowed as an other “write-in” choice. On Day 1, the Libertarian Party has more than 8,000 enrollees.
And more than six million Democrats. But more than zero.
Between 2008 and 2016, New York “Independent” voters (read: not Democrat or Republican) rose 7.5% (source), a trend that is echoed nationwide. Gallup has for many years shown that approximately one third of all voters are not associating with the two party system. As the largest third party, the Libertarian Party is the greatest benefactor. While the independent numbers tend to go down a little around Presidential primaries – everyone wants to vote for or against the guy they see on the news – they’ve trended upwards since 2004.
So, we have a long way to go in numbers, but the Libertarian Party numbers are trending higher, at a faster rate than any other party.
2) The Libertarian Party Fits Into the 2020 Narrative, Better Than Ever Before
Some people, including Austin Petersen, believe the 2020 election will be a referendum on Donald Trump…. and to some extent, that’s true…. but no more so than any other reelection campaign. George H.W. Bush lost in 1992 because of the recession we had fallen into as a nation during his Presidency. His son won reelection in 2004 on a platform of national security. Donald Trump will likely run on a platform boasting of his economic gains and immigration policy, and the electorate will either buy into it or they won’t.
This is no different than any other year with a reelection campaign.
Doubtless, many Libertarians will hear “I like your guy, but I need to vote for Team Blue or else I will get Team Red”, or vice versa. We who were involved in the Larry Sharpe campaign heard that from both sides. And yet Libertarians still got votes, nationwide, in high numbers. Why is that, if we didn’t fit into the narrative? Let’s look at an example where a solid Libertarian candidate DOES fit into the narrative and offers an alternative to, as radio host Shannon Joy calls it, “the Unibrow” of a two-party system.
Agree with it or not, the LP has a platform plank concerning immigration (source). Note: the policy paper I cite here doesn’t call for open borders, but a rational security check (something Austin Petersen advocated for in his own presidential platform). It offers a stark contrast to Trump’s plan, which has been a mess but in recent days have been accompanied by a call from our President to close the border. The President has a record, as Chief Executive of the United States, on this subject – a record to which the Libertarian Party offers a principled alternative.
But doesn’t the Democrat Party also offer an alternative on the immigration issue? Yes. However, their alternative is an indictment of, and I quote, “Trump’s hatred and bigotry”, and doesn’t actually offer a policy solution. In other words, “We ain’t Trump”. Their nominee – and we’ll talk specifically on that in a moment – is running not as someone with principled ideas, but as someone who isn’t Trump. A candidate solely running as an opposition choice doesn’t traditionally draw well, and will likely not perform well in a debate on issues.
The issue didn’t have to be immigration. In fact, the Democrat platformmentions Donald Trump 32 times. They’re positioned to be an alternative to Trump, and nothing more. And, with no less than thirty-seven peopleexpressing interest in the nomination, there isn’t a Democrat to focus on who will change that. The Libertarian platform, in contrast, mentions no candidate of any party by name. This is a platform with a place in any narrative, and not just in opposition to one guy.
Will a Libertarian win in 2020? I hope so, but probably not. But the party will have a significant seat at the table
3) Libertarians Are Learning How to Debate And Write Policy Like Adults
Many people who know a little about Libertarians have probably gotten into an argument about one particular issue online – be it sex workers being reported to the IRS for taxes, gun control, taxation being theft, or any number of other issues. Traditionally, these tend toward shouting matches and occasional public displays of protest that are debatable in their tastefulness. Some feel these bold moves are necessary to get attention.
This is no longer the norm for a Libertarian.
I am a Libertarian, as you probably guessed by this article. My first Libertarian vote was for President – Harry Browne in 1996. Harry Browne was a great idea guy – which is why I voted for him and bought his book – but when going through his platform as a 24-year-old young man, it scared the hell out of me! He was angry at everything the government did, and wanted to abolish everything, day one. On paper, that’s great, but people don’t like having their decades-old safety nets yanked out from under them overnight. Browne’s platform was a great idea with no path to get there. Larry Sharpe learned from that mistake and provided the path (along with his policy team, who were top-notch). Gary Johnson’s platform was similar, not calling for the abolition of everything, but rather a path to reduction in taxes and government intervention, and that resonated a lot better with voters than an ideologue could.
I don’t for one minute regret my votes for Harry Browne. His 2000 platform was a lot less scary and a lot more practical. He learned how to better communicate his great ideas to the masses, too!
More importantly, the candidates finding more success in a modern electoral world are articulating their ideas directly to voters, in much more digestible ways. Larry Sharpe didn’t win people over by getting into shouting matches on social media, or through wild protest. He won people over by visiting their hometowns and offering bold Libertarian ideas. He brought his ideas – some more Libertarian than others – to towns and villages across New York. He held rallies, where like-minded people could speak energetically on his behalf.
As Libertarians get better at debate and policy authoring, these ideas can only spread faster.
4) The Party Is Not Being Overrun By Anyone
This is the point on which Austin and I disagree most sharply.
Austin states ” the Party is being weighed down by Libertarian Socialists, Anarcho Communists and ANTIFA activists whose main objective is to abolish private property rights within the party.” This simply isn’t true. The LibSoc group is small, and none of them hold power with the party. In fact, this sentiment is largely coming from one guy. One. Judging a party and calling it overrun when it’s one guy is like calling the Republican Party overrun by racists because one guy who used to be a KKK Grand Wizard ran as a Republican once. It’s absurd to judge a party by a stark minority view, and most people outside the party aren’t seeing that.
In fact, more people saw the work of another “Libertarian”, Chris Cantwell, in Charlottesville, VA last year. The Crying Nazi was once affiliated with the Libertarian Party. It’s true. Amazingly, his alt-right ideas didn’t catch fire in the LP and overrun the place any more than the left socialists did – and, with the influx of right-leaning Ron Paul supporters, some feared that. It never happened.
There’s a reason. The Libertarian Party is guided by a Statement of Principles – and it clearly states
We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose. (source)
Fringe views that are not in line with this aren’t going to overrun the party. The party has been strongly socially tolerant and fiscally conservative for decades. No one person or small group can change that.
5) The NAP Is Fundamentally Flawed… and That’s A Good Thing!
Austin says “I have always said the Non Aggression Principle (NAP) is an excellent guide, but makes for a poor pledge due to its flaws. ” For those unaware, it is the piece of the Statement of Principles that I quoted above.
It isn’t perfect. If applied too literally, it becomes a principle of complete nonintervention, rather than the “live and let live” guide it’s supposed to be. And some who call themselves “libertarian” take it to the extreme, going so far as to harass someone who, for example, calls the police on an erratic driver. And, in “Sophie’s Choice” type circumstances, such as in the case of abortion, there’s an inherent aggression no matter which choice is made.
Its flaws aren’t a negative. By its very existence as a guiding principle, the NAP makes every Libertarian think, carefully, about every belief they hold. It makes coercion in all aspects of life so much more clear. The abortion position by the Libertarian Party (which leaves the decision to the discretion of the individual Libertarian) is a great example. A Democrat or Republican hold their very black-and-white position because their team captains said so – which is never so much better illustrated than by Donald Trump himself. A Libertarian can defend their position, and you’ll find so many more than traditional pro-life and pro-choice positions – there’s nuance.
….But Maybe Not Tomorrow
The LP has made great strides in recent years. The membership and enrollment numbers have swelled. Libertarians are winning local electionsaround the country. However, the party is still small, and still acts small relative to the two major parties. This is slowly changing. I cannot say never. I recognize it will take time to grow. I intend to be there when we are finally winning elections, consistently. The ideas of liberty are too good to keep losing.