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by Jacob Nestle

There have been plenty of explanations bandied about why Gary Johnson under-performed his polling numbers so badly in the election, even though he did manage to absolutely smash the Libertarian Party record. Heck, he even got blamed for Trump’s win. That’s not what I’m going to talk about.

Dozens of people just among my own personal circles are annoyed that he didn’t do better. Not just at Gary, either. That’s definitely part of it. The more die-hard members of the liberty movement are almost angry. 2016 was our big chance, they say. But Johnson/Weld blew it. It’s not enough for a lot of people to look at just what Weld did. Aleppogate wasn’t the culprit.

Let’s get one thing straight: If the Libertarian Party wants to consistently win elections, it needs a consistent message.

Consistent messages keep things simple.

For all that the main two parties bicker among themselves (and this year, for most the most part, worse than usual) the Libertarian Party is worse. As an independent, it just looks bad. Period. It took a good friend of mine and a lot of reading for me to realize that I was at least mostly Libertarian.

That’s the issue. The liberty movement should, at least in theory, be defined by the Libertarian Party. But it isn’t. People just don’t know exactly what the LP stands for. They didn’t have that problem with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or even Evan McMullin. You can blame this on Gary Johnson — many have, somewhat rightly so — but he’s just an indicator of the problem. The problem is that the LP has no real ideological continuity. Johnson was only able to portray the LP incorrectly according to many because there is no driving consistency. None.

That means, basically, that only a sparse minority of the electorate had any idea what the LP stood for until 2016.

If as many of us liberty-lovers, especially here at The Libertarian Republic, would like to see, Austin Petersen is the nominee in 2020, there will have to be a whole new perspective on the Libertarian Party. That means a whole new campaign. It means that Petersen will have to work twice as hard to do what he should.

If there were consistency, the message would be much simpler for independents and undecideds.

Simple messages win elections.

From the beginning, everyone was confused about how Trump was doing so well. He sounded, quite frankly, stupid. On a lot of issues.

Well, be that as it may, he won. And there’s just one easy reason why: he kept it simple. He banked on the silent majority’s hatred of Hillary, their fear of the Islamic State/ISIS, and their disgust at some of President Barack Obama‘s policies, especially the Affordable Care Act. Well, it worked. He’s the President-elect.

The liberty movement needs to do the same.

That doesn’t mean we actually compromise principles. It means that we couch our intellectualism in a manner accessible to the common electorate demographics. A good way to start would be not talking like that last sentence. We should be able to sound intelligent, but choose to speak normally. It’s not hard. The liberty movement is made up, in my experience, of mostly two groups: intellectuals who understand the philosophy of liberty and common people who understand the application of it. There’s a lot of overlap there, but the main thing is that to win any elections, we can’t alienate either group.

There are a ton of other reasons that the liberty movement needs some consistency of message. For just one:

Consistency means we can’t get trapped into one issue (as easily) and pushed around by the media.

This should be obvious. How did Johnson get stuck as the pot candidate? Well, he didn’t do himself any favors, that’s for sure, but more importantly, he couldn’t dictate the story. That meant he got stuck having to ‘flip out‘ just to make a splash.

If Johnson had dictated from the beginning the way that the conversation in the media would fall, especially with huge opportunities like the CNN town hall, he could have avoided getting question after question in the last part of the election cycle directed solely at his marijuana use.

A consistent message is simpler. Simple messages win. Mainstream media can’t misrepresent us if we keep it consistent.

This is what needs to happen in the Libertarian party if the liberty movement is going to keep making headway, in 2020 and beyond.

  • brainout

    I’m SICK TO DEATH of articles that blame Gary Johnson. He was the best thing ever to happen to the Libertarian Party, along with Bill Weld. And at least 50% of the party on 2nd ballot, thought so as well.

    I was #GOP at the time he was nominated, didn’t know his name, never thought much of Libertarian except that the party was full of angry young white men who wanted to be high all day. THAT is the message the Party has given out for 20 years, and THAT is why it doesn’t get more traction.

    Gary fought uphill to change that, and y’all lambasted him, wanting your pure goofy principles instead of realizing that the core platform is indeed what America needs.

    But Gary made clear that core, and I heard him, not even knowing of him, but YES knowing of Bill Weld. So I listened. Every speech, every post, can repeat all the talking points, very clear and consistent message.

    HANDS OFF YOUR WALLET AND BED, a phrase Bill Weld made famous decades ago. You’d do well to keep it and them. If not, us fledgling LP’ers won’t stick around. We’ll find SOMEONE who will carry that message.

  • Libertarian Heretic

    No offense to Austin as master of ceremonies here at TLR but I’d rather he run for Governor of Missouri before President. At the very least I see him being our next Sarvis. But I have already outed myself here and other places. I want a 2020 Weld/Ventura ticket.
    I’m not convinced on the messaging thing. I have felt the problem is more about not looking like a credible or informed group. I know learning to play the game sounds anathema to small government types but we would do well to come off more wonkish.
    I agree with brainout comments here but in more muted tones. Gary has been unjustifiably pilloried in the party for things that don’t deserve such venom, like on primetime TV telling an emotional woman whose friends were murdered at a night club that he wasn’t planning on rolling away all gun restrictions and was willing to talk about ways to keep guns away from the mentally ill. I mean come on, even the NRA has been known to talk like that in the wake of tragedies.
    I will still maintain the same thing about Gary. He has the bone fides to both run and do so as a Libertarian. On issues he can cut straight to the meat and give the right answer. And he is able to fuse new lines of thought into the mainstream LP discourse with ease. I think of how he quickly picked up being the preeminent Black Lives Matter supporter amongst Presidential candidates was the right position even though some of the objectives, tactics and rhetoric of the group are in tension with Libertarian principals. Nevertheless it wasn’t just aleppogate, or world leader, or even who runs North Korea. He often had a meandering and tense communication style. And failing to answer question every politician but Trump would get hammered on only acted as a multiplier for setting off red flags to the average pundit.
    All the same. I have nothing but praises. As much as this will hurt some Libertarians to hear Gary and Bill are the best thing to happen to us. In 2008 Bob Barr captured 0.4% of the vote. 2016 saw the LP capturing 3%.