Where Do Libertarians Go From Here?
At a Libertarian convention years ago, one of the party’s candidates started saying, “When I’m president of the United States.” I chuckled and responded: “Well, that isn’t going to happen.” We all knew then—and know now—that the Libertarian Party (L.P.) candidate has zero chance of ever sitting behind the Resolute Desk.
After former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won the L.P. nomination in 2016, libertarian activists thought it was their year to put the party on the map. Well, that was the view of those who weren’t mad about Johnson’s lack of ideological purity and his not-particularly-libertarian running mate, former Republican Bill Weld.
At the time, some optimism seemed warranted. The race pitted an enormously unpopular Democratic candidate against a vulgar Republican one, which—in theory, anyway—should have created a hunger for an experienced ticket offering sensible limited-government solutions.
After the ticket garnered 3.27 percent of the vote, I received a press release celebrating that accomplishment, which was a record-setting vote haul for the Libertarian Party. That was perhaps 47 percent and 270 electors short of making any difference, but such are the small victories that keep libertarians going. I remember when state party leaders celebrated their elected officials, with a member of a water board leading the show.
After Tuesday’s vote, Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen drew around 1 percent of the vote. It has nothing to do with her personality, which is pleasant, or her campaign, which seemed fine. This year’s election was a referendum on Donald Trump. The major parties have convinced the nation that this was the Most Important Election Ever—and the wrong outcome would lead America into (pick one) socialism or fascism. Why “waste” a vote?
My goal isn’t to dump on the L.P., even though it wouldn’t take much research to chronicle its long-running failures. The two major parties dominate the national discussion. They have put impediments in the way of third-party ballot and debate access. Although libertarianism has deep roots within the nation’s history, most Americans are not libertarians. That makes party building a tough row to hoe.
Democrats and Republicans have evolved largely into warring cultural tribes rather than vessels of ideological consistency. As government grows and both parties fight over who controls the levers of power, it’s harder to stay relevant with our less-is-more approach toward governance. It’s difficult even to get our policy ideas onto the national stage.
To make matters worse, libertarians have irreconcilable disagreements. Many libertarian colleagues despise the president and view him as a wannabe authoritarian, while others are convinced that h
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