The presidential election of 2016 left many of us disappointed. The election of Donald Trump represents a clear danger to individual liberty, but so too would have Hillary Clinton. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was seen as a viable alternative for much of the summer due to his experience as governor of New Mexico, largely fiscal conservative and social liberal platform, and frankness about the role he sees the government playing in the daily lives of Americans.
Unfortunately, Trump did win and Johnson received a disappointing three percent of the vote. In the closing months of the election, Johnson made a series of gaffes that the media latched onto to prove his unfitness for the office of president. It seemed everyone was suddenly outraged that Johnson drew a blank on national television when asked his opinion on Aleppo during a conversation of domestic and social policy.
Following that gaffe were controversies that claimed Johnson could not name a current world leader, despite the question being, one he admired. Johnson stuck his tongue out at a reporter and began revealing personality quirks that are not often associated with the higher levels of public office.
What seemed like a sure banner year for the Libertarian presidential candidate turned into a finish line sputter that left most of the people deeply invested in his campaign disappointed. It cannot be ignored the media feeding frenzy on Johnson’s shortcomings that occurred when it appeared that he was cutting into Clinton’s lead in the polls. In their haste to protect Clinton’s lead, the media was intellectually dishonest with Americans about Gary Johnson. They promoted the idea of Johnson as a cartoon who was out of his element and unfit for office, when mere months earlier most were trying to convince conservatives that Johnson was the conservative alternative to Trump.
Despite all of this, Johnson received a record number of votes and reached a record number of people. What I believe is even more impressive, Johnson received endorsements from some of the country’s most reputable newspapers such as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, and several more.
What cannot be denied is that Gary Johnson planted seeds into the minds of millions of Americans that over the coming years could bloom into the Libertarian Party becoming a legitimate threat to win the nation’s highest office.
But will this lead to the nation becoming more libertarian in general? Will Johnson’s success lead to a libertarian society? And is the Libertarian Party really the best focus for the efforts of those of us in the liberty movement? To the last question, I believe the answer is a resounding yes.
Two competing theories exist on how to best focus the efforts of those willing to put the work into achieving liberty. One group believes those efforts should go to building a Libertarian Party that annually competes for the highest offices in each state. The other says those efforts should go into supporting candidates who share our views in one of the other two major parties, typically the Republican Party.
A recent article at Liberty Hangout says the Libertarian Party might in fact be a hindrance to achieving liberty and says we should all be throwing our support behind Rand Paul. The article goes on to list the achievements of Rand Paul and outline how those achievements would not exist if he were a member of the Libertarian Party, because he would not have been elected in the senate.
I want to be clear that I am a fan of Rand Paul, and an even bigger fan of Justin Amash and Thomas Massie. Their work in the fight for liberty cannot be ignored and their influence on the movement has been as great as anyone’s.
However, occasional successes do not define a movement. As good as the work Paul does, his impact on changing the direction of politics in Washington and in the hearts and minds of Americans is much less than we like to believe.
While Liberty Hangout’s article tells us we should abandon hope for the Libertarian Party, it is through a viable and legitimate LP that real change can occur; the kind of change that redirects national politics and wakes the masses up to the ideas of liberty and its attainability.
The idea that libertarians or liberty conservatives will infiltrate the Republican Party on a massive or even significant level is nothing more than a pipe dream. Sure, representatives such as Paul, Massie, and Amash exist and do good work, and even more hold offices in state houses and local offices, but by far the Republican Party is filled with neo-cons and statists who seek to hold power and enrich themselves.
For all of the good work Rand has done as a senator, his presidential run was even more disappointing than Johnson’s. After sharing a debate stage with nine other candidates, nobody outside of the liberty movement was left with any lasting memory of Paul. I would say very few outside of the liberty movement know who he is.
After receiving less than five percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus (under a quarter of Ron Paul’s 2012 showing), Rand dropped from the race before New Hampshire. Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign can be considered nothing more than a complete failure. In the debates, he failed to leave Americans with a lasting impact on what libertarianism is and was consistently barley on the main stage, including threats of not participating if bumped to the second tier debate.
On the debate stage, the perfect opportunity to display for the American people the difference between libertarianism and Trump’s nationalism or the new-conservatism represented by several of the other candidates, Paul fell flat outside of a few memorable (to us) barbs directed at Chris Christie.
More often than not Paul looked outmatched by Trump’s school-yard bully style of debating. And was often the recipient of Trump’s insults.
This is not a defamation against Paul’s debating style or personality or effectiveness as a libertarian, on the contrary; as any libertarian with a Facebook account can attest, you cannot have an intellectual or serious debate with someone who resorts to personal insults about appearance or mannerisms. Instead, I mean to point out the obvious lack of availability for libertarians to influence the dialog within the Republican Party.
Other notable shortcomings of Pauls campaign were:
• He ranked 9th of 17 republican candidates in terms of money raised
• He polled in single digits from May 2015 on
It should be noted that early in Paul’s campaign he seemed like a candidate with national appeal. His popular filibuster over the renewal of the Patriot Act gave him a national spotlight and he took advantage of that. However, the most disappointing thing about Paul’s campaign is what may be inevitable to any libertarian in the Republican Party; he sacrificed his libertarian principles to appeal to a broader republican base.
As Reason Editor Nick Gillespie put it; “All of the moments where he stands out — where he captures not just the political imagination, but the public American imagination — are the most libertarian.”
This is not limited to the campaign trail; Paul is often tasked with balancing his libertarian principles with not ruffling feathers in the Republican Party, the most recent example being his vote to confirm Jess Sessions, a man whose views on the war on drugs belong in the stone ages, as Attorney General. And while Rand responded to criticisms of this by saying supporters should cast an eye at the “99 other less libertarian senators”, Paul should note that sometimes a libertarian has to do libertarian things at the expense of possible future support from within his party, especially when Sessions supports some of the most un-libertarian laws and policies currently in place and in fact wants to expand on them. Sessions also is in stark contrast with a philosophy Rand holds dear, state’s rights, in his wish to clamp down federally on states that legalize marijuana.
This isn’t meant as a Rand hit piece. I want to reiterate that I fully support Rand most of the time and think he is a good steward for libertarianism. I do believe in his attempt to walk the divide within libertarianism and the Republican Party, he has sacrificed and thus, I happen to support Amash and Massie more right now.
However my commitment is to helping to build a strong and influential Libertarian Party. It has its problems and the candidates are not always in line with libertarianism fully, and when that happens there needs to be a conversation about how to better promote libertarianism. Gary Johnson has his faults and many have called him on them. Bill Weld, while I supported his nomination, turned out to be a mistake in my opinion. But mistakes are allowed to happen, as long as we correct them. There are canddiates that better represent libertarianism than Gary Johnson and Rand Paul already committed to run as Libertarians in 2020, and it is my sincere hope that even more will declare; we should get behind them and promote them because while the chances of taking the presidency in 2020 is a long shot at best, the message they can deliver can far outweigh that same messaged delivered in the Republican or Democratic Parties.
The real change may not happen in a presidential race, however. Instead, between now and the next presidential election, Libertarians have a legitimate chance at winning seats on local boards of supervisors, city councils, and state houses. Supporting the Libertarian Party in these races can effectively change the political landscape.
We may find the occasional liberty republican to support in local, state, or congressional races, but the corruption in this party and the Democratic Party goes all the way down to the smallest local committee. Establishment republicans far outnumber those who support liberty and thus, their influence far outweighs the voice of dissenters from the party line.
The Libertarian Party, however, is open to all wings of libertarianism and a few motivated individuals can have a significant impact on the direction of local and state parties, as well as the LNC. There is constant debate within the party over what better reflects libertarianism in the LP, while republicans and democrats are expected to tow the party line or face being shunned.
And only the Libertarian Party has been a consistent voice for shrinking government and promoting liberty. Instead of swearing off the LP because a certain candidate said something un-libertarian or on one issue the platform does not fully agree with your views, work to steer the party in a more libertarian direction and support candidates that more closely represent your views.
The occasional Paul, Massie, and Amash may happen in the Republican Party, but overall the liberty voice in that party is drown out by establishment cronies interested in promoting themselves over liberty.