Should Libertarians Run for President?

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Who would be the ideal Libertarian presidential candidate for 2020? Does he (or she) exist? Will we get anyone like this person, or will it be business as usual?

We’ll find out soon enough.

One of the reasons we keep getting candidates many of us don’t want is that we can’t all agree on what the Libertarian Party nominee ought to do. Should he educate the public about what libertarians believe? Should he play the spoiler and trip up big-government Republicans? Would it be best for him to rack up the biggest possible numbers on election day? Or should he really, honest-to-gosh try to win the election?

Power is the only language the political universe understands. Spoiler power is all we can expect, at present, to have.

I think we can all agree that we want a country where the Libertarian choice would prevail. But we’re not terribly close to having it. In the meantime, I fail to see where “swinging for the fence” is going to get us.

Even if we dislike political necessity, because it goes against our convictions, we must understand it if we are to increase our influence. The only way our candidates can educate the public is by getting coverage in the media. To achieve this, we must make the media sit up and take notice. We do that by creating a disturbance in their universe.

A spoiler can have that effect. If candidates seriously threaten to take votes away from the media’s anointed contenders, they begin to attract attention. The threatened party will, sooner than later, begin to court potential spoiler votes.

Power is the only language the political universe understands. Spoiler power is all we can expect, at present, to have. We need to quit apologizing for this potential and embrace it instead.

We can all agree that we want a country where the Libertarian choice would prevail. But we’re not terribly close to having it.

The candidacy of Ron Paul demonstrated that a Republican can run as a spoiler and exert considerable influence on the public. If a Libertarian Party candidate could grab a share of the vote only as large as Paul’s, he or she would be in an excellent position to educate — as Rep. Paul has.

Candidates who want to be taken seriously won’t come out and admit they don’t expect to win all the marbles. But if they truly believe they will win as Libertarians, then they’ve lost whatever marbles they ever had. They’re better off simply stating — if they want to enjoy the success possible for them — what will be the truth: that they offer an alternative to Republican or Democratic options. In other words, to move the cumbersome machinery of the election to a different place.

Voters want to believe that casting their ballot will have some effect. If they know a candidate isn’t going to win the election, they at least hope to influence its outcome as strongly as possible. Libertarian ideas are popular with many people who don’t consider themselves libertarians. A candidate who stops pandering to established interests and stands for our values has a good chance of siphoning away a contender’s votes. The greater effect that has on the outcome of the election, the more likely Republican (and to a far lesser degree, Democratic) candidates may be to adopt pro-liberty positions.

Candidates who want to be taken seriously won’t come out and admit they don’t expect to win all the marbles. But if they truly believe they will win as Libertarians, then they’ve lost whatever marbles they ever had.

The next president who is in any shape or form libertarian will be a Republican. Again, we’re perfectly free to dislike this. That doesn’t change the fact that if one of our own is elected, it will be from the GOP ticket. The threat of voting for spoiler Libertarian Party candidates can provide the leverage to move a Rand Paul or a Justin Amash into winning the GOP nomination. Once nominated, in the general election that person would stand an excellent chance.

We’re not going to love everything about a Republican candidate. I have serious issues with Paul because I suspect he’s something of a closet social conservative. But though he says things rightwing culture warriors like, thus far his record shows him to be reliably libertarian. I’m not overly worried that, if he were elected president, he would turn into Jerry Falwell.

Money spent on the presidential race could instead be used to fund down-ballot races, especially locally, where LP candidates have a real shot at winning.

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian. The few bones he’s thrown us were certainly not motivated by any fear that a more liberty-loving challenger would defeat him in the 2020 primary. But if one does indeed run next time, we need to look long and hard at the possibility of registering Republican long enough to vote for him or her in the primary.

Libertarians should run for president only if they can change the outcome of the race. That’s the only way they’ll be noticed by the media, which is the only way they can educate the public. Any other candidacy for the highest office in the land is a waste of time. The money spent could instead be used to fund down-ballot races, especially locally, where LP candidates have a real shot at winning.

I have no idea, yet, whom I’ll vote for next year. But I will only vote for the Libertarian option if I feel that he or she is serious about being a presence in the election. I owe no one my vote, and I won’t be taken for granted. I want my vote to count. That will only happen if the candidate I vote for counts, too.




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Comments

William Cole

Whoever is the LP candidate should be well spoken and well versed in the libertarian philosophy and alternatives to the state. The Presidential nomination gives the LP an opportunity to present the claims of liberty at a time when most people are the most open to new ideas.

I discovered libertarianism because of Andre Marrou and his skillful and concise explanation of the NAP and property rights on a radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Let's not forget the number of new libertarians that were brought into the freedom movement because of Ron Paul's "failed" presidential bid.

Bruce Ramsey

"Libertarians should run for president only if they can change the outcome of the race" — and, I assume, change it for the better. Since 1972, they never have.

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