An Historic Loss for Libertarians?

Back in the Fall of 1982, as a young IT student at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, I had the distinct pleasure of learning economics from Joseph Fuhrig.  Professor Fuhrig happened to be running for the U.S. Senate, as a Libertarian, and garnered 105,000 votes, including mine, that November.  Looking back, I consider myself very fortunate to learn free-market laissez-faire economics instead of the typical Keynesian government-intervention version of economics taught in the “top” schools of the day.  My professor taught us that many of the problems that major party candidates would claim justified government intervention, were actually caused by government intervention. Professor Fuhrig’s passion for free markets and freedom generally was contagious.  Later I would join the Libertarian party – five years before Ron Paul – and in 1984 cast my vote, in my first presidential election, for David Bergland, author of Libertarianism in One Lesson.

Over the following two decades, I left college to pursue success during the prosperity of the 1980s – first as a stock broker and later as an IT project manager.  I also raised two amazing kids and like most Americans did not spend much time following politics.  I usually voted for whatever candidate seemed most likely to restore the profound vision of our founding generation – what I call Tenth Amendment Federalism.  It’s a vision Alexis de Tocqueville wrote so eloquently about when he observed in the 1830s that America was ““happy and free as a small people, and glorious and strong as a great nation.”  Tocqueville understood that the Constitution, by limiting the federal government to truly national issues, all other matters are “reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”, you achieve the most important checks and balances, that between the federal and state governments.

I’ve now returned to school to complete my college education.  I major in economics and constitutional law and plan to prusue an Economics PhD/JD.  Everything I’ve learned has only confirmed the wisdom of our constitutional framework and the free market principles I learned first from Libertarian Joseph Fuhrig.   While I had great personal success, the Libertarian Party has not met those heady expectations of the early days.  Listening to professor Fuhrig, one might come away feeling like most Americans have been misled by the major parties and if someone would only point this out – a Libertarian President would shortly follow.  That has not happened.

For one thing, it’s very hard to pierce the misconceptions learned in our public school system.  The typical American high school student learns that corporations and capitalism are an evil that must be contained and nothing written by our rich, white, male founders is worth paying attention to – let alone using as a basis for national policy.  Rather, in all things, whatever the majority wants, the majority gets.  Socrates would warn us 2500 years ago of the tyranny of the majority – a lesson completely lost on modern America.  Thus, the Libertarian Party history is one of some victories but mostly a history of loss.

In 1980, Ed Clark would earn a million votes as a Libertarian Presidential candidate.  After eight years of building, Ron Paul would earn just 430,000 votes in 1988 – causing many to wonder whether a “revitalized” Republican Party might be more effective at advancing the limited government principles Libertarians were seeking.  Despite their success under Reagan, the GOP turned back again to their establishment elites.  Anger at D.C. corruption, in both parties, elevated third party candidate Ross Perot to first place (in June) during the 1992 presidential race.  Although he would later drop out – he ultimately reentered the race and earned 19% of the general election vote (19.7 million) versus 291,628 votes for the Libertarian candidate that year – despite a 20 year head start on Perot.  Speaking only for myself, I felt Libertarians were unlikely to ever break through.  It seemed that beating the elites required a billionaire candidate with a strong personality (sound familiar).  All the Libertarian emphasis on building a grass roots effort and being on all 50 ballots seemed necessary, but not sufficient.

Which brings us to Gary Johnson, who earned 1,275,951 votes in 2012 – a record for Libertarians but still less than 1% and still way, way back of Romney’s 61 million and Obama’s 65 million votes.  That is the history of the Libertarian Party – they lose elections – while many will put lipstick on that pig, that’s a fact.  Then, 2016 happened.  For the first time in U.S. history, both major party candidates have unfavorable ratings over 50%.  For a time, many held out hope that Cruz or Sanders would replace Trump and Clinton for a classic capitalism versus socialism contest this November – never happened.

The good news for the Libertarians?  Millions of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary voters began looking for options.  Most in both camps would never dream of supporting the other so it’s really a #NeverTrumpnorNeverHillary movement – perfect for Gary Johnson – the leading 3rd party option.  Millions have now drifted over to the Libertarians and not because Americans finally “get” libertarian arguments, nor because Gary Johnson is so awesome (he’s the same guy that came in a very, very, very distant 3rd in the last election.)  Thus, even though Johnson is now polling about 8.7% in a four-way race, almost all of Johnson’s support is unearned.  Gary is still the same Gary that got less than 1% four years ago, so of the 8.7% support one might say about 90% of Johnson’s support is folks that might vote for a tennis shoe if the shoe wasn’t named “Trump” or “Clinton”.    Even in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire, Johnson only gets 8%.

Astoundingly, given this truly historic opportunity for libertarians to begin running the greatest country on earth, Johnson and the Libertarian Party have done little to advance their own cause.  My impression is Johnson and, especially, his running mate Bill Weld, seem smug and arrogant.  It’s as if they won the lottery but now claim their new found wealth is because they’re investment wizards – no, they were just lucky.  The key is to take this lucky break and advance libertarian principles while accommodating all the new voters.  I haven’t seen polling, but my review of twitter comments tells me a huge chunk of Johnson supporters are ex-Cruz folk – what we call #CruzCrew.  Yet, Johnson seems almost as dismissive of Cruz supporters as Trump is – tragic error given the historic opportunity for libertarians.  In the few interviews I’ve seen of Johnson and Weld I saw Johnson scoff at conservatives.  Worse, Weld embraced Justice Breyer – Breyer is one of the greatest architects of the “living constitution” that progressives use to consolidate power and terrify those that care about limited government.

So, what would I do if I was running the Johnson campaign?

First of all, I’d reach out to Ted Cruz about a Cruz/Johnson ticket.  A fair examination of Cruz’s record and rhetoric suggests he’s much more Libertarian than libertarians give him credit for.  My impression is libertarians seek minimal federal power and maximum freedom.  Yet, Gary Johnson talks about preserving the right to choose – properly a state matter.  Under the tenth amendment, the states should be left to restrict abortion or marriage or drug use – but Johnson seems to feel the feds should leave states to choose their laws – as long as he agrees with them.  In effect, Johnson seems to be against the freedom to choose our laws (a focus of my academic research).  Contrast that with Cruz comments at the RNC:

And freedom means recognizing that our Constitution allows states to choose policies that reflect local values. Colorado may decide something different than Texas. New York different than Iowa. Diversity. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If not, what’s the point of having states to begin with?

Thus, a Cruz/Johnson ticket would seem to advance libertarian principles better than a Johnson/Weld ticket.  This should not come as a shock – the libertarians have a narrow range of candidates every 4 years.  It’s possible there are many candidates, capable of advancing libertarian ideals, that did not attend the Libertarian convention.  Hard truth is that if a candidate wants to have an impact, then attending the convention of a party that gets less than 1% of the vote is not a high priority.  There could be hundreds of worthy candidates without an (L) after their name – that are better than Johnson or Weld.  I will write much more about the beneficial freedom-advancing virtues of tenth-amendment federalism and the jurisdictional competition that follows.  For now, I will simply point out that Cruz is worth another look from libertarians, would do much better than Johnson/Weld and if Cruz/Johnson wins – the VP would be a Libertarian, for the first time in history, and set up the Libertarian Party nicely for 2024.  With one change – Cruz/Johnson for Johnson/Weld – the Libertarian Party realizes the dreams of generations of libertarians.

Aside from adding Cruz to the ticket, Johnson mus recognize that most of his supporters are not libertarians and change his message as a VP to reflect that.  I’m not talking about sacrificing his principles – I’d never recommend that. Rather, Johnson should encourage policy diversity, not uniformity.  Tell Cruz supporters that if Johnson is VP, he’ll appoint justices and judges who will allow us to determine our laws at the state level.  Texans may restrict abortion, gay marriage and marijuana while Californians may allow all three.  That is not “appealing to moderates”, as many libertarians have advised Johnson to do, it is appealing to conservatives and liberals and moderates because it allows all three to choose their state laws once the reach of federal government is withdrawn – creating the space for diversity.  If Johnson will not speak for his supporters, McMullin might.

If the Libertarian party fails to take advantage of this historic opportunity, we might lose the country.  Not to take it too far, but both Trump and Clinton are so corrupt it’s possible we may not get another chance to change course for generations.  Both would likely fill the Scalia seat with a progressive – setting the stage for another dramatic expansion of federal power. We have to get 2016 right and my plan does that.  If Johnson and Weld remain smug and self-aggrandizing and ignore the policy wishes of 90% of their supporters, they may get to 11 or 12% and still lose in November.  More likely, unless they add Cruz quickly, millions of Johnson’s supporters may switch to McMullin and 8.7% will end up being a high-water mark that libertarians will never reach again. From personal experience, I was open to the Libertarian ticket until the moment I saw this Reason.com interview  – they both demonstrate complete ignorance about the significance of the Scalia seat.  Given that and the new McMullin option, I will never support Johnson/Weld without Cruz on the ticket.  Nevertheless, the Libertarian Party will be on 50 state ballots – that’s a huge advantage over McMullin.  Without a change in course, the Libertarian Party will have wasted an historic opportunity to succeed as a party and restore freedom in America.

Yes, historically, Libertarians lose.  Yet, if Johnson and libertarians fail to seize this opportunity, it will be “An Historic Loss for Libertarians” we may not recover from.

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