The 2016 Election: Another “Libertarian Moment”?
There has been a lot of talk about the potential of the 2016 election to become a “libertarian moment”, much like the “libertarian moment” in 2012. A Libertarian Future has even pointed out that a Libertarian candidate may reach the presidency by carrying only one state in the general election. If no candidate has a majority, the election will go the House of Representatives, where Republicans may choose to side with the Libertarian candidate over Donald Trump.
Certainly there is an opportunity to capitalize on the madness of the nomination process in the mainstream parties. While I tend to believe that liberty has been rising in the consciousness of America for close to a decade, and has accelerated to escape velocity under Obama, I don’t buy into the notion that this is the only chance for the Libertarian party to become mainstream. Libertarian values will enter the public stage regardless of what happens next, but there is no reason not to ride the wave generated by a Trump vs. Clinton face off.
Republicans have had their party hijacked and potentially destroyed by Donald Trump. Personally, I will shed no tears for them. Their party died when it was hijacked by the Progressive Right. The last conservative Republican who was in the White House was Eisenhower, as far as I’m concerned. I honestly don’t understand what terrifies them so much about Trump. He may be a big government authoritarian, but so are the candidates that the Neocons usually trot out every four years. He isn’t in their pocket, and (at times) seems less inclined toward war, but these are virtues that also exist in the libertarian party.
Maybe a libertarian vote is just a protest vote to Republicans, or maybe it is a means to throw the election to the neoconservative warmonger, Hillary Clinton. Maybe it is a genuine return to conservative values of limited government. Regardless of the reason, the libertarian movement is experiencing a huge influx of disaffected GOP voters.
The Democrats are experiencing their own exodus thanks to Hillary Clinton. Many progressives simply cannot in good conscience vote for what they correctly recognize as a blood thirsty harpy bent on world conquest. While many of the Bernie crowd are dyed in red Marxists, a large portion are just people who are fed up with cronyism and political corruption. They are simply looking for someone genuine.
While some of these people will end up voting for Trump, and some will vote for the Green party, a large number of them are interested in Libertarianism. Some of these voters are young people who supported Ron Paul in 2012. This election has the potential to win over Millennials for life. A principled candidate who both represents and articulates the values and philosophy of liberty could build on the long term base established by Ron Paul.
The large field of Libertarian candidates has been narrowed to three main contenders. Sorry Darryl Perry. You are probably my favorite, but if you aren’t on the televised debates your chances of getting the nomination are pretty slim (edit: I had not yet seen the RT debate when I wrote this, where Darryl Perry completely dominated Kevin McCormick and Marc Feldman). Unfortunately political success, even in the libertarian party, is mostly a game of name recognition and branding. The main contenders are Gary Johnson, John McAfee, and Austin Petersen.
Gary Johnson is the mainstream establishment left-libertarian candidate. He was the nominee in 2012, and will likely be the nominee this year as well. He is leading in the polls by a large margin, and is currently polling at 10% against Clinton and Trump. This is impressive, but not yet good enough to be included on the main debate stage in the general election. That could easily change in the coming weeks, however, especially after Sanders drops out.
Many voters still clinging to the delusion that Sanders will somehow become the Democratic nominee would throw their support behind Johnson if he gets the Libertarian nomination. Johnson is the only candidate left in the race with actual experience in the executive branch of government. This would give him credibility in the fight against Clinton and Trump. Unfortunately, he is absolutely awful on the debate stage. He has bad posture, rarely articulates the Libertarian message well, and seems apologetic when he does. Frankly, Trump would eat him for breakfast.
McAfee is certifiably insane. He encourages supporters to “act crazy”, “be revolutionary”, and “get naked”. I’m only exaggerating a little bit here. I’m pretty sure he talked about getting naked in support of the cause of liberty at least twice in the last debate. He also thinks that a cartel and the government of Belize are out to get him. Who knows? They might be. With all that said, he presents a very principled argument for Libertarianism, if not very well articulated.
On some level, I enjoy the entertainment that McAfee provides. I’d love to see him debate Donald Trump. It would make for excellent television. I am not all that turned off by his wild past, strange demeanor, or apparent outright insanity. I would gladly accept those downsides for a genuine and honest candidate who keeps his skeletons sitting at the dining room table, rather than in the closet. I don’t, however, believe that to be the opinion of your average voter. I doubt very much that he would do well in the general election.
Austin Petersen is the youngest candidate in the race. He has strong convictions and presents them well. A little too well. He seems like a politician, which is unnerving for a libertarian candidate. Everything that he says sounds like it came from a meme. He is clearly a talented promoter, and has a knack for coming up with catchy slogans. When everything is a catch phrase or a slogan however, it makes him seem disingenuous. He also diverges from the non-aggression principle, a cornerstone of libertarian philosophy.
Some have speculated that Petersen’s age might make him more appealing to young voters, but young voters have often supported older candidates who they view as more honest and genuine. It appears to me that most of the interest in Austin Petersen from outside the Libertarian party comes from traditional GOP voters, not from Millennials. This is not necessarily a bad thing. GOP voters frustrated with the Trump hostile take-over may gravitate to the Libertarian party in the long term thanks to Austin Petersen. Unfortunately, your average GOP voter is something like 150 years old, so the bump in support for liberty from former Republicans would likely be short lived. It could also shift the party more towards the “Republican lite” end of the spectrum, which would hurt the party with younger voters.
All of the candidates have advantages and disadvantages, and play to different segments of the voting population outside of the Libertarian party. I would probably support any of them over Clinton or Trump. I’ve never voted for a Republican or Democrat in a presidential election, and don’t plan on starting now. Every election is sold to us as the most important election of our lifetimes, and miraculously the country still exists in four years to go through the whole circus again. Honestly, the idea of a president destroying the country doesn’t frighten me that much. It might be easier at this point to allow our government to collapse and rebuild from the ground up, rather than fixing a system that is potentially beyond repair.
I don’t vote for Libertarians because the party could win and somehow fix the country. I don’t believe that the Libertarian party needs to win in order to shift the public awareness in the right direction. More than likely, if a libertarian does win someday, they will be running as a Republican, or maybe even a Democrat. I’m not interested in compromising on values in order to sell a message to the mainstream. People will come to the message because it is true, not because of a slick haircut and a slogan. With that said, a well packaged message can generate interest and engage the intellect of the voting public, which should be the goal of a Libertarian campaign.