Last Tuesday was the greatest election in my lifetime. Finally we libertarians have statist politicians right where we want them. If we play our cards right politicians will be supporting more policies that respect individual liberty, while distancing themselves from those that don’t.
At first glance this may appear to be a celebration of Donald Trump’s victory. It isn’t. Rather, it is a celebration of libertarians attaining the balance of power at the Federal and state level. Here the phrase “balance of power” refers to the attainment of a greater number of votes by an alternative party candidate, then the margin of victory between the two establishment party candidates. For people trapped in the bipartisan paradigm, this is a situation to be avoided. For those who have broken free, it is cause for celebration.
In the days leading up to the election, Donald Trump supporters kept pushing the idea that a vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson was a vote for Hilary Clinton, while Clinton supporters kept pushing the idea that a vote for Johnson was a vote for Trump. Taken literally, either one of these statements is blatant nonsense, and is an outright contradiction when taken together. But at their core, these remarks were a symptom of fear by devotees of both establishment parties that the Libertarian Party’s nominee would attain a balance of power in the election, and they thought libertarians would be afraid of this as well. To some extent they were right; many people who thought Gary Johnson was the best choice chickened out in the voting booth, and voted for one establishment party candidate out of fear of the other. I addressed the folly of this mindset in my previous Blog post, “Voting Your Hopes And Not Your Fears In 2016” where I wrote:
If your vote (and the votes of others for the same candidate) is more than the margin of victory for either establishment party candidate, then your vote is more powerful than ever! Now you and your comrades have done much more than send a message that you want change in a direction that is consistent with the platform of your candidate and his or her party. You have become a voting block that the winning party must prevent the opposition from recruiting in the next cycle. The winner must appease you by incorporating some of your policies. At the same time the loser will actively seek out those who are of like mind to secure future victories, and this can only be accomplished by adopting some of the policy positions that your favorite candidate and party advocate. A win-win for you.
Well now the selection of the electors is over and Clinton supporters are blaming those who voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party Candidate Jill Stein for Trump’s victory. If the results had been reversed, Trump supporters would be placing the blame on us instead. Unfortunately, many Johnson voters are feeling guilty, or dodging culpability by arguing that Libertarian votes affected both establishment parties equally. Whether or not the numbers support this last claim, the mindset that views citing such numbers as necessary is ultimately defeatist and condemns alternative parties to indefinite irrelevancy.
If all libertarian leaning voters held their ground and voted for the Libertarian nominee, I have no idea who the current President elect would be, but I do know that we would be a much greater force to be reckoned with. I do know that Libertarians would have earned Federal recognition as a minor party, and more states would recognize us a major party. Most importantly, for the point I’m making here, supporters of the losing establishment party would still blame us.
In 2000 Ralph Nader and the Green Party finished with only 2.75% of the vote, but were blamed for the defeat of Al Gore by George W. Bush because of the narrow margin of victory in some states, especially Florida. Neither Ralph Nader nor the other Green Party Presidential candidates have done nearly so well since. Though the claim that their participation in the election tipped the outcome in Bushes favor has been largely disputed, I think it is a good bet that many left-leaning voters have coward away from alternatives to the Democrat because they fear the so-called Nader effect. By contrast, Johnson won 3.28% of the national popular vote while Trump and Clinton’s votes differed by less than a percent. In Michigan Gary Johnson’s vote total was thirteen times as great as the difference between Trump and Clinton! So if attempting to deflect blame didn’t work for Nader, how can it possibly work for us? In my humble opinion it won’t and it shouldn’t.
We are at a crossroads. We can either move full speed ahead and become players on the national stage, or retreat back to obscurity, cautiously avoiding the risk of tipping the scales in favor of the worst candidate. If we are to move forward, we must be willing to be blamed for every electoral outcome until we finally win. We must convince others that this course is a righteous one, and that our mission is more important than which of the establishment party candidates, wins a particular election.
No matter how bad the winner is, that winner will need to draw from the libertarian voting block to win. This time that appears to be Donald Trump. As long as the Libertarian Party sticks to principal and doesn’t coddle the “lesser-of-two-evils” game he will need to go out of his way to win over libertarians if he doesn’t want the Libertarian Party to receive their votes in 2020. The Democrats will be doing the same if they expect to defeat Trump. It remains to be seen if they will be courting Green voters or Libertarians, or both on certain issues where Greens and Libertarians agree like marijuana, privacy, militarism and civil liberties … The more we refuse to chicken out, the harder they will try.
Down-ticket, a strong libertarian party can have leverage even in races it is unlikely to win. If there is a critical piece of legislation we need passed, or rejected, we can make a deal. We can strategically chose to run or not run a candidate in a given contest. What about libertarian-Republicans or libertarian-Democrats? If they are really all that libertarian (and some are) they will have no problem attracting libertarian votes and will have no reason to fear the participation of a Libertarian Party opponent. Libertarian participation might even help them stick to principle; when establishment insiders try to lead them astray, libertarian-Republicans and libertarian-Democrats can pragmatically point to the participation of the Libertarian Party “spoiler” as a reason they can’t make an exception and vote for the tax increase or regulation that the establishment insider is trying to push.
So we win even if we lose, the establishment parties can decimate the Libertarian Party by championing a libertarian agenda, or they can ignore us at their peril and watch us grow until we become a major party nationally, but either way libertarians win. Because we will have more liberty. More importantly, America wins, because everyone will either have more freedom in a two party system that bent to the wishes of libertarians, the way they once did to the socialists, or Americans will have a three party system where candidates will no longer be able to win elections by simply making us fear the other candidate. Instead they will need to give people a reason to vote for them, not against an opponent.
So take pride in your Libertarian vote. Take the blame! Embrace it! Own it! You have the power to demand more liberty, and don’t be shamed into doing otherwise!