With Donald Trump potentially torpedoing any chances of the GOP retaking the White House, and with a second Clinton Regime looming, many Republican grassroots activists and supporters – including some Conservatives – are giving the Libertarian Party a serious look. In an act of desperation to stop Trump and Clinton, is it possible that the Libertarian Party finally makes a breakthrough from third party also-rans to major party status?
The window of opportunity presented by the dual poison-pill candidacies of Trump and Clinton may make the idea of voting Libertarian more palatable for Republicans, giving the Libertarian Party the enviable position as a new vehicle for right-leaning policy, but one currently bearing the asterisk of an unearned legitimacy as a viable outlet for conservatism. The result could merely be a split GOP, guaranteeing a loss for Republicans.
Likewise, the idea that a newly viable Libertarian party could become a home for disaffected “blue-dog Democrats”, or moderates disillusioned by a Leftist agenda or the unavoidable fact that Hillary Clinton is a pathological liar, an incompetent, unaccomplished, untrustworthy, craven politician, and shameless opportunist, seems far fetched.
While Clinton and Trump are both deeply unpopular, to believe that most Democratic Clinton defectors would eventually come around to a Libertarian party is wishful thinking at most. The numbers show that it is far more likely that Trump would pick up many such voters, as his ideological bents (Progressive) and policy predilections (Clintonian) pull in disaffected voters who have historically either voted Democrat, or never participated in the electoral process, while adding to his struggles to consolidate the disparate wings of the split Republican party.
While many polls indicate that more Americans identify as Independent than with a major party, this doesn’t actually tell the whole story. Many identify as “Independent,” but the vast majority actually lean Right or Left, and align with one of the major parties on the issues; very few are purely independent. This would seem to indicate that most unaligned voters will fall in line with the party with which they identify most closely – not a third party, and speaks more for an independent Republican run than a Libertarian moment.
America remains a center-right nation; mostly fiscally conservative and largely socially tolerant (so long as someone else’s libertine lifestyle doesn’t interfere with them or their family). This tends to drive the negative, passionate reaction to progressive / secularist overreach on a multitude of issues (transgender bathrooms, Syrian refugees, class warfare, Black Lives Matter).
For the most part, the Libertarian party’s solutions to these push / pull factors of the tectonic shifts in society are largely tenuous, the net effect being one of mostly working under the pretense the challenges are non-existent, or are unimportant. This isn’t an answer to the problem, and unworkable as a governing policy. As a principle toward achieving elected office, this has historically limited the Libertarian appeal.
Consequently, with a jumble of competing priorities that conflict more often than complement, Libertarians will also be unable to rise above their weakness of ideological purism (which drives the more committed adherents) and move towards pragmatic application of principles to governing, while appealing to conservatives exiled from the GOP. After all, how do you govern, when the majority of your party loyalists decry both governance and principles of conservatism?
Rather, it is more likely and better in the long run that the “Liberty” label will be overtaken by constitutional conservatives, as that wing of the party re-calibrates and re-orients its policy preferences and proposals. A sizable number of people, made up of former supporters of Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio hold views largely driven by deeply-held values, faith, adherence to the Constitution and a realistic world view on foreign policy could outlast and outnumber the libertarian activists in the party if the effort were made in earnest.
Conservative, liberty-minded Republicans (and former GOP’ers) must take up a bold, courageous agenda to truly tackle America’s most important challenges. They should continue taking steps to address reforms to the justice system, including sentencing reforms to ensure that justice is fair and impartial as possible, and ending the war on drugs by rescheduling various drugs, decriminalizing and perhaps legalizing some, including marijuana.
Conservative Libertarian solutions are desperately needed in expanding and reinforcing school choice for as many children as possible, securing and enforcing protections for religious liberty while finding room for compromise on marriage equality and LGBT rights and in undertaking immigration reform. All of these require bold, brave engagement with communities and constituencies historically ignored or neglected by Republicans, and may require the shelving of litmus tests and rigid policy preferences in favor of a legislative approach that is flexible, adaptable, and looks to the long game.
Beyond our shores, critically re-examining trade deals for possible improvements and seeking out new ones would do much to improve the American and global economies. Reviewing and right-sizing American involvement in global treaties and organizations (like NATO and the WHO, IMF and UN) is also paramount. A fresh, modern look at the role of defense and updating and modernizing military equipment – especially the navy and our nuclear arsenal is critical to fostering and ensuring peace around the world.
All of these things can be done first and foremost by letting grassroots activists and young Republicans take the lead on directing and shaping the party from the ground up, rather than the establishment elites from the top down. Giving local control, and allowing the election to have local focus and energy, will give the party flexibility to reestablish and tailor its identity as a big-tent party. Offering a positive, pro-growth, pro-opportunity, pro-liberty agenda for governing without making the election purely an Anti-Hillary and Anti-Obama election will give voters a reason to critically look at the agenda without dismissing it outright.
The door is open. We should walk through.