Reform and Republican-Lite: A Losing Political Strategy
One of the arguments for moving the Libertarian Party in the direction of reform and Republican-Lite was that this political strategy would enable L.P. candidates to get more votes and even get L.P. candidates elected to public office.
Some twenty-five years later, the party has still not elected an L.P. candidate to Congress or even come close to doing so. Moreover, in the presidential campaigns, the party has maxed out at 3 percent with the Johnson-Weld ticket in 2016.
In fact, the Johnson-Weld ticket gives us insight into why reform and Republican-Lite will always be a losing political strategy for the L.P.
In the 2016 race, the L.P. presidential-vice-presidential ticket consisted of two former Republican governors. Count them! Not one, but two! This was a dream-come-true for the reform-oriented/pragmatist/Republican-lite crowd within the L.P. This was the dream ticket that they had been waiting for. Not only would Johnson and Weld garner millions of votes, they actually would stand a good chance of winning the race, or so the reform-oriented/pragmatist/Republican-lite crowd believed.
Of course, it didn’t matter that both Johnson and Weld were Republicans who simply came over to the L.P. to run as Libertarians. By this time, the reform positions that have long been popular within the Republican Party had been accepted as “libertarian” within the Libertarian Party.
Examples: privatizing or saving Social Security, health-savings accounts, school vouchers, securing the border, a strong “national defense,” regulatory reform, selective foreign interventionism, decriminalization of marijuana (as compared to legalization of all drugs), reduced military spending, maintaining domestic military bases, making government smaller, tax reform, reining in the CIA, welfare reform, and much more.
It was all considered to be “libertarian,” notwithstanding the fact that it all violated the core principle of the libertarian philosophy — the non-aggression principle — as well as the written Pledge that Johnson, Weld, and every other Libertarian Party member signed as a condition of joining the party.
By this time, the non-aggression principle and the Pledge no longer mattered. What mattered was political success. “We are a political party, Jacob. Our job is to get people elected to public office.”
In the process, the Libertarian Party brand, which originally consisted of pure libertarian principles and positions, got replaced by a hodgepodge collection of ad-hoc reform-oriented, Republican-Lite positions that consisted of a combination conservative-libertarian mush that violated both the non-aggression principle and the Pledge.
That’s what has contributed to the notion today among many non-libertarians that the L.P. is a right-wing organization. It’s also what enabled the revolving door to be established between the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party. Given that the L.P. had now incorporated reform positions that were popular in the Republican Party into L.P. campaigns, Republicans felt totally comfortable coming through the revolving door and running as L.P. candidates. By the same token, L.P. candidates felt comfortable abandoning pure libertarian principles and instead running their campaigns based on Republican-Lite reform measures.
It was always easier, of course, to go the reform route rather than the principled route. That’s because it’s easier to make the case for reform than the case for liberty. But. make no mistake about it: reform of the welfare-warfare state is not liberty, even when people convince themselves that it is. It is simply reform, which leaves the welfare-warfare state intact.
The political idea was that reform would garner more votes and even help get L.P. candidates elected to public office. That’s because reform was considered to be an easier sell than liberty. If voters could be assured, for example, that school vouchers would leave the public-schooling system in existence and even improve it, they would be more likely to vote Libertarian, as compared to making the case for the genuine libertarian principle of separating school and state, which necessarily entails the abolition of public (i.e. government) schooling.
That political strategy, however, was always doomed to fail. And if the L.P. continues to employ it, it will continue to fail in the future. Most important, even if it were to succeed in garnering more votes and even getting L.P. candidates elected, it would still be a failure from the standpoint of liberty.
When the L.P. moved in the direction of having Republican politicians coming into the L.P to run as L.P. candidates and having L.P. candidates embrace reform measures that were popular within the Republican Party, the aim was to induce large numbers of disaffected Republicans to come over to the Libertarian Party and vote for L.P. candidates.
Targeting disaffected Republicans was always the fallacy behind this strategy. Getting disaffected Republicans to vote for Libertarian Party Republican-Lites or L.P. reform-oriented candidates in large numbers was never going to happen. It’s still not going to happen.
After all, if it was going to happen, it would have happened during the Johnson-Weld campaign. Two Republican governors! Not one, but two! Both of them embracing reform measures that have long been popular in the Republican Party and that have become popular in the L.P. What’s not to like? Disaffected Republicans should have come over in droves!
But they didn’t. Instead, they went with Republican Donald Trump rather than to Republican-Lites Johnson and Weld, who were now running for office as L.P. candidates.
Why should disaffected Republicans cross over to vote for Republican-Lites, especially Republican-Lites who have Libertarian Party next to their names, when they can vote for a real Republican? Moreover, given the choice between a real Republican, who stood a good chance of winning, why would they waste their vote on a Libertarian Party Republican-Lite who stood virtually no chance of winning?
In fact, the campaign message of the L.P. Republican-Lite candidate or the L.P. reform-oriented candidate essentially became, “Even though my Republican opponent and I share the same positions, vote for me because I will do a better job achieving these positions. Unlike my Republican opponent, I really will secure the border, bring school choice, privatize or save Social Security, rein in federal spending and debt, and implement welfare reform.”
But that message would never — and will never — cause large numbers of Republicans to leave the Republican Party to vote for the L.P. Republican-Lite candidate or the L.P. reform-oriented candidate. Most Republicans will always remain loyal to their party and to their candidate versus an L.P. candidate who is simply claiming that he would be more effective in achieving Republican positions.
Moreover, the L.P. Republican-lite candidate could even cause the Republican candidate to lose, something that, ironically, would make many in the L.P. Republican-Lite crowd very happy. But that reaction has always been illogical, given that a Democratic Party win would be contrary to Republican and Republican-Lite positions. Why wouldn’t an L.P. Republican-Lite favor a real Republican over their Democratic opponent?
When the LNC recently recruited two MAGA-Trumpsters who lost political races as Republicans to come over to the L.P. as L.P. candidates, it was following this 25-year tradition in the L.P. In doing so, however, what the new LNC fails to realize is that this continues to be a losing political strategy. Even though some LNC members might have been convinced that these two candidates had a chance to win their political races as L.P. candidates, the fact is that they never had a chance to win. That’s because most Republican voters will always choose to vote for the real Republican rather than the Republican-Lite who is now running as a L.P. candidate.
But what if those two MAGA-Trumpsters were to win? So what? Of sure, they would be feted, honored, praised, and glorified for having been elected as Libertarians. But who cares? I certainly wouldn’t care. Why should I care that someone advocating Republican positions gets elected to public office even if he has L.P. next to his name? I’m interested in achieving liberty, not getting reform-oriented Libertarians or Libertarian Republican-Lites elected to public office so that they can bask in the glory of having done so.
In fact, imagine if Donald Trump himself — the original MAGA Trumpster — were to lose his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and came over to the L.P. to be the L.P. presidential nominee. The reform-oriented/Republican-Lite wing of the Libertarian Party would be ecstatic. Thousands of new members! Millions of dollars in contributions. “Publicity, Jacob! Publicity!” Trump couldn’t win because his Republican supporters would never follow him over to the L.P., but even if he did win, it would spell the death knell of the Libertarian Party. The party would have lost its political soul.
Embracing Republican-Lite reform positions that violate the core principle of the Libertarian Party and the Pledge that L.P. members take might seem like a short-cut to liberty, but they are actually a Siren’s Song to disaster. As I will show in a future article, the most viable and successful political strategy that the L.P. could ever adopt is one that restores the Libertarian brand to one of pure principle and that restores the Libertarian Party to the Party of Principle. That’s not only the way to achieve political success, its also the only way that the Libertarian Party can lead America out of the deep, destructive, and dangerous morass into which both Democrats and Republicans have plunged our nation.
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