D. Dowd Muska


LPers Should Make Their Way to the GOP

March 01, 2012

After four decades of failure, it’s time to stick a fork in the Libertarian Party.

Some may be tempted to offer the LP an “attaboy,” and urge its activists and candidates to keep fighting. But examine the record. There are no LP-nominated legislators or executives in office at the state or federal level. Of ten presidential candidacies, one crested 1 percent of the popular vote. According to Ballot Access News, a mere 278,446 voters were registered as Libertarians in 2010. (Democrats numbered 43.1 million, and Republicans 30.7 million.)

The LP peaked early. In 1972, its first year on the ballot, a Nixon-hating faithless elector from Virginia backed its presidential ticket. The rebellious act produced the first Electoral College vote for a woman -- Theodora Nathan was the party’s pick for vice president.

Since then, the LP has mattered in just a few significant elections -- and not by winning them.

In 1998, a Libertarian candidate helped keep Harry Reid in Washington. At the time, Nevada’s nastiest politician faced a tough challenge from a then-popular U.S. Rep. John Ensign. (This was long before the Las Vegas veterinarian had his mommy and daddy pay off his mistress. In ’98, Ensign was scandal-free.) The LP’s nominee received an impressive 8,044 votes. Reid beat his Republican challenger by a paltry 428 votes. With no Libertarian running, Ensign would have won.

Underfunding, doctrinaire hacks, infighting, and poor candidates explain much of the LP’s bust. But third parties, whatever their platforms, don’t prosper in the American system of government. “Duverger’s law” holds that winner-take-all electoral structures usually produce two dominant parties. Once firmly established, of course, the duopoly thwarts competition with burdensome ballot-access laws.

However interesting history and theory may be, a brass-tacks analysis leads to the conclusion that the LP is a waste of true believers’ time and donors’ money.

With Libertarianism kaput, what’s libertarianism to do?

Working with the Democratic Party isn’t an option. There was a time when the donkeys embraced several libertarian principles -- many were protective of personal freedoms, questioned the military-industrial complex, and assailed corporate welfare.

But as currently constituted, the Democratic Party is no home for liberty-lovers. From Nanny State crusades to “aggressive multilateralism” to sweetheart deals for “green” companies, Barack Obama’s gang of social engineers, public employees, and entitlement-seekers is hopeless.

That leaves the GOP. Nutcases spending your tax dollars to induce The Rapture. (Or juicy cost-plus Department of Defense contracts.) Chamber-of-commerce wimps who don’t like tax hikes but have no interest in rolling back government. Seal-the-border xenophobes who aren’t concerned about crops rotting in the fields.

Republicans can be scary. But they’re the only game in town.

The Ron Paul phenomenon proved that libertarians, ignored for so long by party bosses, are players in the GOP. The Texas congressman failed in his quest for the 2008 presidential nomination, and won’t prevail in 2012. But he’s exposed more Americans to libertarian ideas than 40 years of third-party fiddling.

Republican power brokers with the guts to examine Paul’s latest fundraising data will find two stunners. So far, 13 percent of the checks that individuals wrote to Mitt Romney’s campaign were for $200 or less. For Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, the figure is 56 percent. Paul has bested them all, at 62 percent. That’s true grassroots support, and stupid to ignore. As for the folks likeliest to give to “Dr. No,” in February the campaign reported that it had “raised more campaign donations from active-duty members of the military than all other presidential candidates combined.” Tends to inoculate the libertarian cause from charges that it doesn’t “stand with the troops,” eh?

Smart, affluent, tech-savvy, young, and distributed throughout every part of the country, libertarians have much to offer the GOP. Ron Paul will leave D.C. at the end of 2012. To be a viable political force, libertarians must devote their energy and resources to influencing his party.

Despite a century-long assault by academics, educrats, the media, entertainers, and philanthropic foundations, limited government lingers in the nation’s ideological DNA. Politicians and bureaucrats are widely disdained. Visits to the DMV and post office are dreaded. Entrepreneurship is admired. Washington’s foreign adventures, while initially supported, quickly lose favor when they become bloody quagmires.

But operating outside the two-party system hasn’t yielded any progress in the battle against Big Government. Forty years after its founding, the LP is wholly irrelevant.

“Let’s form our own party” was gutsy and visionary in 1972. In 2012, the results are in. The Libertarian Party is due for a mercy killing.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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