While at the Cato Institute, I picked up an interesting article entitled, “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama”. Not only does it explain and predict libertarian voter trends, it also shows the number of libertarian voters is much higher than one would expect (small “l”, not necessarily members of the Libertarian Party). They estimate the percentage of libertarian voters is at least 14%. Now by libertarian, they mean folks who are economically conservative and socially liberal. The most interesting part of the piece for me was a segment on Ron Paul voters. Not surprisingly, libertarians strongly supported Paul. But, they discovered that only 38% of folks who voted for Representative Paul in the primary voted for John McCain in the general election, with 24% going with Obama and 33% to someone else. In general, “the more a voter liked Paul, the less likely he was to vote Republican in the general election.” This trend should not come as some great shock given that McCain and Paul had diametrically opposing viewpoints on many key issues. With that information in mind, how can the GOP increase its share of the libertarian vote?
Let me start off by saying I have mixed feelings about libertarians. I confess, in the early days of my political involvement, I held a rather dim view of libertarians. Then again, like so many things we don’t understand and, as a result, hate, I didn’t know too much about them. I thought that they were merely politically amoral. Although we could agree on many fiscal issues, I didn’t like the fact that they many were socially liberal, that they would not promote our Judeo-Christian values in the government. In addition, some of their theories sounded downright bizarre and when one of them refused to say the pledge of allegiance at a meeting, I was completely miffed. Are libertarians anti-patriotic, anti-American? (After reading more, I understand a bit better now).
On the one hand, I appreciate that libertarians continually hold firm to their anti-federal government stance even when some Republican leaders forget things like the Constitution and the 10th Amendment. On the other, in general, libertarians either don’t seem to be able to instill their ideals into the heart and mind of John Q. Public, or don’t have the interest in doing so. This deficiency likely springs from a lack of major party representation.
Given that the Democratic Party is largely liberal both economically and socially, while the Republican Party is largely conservative in the same areas, how will the economically conservative but socially liberal libertarians vote? Obviously some will vote for the Libertarian Party, the fifth largest party by registered voters, but, given that Libertarian candidates are not always available, coupled with our first past-the-post system of elections, a large percentage will vote either Republican or Democrat. So how can the GOP successfully court the libertarian vote? A better question is, why should libertarians vote for Republicans? After all, in recent times Republicans haven’t even promoted their shared economic conservatism. They exploded the national debt and eroded civil liberties through both the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. We (that is the GOP) must reclaim its principles, and it must do so now! Don’t both libertarians and supposedly conservatives want a smaller, more efficient, more constitutionally limited government? The national party should take a cue from the Republican Party of Virginia whose creed states: “That the Federal Government must preserve individual liberty by observing Constitutional limitations.”
Although I have been called a libertarian on many occasions, I assure you that I am about as socially conservative as they come. I just believe that we must act within the confines of the Constitution. Now, I know that as a social conservative, we sometimes toy with the appeal to promote our agenda in the nation’s capital regardless of the issue of constitutional restraint, but we mustn’t surrender to this temptation. To do so would trample not only our own principles, but also the principles under which this country was founded. It is the mark of the fascist, not the constitutional conservative. After all, wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help”? D.C. has become an open grave for countless conservative ideals and politicians.
The Republican Party should never abandon their social conservative stance in order to woo the libertarians into their camp, but conversely, if we faithfully observed Constitutional limitations, I would expect libertarians would find many aspects of Republican politics to be far more appealing than Democratic ones. With a sizable percentage of that 14% libertarian vote in our corner, Republicans both at the state and national level will find greater electoral success. For far too long, the Republicans and the Democrats in D.C. have fought tooth and nail to see which can expand more entitlements, inflate bureaucracies, and increase meddlesome overregulation. I don’t want to belabor the point, but the answer is simple: Like Paul, we must advocate and implement policies that actually shrink the size and scope of the government. Then we, that is the GOP, will be able to successfully court the libertarian vote.