Do Libertarians Cost Republicans Elections?

The 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial election had the makings of a watershed election.  Although third-party or independent candidates often run for the highest office in the Commonwealth, with the exception of 2009 which featured only a Republican and a Democrat, they typically have a minimal impact.  Running through the list from the last twenty years, in 2017, the Libertarian candidate won 1.1% of the vote.  In 2005, a former Republican State Senator left his party and ran as an independent garnering 2.2% of the statewide vote.  In 2001, the Libertarian won .8% and in 1997, the Reform Party candidate picked up 1.5%.  In addition, in all of these other elections the winning candidate received over 50% of the vote so that no one could effectively argue that these third-party or independent candidates impacted the final result.[1]  But 2013 was an unusual affair in Virginia politics.

Although Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate, had enjoyed a lead over his opponent earlier in the year, by mid-July Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, dominated the polls.  In addition, about a week before the November 5th contest, multiple polls had Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, at or above 10%.[2]  He achieved this result despite being excluded from every debate.[3]  Ten percent is a particularly important threshold for if a third-party candidate were to win at least 10% of the vote in a statewide contest, then the state would recognize his or her political party.  This result, in turn, would permit that political party to hold primaries at the expense of the taxpayers and would allow future candidates from that party to receive ballot access without going through the signature collection process.[4]  As a result of Sarvis’ apparent success, coupled with Cuccinelli’s falling numbers, some Republicans began to blame Libertarians for a potential loss in November.[5]  However, the simple fact was that some libertarian voters preferred the Libertarian option to the Republican.  “The 37-year-old former lawyer is proving particularly attractive to a bloc of right-leaning independents uneasy with Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s strident opposition to abortion and gay marriage.”[6]

Even though Sarvis ultimately fell short of the 10% threshold, he captured 6.6% of the vote, the highest percentage for a third-party gubernatorial candidate in the south for over forty years.[7]  In addition, his vote total of about 145,000 votes was greater than 56,000, the margin that separated the Republican and Democratic candidates.[8]  Were the claims of some Republicans correct?  Did Robert Sarvis cost the Republicans a victory in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election?  If he weren’t on the ballot would a sufficient number of his voters still cast their ballots for the Republican candidate to ensure Cuccinelli’s triumph?

As another example of a Libertarian candidate potentially costing Republicans a win, in the 2019 Kentucky gubernatorial election the Democratic candidate defeated the Republican incumbent by a margin of about 5,000 votes.  The Libertarian candidate picked up over 28,000 votes.[9]  After this election, the Libertarian Party claimed that they had indeed snatched victory from the Republicans.  “We are always happy to split the vote in a way that causes delicious tears.  Tonight there are plenty of tears from Bevin supporters.”[10]

But in the absence of Libertarian candidates, would most Libertarian voters cast a ballot for the Republican option?  Do Libertarian candidates take a larger percentage of what would otherwise be Republican votes?  To answer these questions, we first have to understand what ideology drives libertarians.  According to a 2012 psychology study, Libertarianism was not widely studied prior to that time.  Furthermore, as compared to liberals and conservatives, libertarians have a “stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles.”[11]  Along these same lines, libertarian ideology “rejects the idea, essential to liberalism, that political power is a public power, to be impartially exercised for the common good.”[12]

But libertarians have voted Republican in the past, often in overwhelming numbers.  For example, in the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections libertarians preferred George W. Bush over Al Gore by a margin of 72% to 20%.  However, as the Bush presidency continued policies which resulted in ballooning federal deficits, the curtailing of civil liberties, along with the expansion of government power, positions which libertarians by-in-large oppose, libertarian support for the Republican Party waned considerably.[13]  After the Bush Presidency ended, libertarians once again largely shifted into the Republican column “supporting John McCain over Barack Obama by 71 to 27 percent.”[14]  However, the Libertarian Party has been active during this time, running candidates for president in every election since 1972.  In the two aforementioned elections, it would be difficult or impossible to claim that the presence of a Libertarian candidate cost the Republican Party the election given that the Republican candidate won the election in 2000; in 2008 the Libertarian candidate won a little over half a million votes or .4% of the nationwide vote, while the Republican and Democratic candidates were separated by a margin of about 9.5 million votes.[15]  Clearly then one cannot argue that the mere presence of a Libertarian candidate spells automatic doom for the Republicans.

Even though there is scant research done on the supposed Libertarian spoiler effect, others have asked similar questions.  For example, what about candidates from other political parties in the United States?  The 1992 Presidential election was a particularly historic election where the independent Ross Perot won 18.91% of the vote, the best showing for a third-party or independent candidate in terms of overall vote total since the election of 1912.[16]  Given that Perot’s percentage of the vote was greater than the disparity between the totals of the Republican and Democratic candidates, it comes as no surprise that some Bush supporters lamented that Perot had cost them the election.[17] [18]  However, later research shows that rather than denying Bush reelection, Perot’s candidacy had the opposite effect, drawing more votes from Clinton than Bush.  In addition, many of Perot’s voters went to the polls specifically to vote for Perot; about 20% of Perot voters would not have cast a ballot if Perot were not listed as a choice, thus his candidacy substantially increased turnout.[19]

Perhaps the most widely considered spoiler in the modern era was the candidacy of Ralph Nader under the banner of the Green Party in the 2000 presidential election.  The election came down to Florida where Bush defeated Gore by a margin of about 500 votes.[20]  Although some research argues that Gore actually won the state due to the improper rejection of 50,000 overvotes, most of which would have supposedly gone to Gore[21], others point to Nader’s nearly 100,000 votes, most of which, they assert, would have gone to Gore had Nader not been on the ballot.[22]  One study claims that about 60% of the Nader voters who would have turned out even if their preferred candidate weren’t on the ballot would have voted for Gore thus handing him the presidency.[23]  In that same election, the Libertarian candidate won 16,415 votes in Florida.  If Gore had won the Sunshine State and the Electoral College, would angry Republicans have pointed to Libertarians as spoilers? 

Another aspect to consider is the idea that the two-major party candidates in essence steal votes from a third-party candidate and not the other way around.  If a voter were to cast his or her vote sincerely, then he or she would select the candidate who most aligns with his or her values.  However, given the nature of the first-past-the-post electoral system, where any vote that goes to a losing candidate is, according to some, wasted, then voters will cast their votes strategically instead, choosing between the lesser of two evils.[24]

Returning to the idea of third-party candidates in gubernatorial contests, the 1998 Minnesota Governor election featured three candidates, a Republican, a Democrat, and the Reform Party’s Jesse Ventura.  Although Ventura won the election, researchers have determined that if he were not in the race then the Republican candidate would have been elected.  Ventura was the Condorcet winner and the Democratic candidate was the Condorcet loser.  It is estimated that approximately 7% of voters would not have cast a ballot were Ventura not an option.[25] Although one could make a rather tepid argument that Ventura “stole” the election, doing so would also require one to make the claim that no one other than Republicans and Democrats ought to be allowed to run for office, an undemocratic notion antithetical to the idea of liberty which undermines the principle of the right to self-determination.

Third-party candidates can make an impact in politics outside of running for office through the mere threat of their candidacy.  Lee shows that

while two-party politics is essentially one-dimensional in that a dominant cleavage defines political conflict, third parties are often concerned with issues that are ignored by the major parties…US House members from districts under high third-party threat vote beyond the dominant dimension of major-party conflict, which is an attempt preemptively to co-opt potential third-party supporters.[26]

In addition, we do have data from third parties in other western democracies.  For example, there is the typically largest third party in the UK since the 1922 election, the Liberal Democrats, formally known as the Liberals.  Running for office has the effect of promoting policies which Liberal Democratic voters oppose.  “By contesting elections they motivate the major parties to present more extreme policies” and “by presenting its sincere center-left beliefs, the Liberal Democrats enable the Conservatives to present more extreme positions than they would present if the Liberal Democrats positioned themselves strategically.”[27]  However, these findings may not translate particularly well to the case of American Libertarians given that the party has not yet successfully elected a candidate to Congress.

Later political scientists have found other effects for third-party voters when exploring ballots cast for the New Democratic Party in Canada.  “The share of the vote received by the NDP is not only governed by the individual characteristics of voters, but also by the competitive position of the party in each constituency.”[28]  The party is “a safe repository for the sophisticated vote of dissatisfaction.”[29] But, as is the case with the Liberal Democrats in the UK, although both electoral systems consist of districts which are single-member pluralities, like the United States, both of these parties have won and continue to win seats in the national legislature.  The Libertarians in the United States haven’t won an election at the federal level though this disparity could be, in part, a result of a presidential system as opposed to a parliamentary one, or, as mentioned in my previous work, due to particularly repressive ballot access laws in the United States.

Although some politicos may argue that voting for a third-party candidate in a two-party system is essentially an irrational action, tantamount to throwing one’s vote away or that doing so results in the election of the greater of two evils as Lee (2013) suggests, Anthony Downs identifies two conditions under which voting for a third-party candidate makes sense.

A voter may support a party that today is hopeless in the belief that his support will enable it to grow and someday become a likely winner-thus giving him a wider range of selection in the future.  Also, he may temporarily support a hopeless party as a warning to some other party to change its platform if it wants his support.  Both actions are rational for people who prefer better choice-alternatives in the future to present participation in the selection of government.[30]

Returning to Republicans and Libertarians in the United States, perhaps surprisingly, some Republicans don’t like the idea of Libertarians supporting their party as they are concerned that this ideology will transform the Republican Party.  As Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) stated in 2012 while facing a libertarian challenger for the Republican nomination, “These people are not conservatives.  They’re not Republicans.  They’re radical libertarians and I’m doggone offended by it.  I despise these people.”[31]

So, what should libertarians do?  Should they support a Republican Party which is often hostile to their ideology or cast their ballots for Libertarian candidates who are unlikely to win, potentially “spoiling” elections for Republicans?  David Boaz, the executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argues that given present policy trends neither of the two major political parties is a particularly welcoming home for libertarian-minded voters unless they make a concerted effort to change.

Libertarians have yet to find a comfortable home among political parties, particularly younger libertarians. Given the anti-competitive restrictions on third parties imposed by campaign finance and ballot access laws, the two-party system is likely to survive for the foreseeable future. However, if Republicans embrace the libertarian roots of the party, they stand to gain favor among these independent-minded voters. And if Democrats move toward drug policy reform, marriage equality, withdrawal from Iraq, and fiscal responsibility, they also stand to gain. As long as neither major party is committed to liberty and limited government, libertarians will likely continue to be only weakly affiliated with either party.[32]

If the above logic is correct, then neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party ought to consider themselves the rightful owner of libertarians’ votes; they ought to refrain from calling Libertarian candidates spoilers when their candidate loses by a margin smaller than the number of voters the Libertarian candidate earns.  Nevertheless, it is an idea that needs further empirical exploration.

Resources

“2013 – Virginia Gov: Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe vs. Sarvis.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2013/governor/va/virginia_governor_cuccinelli_vs_mcauliffe_vs_sarvis-4111.html (November 30, 2019).

Adams, James, and Samuel Merrill. 2006. “Why Small, Centrist Third Parties Motivate Policy Divergence by Major Parties.” American Political Science Review 100(3): 403–17.

Berkes, Howard. 2012. “GOP-on-GOP Attacks Leave Orrin Hatch Fighting Mad,”

National Public Radio, April 12, 2012, http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsall politics/2012/04/12/150506733/tea-party-againtargets-a-utah-gop-senator-and-orrin-hatch-isfighting-mad.

Boaz, David, and David Kirby. 2006. “The Libertarian Vote.” SSRN Electronic Journal: 1–28.

Boaz, David, and David Kirby. 2010. “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.” SSRN Electronic Journal: 1–19.

Bowler, S., and D. J. Lanoue. 1992. “Strategic and Protest Voting for Third Parties: the Case of the Canadian NDP.” Political Research Quarterly 45(2): 485–99.

Collins, Eliza. 2019. “Did Perot Spoil 1992 Election for Bush? It’s Complicated.” The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/did-perot-spoil-1992-election-for-bush-its-complicated-11562714375 (December 3, 2019).

Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Federal Election Commission. 2001. 2000 Presidential General Election Results. https://transition.fec.gov/pubrec/2000presgeresults.htm (December 4, 2019).

FEDERAL ELECTIONS 2008 Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. 2009. Washington D.C.

Freeman, Samuel. 2001. “Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View.” Philosophy Public Affairs 30(2): 105–51.

Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin I. Page. 2014. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.” Perspectives on Politics 12(3): 564–81.

Hamby, Peter. 2013. “Libertarian Threatens to Spoil GOP Hopes in Virginia – CNNPolitics.” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/27/politics/virginia-governor-sarvis-spoiler/index.html (December 4, 2019).

Herron, Michael C., and Jeffery B. Lewis. 2006. “Did Ralph Nader Spoil a Gore Presidency? A Ballot-Level Study of Green and Reform Party Voters in the 2000 Presidential Election.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2(3): 205–26.

Hohmann, James. 2013. “3rd Candidate Could Cost Cuccinelli.” POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/virginia-governor-race-robert-sarvis-ken-cuccinelli-097591 (November 30, 2019).

Hohmann, James. 2013. “Libertarian Excluded from Va. Debate.” POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/virginia-governor-debate-robert-sarvis-libertarian-098161 (November 30, 2019).

Iyer, Ravi et al. 2012. “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians.” PLoS ONE 7(8): 1–23.

Jacobs, Ben. 2013. “Libertarian Robert Sarvis Drew Record High Votes in Virginia.” The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailybeast.com/libertarian-robert-sarvis-drew-record-high-votes-in-virginia (November 30, 2019).

Lacy, Dean, and Barry C. Burden. 1999. “The Vote-Stealing and Turnout Effects of Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election.” American Journal of Political Science 43(1): 233–55.

Lacy, Dean, and Quin Monson. 2002. “The Origins and Impact of Votes for Third-Party Candidates: A Case Study of the 1998 Minnesota Gubernatorial Election.” Political Research Quarterly 55(2): 409–37.

Lee, Daniel J. 2013. “Third-Party Threat and the Dimensionality of Major-Party Roll Call Voting.” Public Choice 159(3-4): 515–31.

Leip, David. 1992 Presidential General Election Results. https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1992&f=0&off=0&elect=0 (December 3, 2019).

Mebane, Walter R. 2004. “The Wrong Man Is President! Overvotes in the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida.” Perspectives on Politics 2(03): 525–35.

“Ross Perot: Election Spoiler or Message Shaper?” 2019. Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/ross-perot-election-spoiler-or-message-shaper (December 3, 2019).

Rotemberg, Julio. 2009. “Attitude-Dependent Altruism, Turnout and Voting.” Public Choice: 223–44.

Scher, Bill. 2016. “Nader Elected Bush: Why We Shouldn’t Forget.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/05/31/nader_elected_bush_why_we_shouldnt_forget_130715.html (December 4, 2019).

Staff, WKYT News. 2019. “Libertarian Party Says It’s Happy to Cause ‘Delicious Tears from Bevin Supporters’.” WKYT. https://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Libertarian-Party-happy-to-cause-delicious-tears-from-Bevin-supporters-564541541.html (November 30, 2019).

The New York Times. 2019. “2019 Kentucky Governor General Election Results.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/05/us/elections/results-kentucky-governor-general-election.html (November 30, 2019).

“Title 24.2. Elections.” § 24.2-101. Definitions. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title24.2/chapter1/section24.2-101/ (November 30, 2019).

“Virginia Elections Database ” Search Elections.” Virginia Elections Database. https://historical.elections.virginia.gov/elections/search/year_from:1997/year_to:2017/office_id:3/stage:General (November 30, 2019).

“Virginia Governor – 2013 Election Results.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/elections/2013/general/virginia/map.html (November 30, 2019).


[1] “Virginia Elections Database ” Search Elections.” Virginia Elections Database. https://historical.elections.virginia.gov/elections/search/year_from:1997/year_to:2017/office_id:3/stage:General (November 30, 2019).

[2] “2013 – Virginia Gov: Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe vs. Sarvis.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2013/governor/va/virginia_governor_cuccinelli_vs_mcauliffe_vs_sarvis-4111.html (November 30, 2019).

[3] Hohmann, James. 2013. “Libertarian Excluded from Va. Debate.” POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/virginia-governor-debate-robert-sarvis-libertarian-098161 (November 30, 2019).

[4] “Title 24.2. Elections.” § 24.2-101. Definitions. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title24.2/chapter1/section24.2-101/ (November 30, 2019).

[5] Hamby, Peter. 2013. “Libertarian Threatens to Spoil GOP Hopes in Virginia – CNNPolitics.” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/27/politics/virginia-governor-sarvis-spoiler/index.html (December 4, 2019).

[6] Hohmann, James. 2013. “3rd Candidate Could Cost Cuccinelli.” POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/virginia-governor-race-robert-sarvis-ken-cuccinelli-097591 (November 30, 2019).

[7] Jacobs, Ben. 2013. “Libertarian Robert Sarvis Drew Record High Votes in Virginia.” The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailybeast.com/libertarian-robert-sarvis-drew-record-high-votes-in-virginia (November 30, 2019).

[8] “Virginia Governor – 2013 Election Results.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/projects/elections/2013/general/virginia/map.html (November 30, 2019).

[9] The New York Times. 2019. “2019 Kentucky Governor General Election Results.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/05/us/elections/results-kentucky-governor-general-election.html (November 30, 2019).

[10] Staff, WKYT News. 2019. “Libertarian Party Says It’s Happy to Cause ‘Delicious Tears from Bevin Supporters’.” WKYT. https://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Libertarian-Party-happy-to-cause-delicious-tears-from-Bevin-supporters-564541541.html (November 30, 2019).

[11] Iyer, Ravi et al. 2012. “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians.” PLoS ONE 7(8): 1.

[12] Freeman, Samuel. 2001. “Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View.” Philosophy Public Affairs 30(2): 107.

[13] Boaz, David, and David Kirby. 2006. “The Libertarian Vote.” SSRN Electronic Journal: 1–28.

[14] Boaz, David, and David Kirby. 2010. “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.” SSRN Electronic Journal: 1.

[15] FEDERAL ELECTIONS 2008 Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. 2009. Washington D.C. 5.

[16] Leip, David. 1992 Presidential General Election Results. https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1992&f=0&off=0&elect=0 (December 3, 2019).

[17] Collins, Eliza. 2019. “Did Perot Spoil 1992 Election for Bush? It’s Complicated.” The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/did-perot-spoil-1992-election-for-bush-its-complicated-11562714375 (December 3, 2019).

[18] “Ross Perot: Election Spoiler or Message Shaper?” 2019. Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/ross-perot-election-spoiler-or-message-shaper (December 3, 2019).

[19] Lacy, Dean, and Barry C. Burden. 1999. “The Vote-Stealing and Turnout Effects of Ross Perot in the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election.” American Journal of Political Science 43(1): 233–55.

[20] Federal Election Commission. 2001. 2000 Presidential General Election Results. https://transition.fec.gov/pubrec/2000presgeresults.htm (December 4, 2019).

[21] Mebane, Walter R. 2004. “The Wrong Man Is President! Overvotes in the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida.” Perspectives on Politics 2(03): 525–35.

[22] Scher, Bill. 2016. “Nader Elected Bush: Why We Shouldn’t Forget.” RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/05/31/nader_elected_bush_why_we_shouldnt_forget_130715.html (December 4, 2019).

[23] Herron, Michael C., and Jeffery B. Lewis. 2006. “Did Ralph Nader Spoil a Gore

Presidency? A Ballot-Level Study of Green and Reform Party Voters in the 2000 Presidential Election.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2(3): 205–26.

[24] Rotemberg, Julio. 2009. “Attitude-Dependent Altruism, Turnout and Voting.” Public Choice: 223–44.

[25] Lacy, Dean, and Quin Monson. 2002. “The Origins and Impact of Votes for Third-Party Candidates: A Case Study of the 1998 Minnesota Gubernatorial Election.” Political Research Quarterly 55(2): 409–37.

[26] Lee, Daniel J. 2013. “Third-Party Threat and the Dimensionality of Major-Party Roll Call Voting.” Public Choice 159(3-4): 529.

[27] Adams, James, and Samuel Merrill. 2006. “Why Small, Centrist Third Parties Motivate Policy Divergence by Major Parties.” American Political Science Review 100(3): 403–17.

[28] Bowler, S., and D. J. Lanoue. 1992. “Strategic and Protest Voting for Third Parties: the Case of the Canadian Ndp.” Political Research Quarterly 45(2): 497.

[29] Ibid. 498.

[30] Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper & Row. 49.

[31] Berkes, Howard. 2012. “GOP-on-GOP Attacks Leave Orrin Hatch Fighting Mad,” National Public Radio, April 12, 2012, http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsall politics/2012/04/12/150506733/tea-party-againtargets-a-utah-gop-senator-and-orrin-hatch-isfighting-mad.

[32] Boaz, David, and David Kirby. 2010. “The Libertarian Vote in the Age of Obama.” SSRN Electronic Journal: 19.

A Campaign of Fear and Hatred

As the 2016 presidential election kicks into high gear, the attacks against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton seem to be intensifying.  Everyday we heard things that suggest Donald Trump is a racist and a bigot and is totally unqualified to serve in office.  Others say that Hillary Clinton is a liar and a crook and that she’d be in jail if not for her political connections.  Although some people might decry this overly negative campaigning, unfortunately it is the way politics has been trending for quite some time.

For example, when I started out in the mid 90s, I was taught by folks on both sides of the aisle that Republicans shouldn’t associate with Democrats and vice versa.  Adherents to the other political party were stupid, not to be trusted, and often just plain evil.  One should never treat one’s opponent with civility if it can be helped, because they certainly wouldn’t offer you that same level of respect.  Unfortunately, this problem has gotten even worse.

img_2133-1
Robert Sarvis (L) and Ken Cuccinelli (R) in 2013

Toward these same lines, we’ve had a preview of this year’s horribly negative campaigning before, right here in Virginia in the 2013 race for governor.  The Ken Cuccinelli campaign branded Terry McAuliffe as a corrupt businessman who was totally unqualified to serve in any office, let alone governor, while the McAuliffe folks painted Cuccinelli as a right-wing zealot who wished to turn back the clock on the rights of many individuals.  Both sides went heavily negative and although there were positive selling points for both men, these topics were generally forgotten as both campaigns tried to portray the other as an absolutely horrible outcome.  During the campaign, I spoke with some Cuccinelli staffers who actually declared that their primary goal was to expose McAuliffe in the worst possible light so that by Labor Day most Virginians would consider him completely unelectable.  From what I witnessed, I suspect the McAuliffe folks decided to employ a similar strategy of demonization against Cuccinelli.  They both framed the campaign as the choice of the lesser of two evils and voters were urged to vote against either McAuliffe or Cuccinelli rather than feeling positive about either.  As a result, many of my Republican friends then and now still refer to our governor as Terry McAwful.  However, in that ugly morass was a third candidate, Robert Sarvis.  Although the powers that be conspired to keep him off the debate stage, he still managed to capture 6.5% of the vote from Libertarians and those who were sick of the race to the bottom campaigns of both the Republicans and Democrats.

And here we are again in 2016.  We have a Republican and a Democratic candidate who both suffer from exceedingly high negatives.  Unfortunately, many polls indicate that the average American views Trump and Clinton in an unfavorable light.  Odds are, if the Republicans or Democrats nominated a candidate that was at least halfway likable, he or she would be enjoying a huge lead over his or her primary opponent.  The problem is that negative campaigning does work…at least to a point, provided that there are no other candidates in the race.  In November many Republicans and conservatives will hold their noses and vote for a deplorable man like Donald Trump if they are convinced that they have no other choices and that he is the only way they can stop their greater foe, Hillary.  Likewise, many progressives and Greens despise Hillary Clinton for being corrupt and loath the revelation that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the Democratic National Committee rigged the primaries against Bernie Sanders.  However, if the don’t support Clinton how else can they stop a thug like Trump?

Well, fortunately voters do have other options as there are two (or possibly three) other candidates who could garner enough electoral votes to win the election.  They are: Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, and potentially Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party (although working toward it, he has not reached the ballot access threshold yet).

I remain fully convinced that if the United States were like every other democratic nation, which offers voters a variety of choices and not simply only two (or often one) candidates, this era of increasingly negative campaigning would be drastically curtailed.  After all, if two candidates or their campaigns decide to make it their primary mission to prove that the other is wholly unsuitable for office, then voters could choose a third option and reject the campaign of fear and hatred that both of his or her opponents offer.  If a third party candidate could win a major election from time to time, campaigns would soon come to the realization that they would actually have to sell their own candidates and promote their own supposed principles, rather than presenting themselves as the better of two horrible options.  Maybe then we could get candidates that we actually like, ones that can be trusted to uphold some kind of values, and perhaps party platforms would be more than lofty ideals that are often ignored or even repudiated by their own candidates.  Now, wouldn’t that be something!?

Thoughts of Johnson and The Libertarian Convention

Untitled 2For those who haven’t been paying attention to recent political news, over the weekend the Libertarian Party held their national convention in Orlando, Florida.  There they nominated former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as their candidate for president.  For vice president, they selected Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Although, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the convention, I watched much of the event on C-SPAN, as it was broadcast on national television.

On Tuesday, I had two opportunities to offer my thoughts of the convention and the Libertarian candidates for president and vice-president.  In the morning, I spoke on the radio, 550 AM WSVA.  If you missed the segment, you can find it here.  Then, in the evening, I got together with Will Hammer, Corey Fauconier, and Andy Bakker at Freedom Gulch as we engaged in a bit more in-depth conversation.

Could 2016 be the break out year for the Libertarian Party?  Well, with a ticket headlined by two former governors, a Republican and Democratic candidate with very high negatives, and inclusion in the national polls, just about anything could happen.

No matter the outcome, 2016 is shaping up to be one of the most exciting election cycles in recent history.

Why Not Vote Libertarian?

IMG_3166
Joshua Huffman with 2012 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson at the 2016 Virginia Libertarian Convention

VC Note:  On April 2nd, the Daily News Record (my local paper) published an opinion piece from Mr. Allen Clague III entitled “Be Careful in Voting Libertarian”.  In the article, Mr. Clague attempts to dissuade citizens from voting for Libertarian candidates by using some flimsy or just plain wrong reasons, such as the party and her candidates are secretly well funded by billionaires and their shadow groups.  After reading it, I felt it required a response.  Here is what I wrote which appeared in the April 16th edition of the paper.  The paper created the title for this piece.

 

After reading Mr. Allen Clague III’s open forum piece from April 2nd called “Be Careful in Voting Libertarian”, I thought it needed both some factual clarifications and a rebuttal.

First, I do not know of many people who would call Ted Cruz “a libertarian cloaked as a Republican.”  For example, his desire to see “if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out” presumably due to the use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, coupled with his support for religious profiling of Muslims in America and his calls for the government to force Apple to unlock their iPhone are all decidedly unlibertarian positions.  And these are just a few examples.

Furthermore, as Republican Representative Justin Amash (MI-3) wrote in his endorsement of Ted Cruz, “Ted is not a libertarian and doesn’t claim to be.”  Therefore, I believe it is an error to associate Ted Cruz as a standard-bearer or even a foot soldier in the libertarian movement.

Second, I’ve never heard of a group called Citizens for Prosperity.  There was a group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, but it split in 2004 to create Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Although some people claim that Americans for Prosperity is a front for the Libertarian Party, in my experiences I have never seen them promote a single Libertarian candidate or official but have witnessed them helping Republican candidates and officeholders.

Now, to be fair to Mr. Clague, perhaps he didn’t write the headline associated with his piece.  After all, I have found that when I write for the Daily News Record my titles often change.   However, I agree that one should always be careful in voting, regardless of which candidate or political party you choose to support.  Unfortunately some voters don’t take the time to learn about their choices, instead blindly assuming that a party’s candidate follows a certain set of principles, which often is untrue.

Sure, there are some people who like to throw out the names of political bogeymen.  If you are on the left, the Koch brothers are evil masterminds bent on world control or if you are on the right, it is George Soros pulling the puppet strings of others.   Although it makes for an interesting story, each side assumes that these men wield an unbelievable amount of power and control over our political process.  It is easy to say that we have no say in what happens.  However, if you don’t like the way your city or county government is run then it is up to each of us to make a change.  Do you think your state or federal government representatives are corrupt?  Then mount a challenge to vote them out of office.  It’s really that simple.  If that means voting for a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or independent candidate, have at it.  Don’t toe a party line again and again simply because you’ve always voted that way.

What is Libertarianism if it isn’t a scheme to make the Koch brothers and their allies rich?  Well, unlike some other political philosophies, my understanding is that libertarianism advocates a very limited government, one that protects life, liberty, and property, while doing little else.  I do not believe that one should use the power of the government to take from our neighbors to enrich either our friends or ourselves.

Friends, don’t be scared away from voting for the best person in each election regardless of political affiliation.  Despite what some people may say, sometimes voting for Libertarians is the best option.  It certainly beats the lesser of two evils!  And, if you think that some secretive, well-funded group controls the Libertarian Party, I have some disappointing news for you.  After all, if they were, don’t you think we would have seen some extremely well funded Libertarian campaigns by now?  I’ve been involved in politics since I was a student at Harrisonburg High School in the mid to late 90s.  As soon as I get my first check from the Koch brothers the readers of the DNR will be the first to know!

Finding a Political Home

RLC LPThe “On this Day” feature of Facebook is rather amazing, isn’t it?  Today, it reminded me of an event that took place two years ago, my removal from the board of directors of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia.  This action was taken in response to my employment with the 2013 Robert Sarvis for Governor campaign.  Although I fought against my expulsion, at first, as I strongly believed in the mission of the RLC to promote liberty within the ranks of the Republican Party, I did understand where they were coming from and thus did not contest the matter further.

When I posted my piece on Facebook, the Treasurer of the Libertarian Party of Virginia told me that it was “time for you to come home.”  I assumed it was an invitation to join the LP.  In some ways it was a rather curious message.  After all, at that point I was not a member of the Libertarian Party nor had I ever been.  Like many folks that promote liberty and reducing the size and scope of government, the Republican Party was the only political home that I had ever known.  But that home would soon be destroyed.  Little did I know that less than five months later, in early 2014, I would be kicked out of the Harrisonburg Republican Party, a group I had volunteered countless hours with since the age of 15.  I discovered that being without a political home sort of sucks and, as such, a month or two later I ended up joining the Libertarian Party.  Although I ran for office that fall, I did so as an independent for a variety of reason beyond the scope of this article.

Unfortunately, the liberty movement is divided and without a unified home.  Many of us reside within the Republican Party, others in the Libertarian Party, a few with the Democrats, and some that have taken another path or given up on politics entirely.  Even worse, we spend so much of our time fighting each other that often the push for liberty is lost.  Libertarians think Republicans are sell-outs, Republicans declare that the Libertarian Party is a waste of time, and neither group spends much time thinking about the handful of us who are Democrats.

What can we do?  The answer to this situation is illusive.

Being in the Republican fold these days means that my fellow liberty activists are often compelled or even forced into supporting candidates who stand in stark contrast to their principles.  Some of my brothers and sisters in the GOP have told me that they despise the Republican Party and her candidates, but they feel that they have no other option.  I’m sure that many of us profoundly wish that the Republican Party held true to their principles and actually supported liberty and limited government.  Now, there certainly is a segment who do hold to these values, but they are a minority.

Conversely, the Libertarian Party is quite small and faces enormously unfair hurdles in areas such as ballot and debate access.  There are many stories of the LP being bullied by the Republican establishment, presumably done in order to keep the liberty-wing of the Republican Party from switching sides.  The Libertarian Party is plagued by division and a lack of resources.  Like any political party, there are a variety of ideological disagreements among members.  In addition, they have a bit of an image problem; for the longest time I viewed them as little more than immoral, pot-smoking, hedonists.  As for the Democrats…well, I don’t really know what to say about them.

The simple fact is that every political ideology requires a home, a party which promotes its interests.  The liberty movement is divided and is a diaspora.  It needs a major political party to steadfastly promote its principles.  Although they bash each other in public, behind closed doors I have heard conversations from both RLC members and Libertarians who agree on almost every major point.  So, the question remains.  What can we do to find a common political home for the liberty movement, one that both wields significant political influence and one that doesn’t routinely betray the cause?

Last Night at the Fair

Tomorrow, the Rockingham County Fair begins.  301218_10100206570308319_3215768_nAlthough most people attend for the games, rides, crafts, or livestock, for me the highlight was the politics.  No great surprise there, right?

Ever since I began volunteering at the joint Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Republican Party booth at the age of fifteen, I always looked forward to the local fair with great anticipation.  No doubt the fair was my favorite political event.  The chance to spread your message to scores of those who walked past your table, the opportunity to speak with various politicians, the camaraderie, it was all great fun.

The image pictured here is from exactly four years ago, August 16th, 2011.  That night, the Shenandoah Valley Young Republicans staffed the table.  I cannot say that I remember too much from that evening, other than a visit from our local state senator, Mark Obenshain, who proudly wore a new set of boots that had been given to him by then Texas Governor Rick Perry after Senator Obenshain endorsed Perry’s bid to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012.  The next day, I wrote about the experience.

As for the folks pictured, going from left to right, Chad (Delegate Tony Wilt’s legislative assistant) and Savanna (Delegate Dickie Bell’s legislative assistant) are still active in politics and living in the area.  They got married a few months after this photo was taken and recently celebrated the birth of their first child.  I’d glad to say that they are still honorable folks.  Jared (Senator Obenshain’s now former legislative assistant) moved up to D.C. to work for a lobbying firm after the 2014 elections.  Patrick stuck around for a while, working on Senator Obenshain’s 2013 bid for attorney general until he supposedly stole a rival campaign’s cell phone, switched to the Stewart campaign for lieutenant governor, and allegedly tried to blackmail the Snyder campaign at that year’s state Republican convention.  I have not heard about him since that time.  And then, in a rather peculiar pose, you find yours truly, the only person not employed in politics when the photo was taken.

At that time, I had no idea that the 2011 fair would be my last volunteering on behalf of the GOP.  However, the next year when the YR party leadership under John (not pictured) began to attack me repeatedly, worked to discredit and diminish the 2012 Ron Paul campaign, and later tried to undermine my then employment with a group called We rVirginia, coupled with the fact that the party was running a candidate that year that embraced stances that sounded almost identical to the big government solutions advocated by his Democratic opponent, the joy that came from my yearly tradition of volunteering at the GOP table was gone.  In 2013, I offered my services at the local Libertarian Party booth, but neither they nor I have been back to the fair since that time.

I hope that the magic isn’t completely lost, and that I’ll have the chance to work a political booth at the Rockingham County Fair at some point in the future.  However, when that day comes, I assure you it will only be for a cause that appreciates its volunteers, one that has some semblance of honor, and one that I believe in.

Johnson 2016?

Photo from Gary Johnson's Facebook page
Photo from Gary Johnson’s Facebook page

In a recent article in the National Journal, Gary Johnson may be considering another run for president in 2016.  As was the case in 2012, the former New Mexico governor suggests he may run under the banner of the Libertarian Party.  As he puts it, “I would love running as a Libertarian because I would have the least amount of explaining to do.”

Certainly some liberty-minded Republicans wish that Gary Johnson would return to the Republican fold.  After all, he was elected as a Republican in New Mexico.

However, any memory of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries would make such a switch highly unlikely.  For those who do not recall, Johnson first began his presidential run as a Republican in 2011.  Despite being a fairly important former elected official and offering a memorable quip that several dogs created more “shovel ready” jobs than President Obama, he was only allowed to participate in two debates.  In a party and media fueled catch-22, his poll numbers were low because he didn’t get much coverage.  And as he didn’t get much coverage, his poll numbers could not improve.

In addition, former Governor Johnson has some philosophical differences too.  Although marking himself as a strong fiscal conservative during his time in elected office, Gary Johnson holds a number of social views which put him at odds with the religious right wing of the Republican Party.

Now there are some Republican politicians who have used the Libertarian Party as a resting point before returning to the GOP.  For example, 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr has since rejoined the Republican Party.  Then again, I thought Barr a rather curious choice for the LP.  Although I didn’t consider myself libertarian in 2008, given his previous support of the Patriot Act and the War in Iraq, I thought that I was more libertarian than Mr. Barr.

On the other hand, the Republican Party is still searching for an identity and unfortunately there is a sizable contingent of the leadership that is openly hostile to libertarians and conservatives.

So, it should be interesting to see when and if Gary Johnson kicks off his presidential campaign.  I assume that if he runs as a Libertarian again, it should increase public understanding and membership in the LP.

Sarvis In The Valley

Virginia Libertarian gubernatorial candidaete Rob Sarvis
Virginia Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis

This week, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis will be making a multitude of campaign stops in the central Shenandoah Valley.  These events mark his first trip to the area since securing the party’s nomination back at the Waynesboro convention in April.

First, on Wednesday, August 14th, Sarvis will give a speech on the steps of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County courthouse beginning at 5:30 PM.

From there, he will travel to a meet-and-greet at the home of a local supporter who lives just west of the city.

Then, on the following day, he will converse with voters at Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton from 4 PM to 5 PM.  Wrights’, for those who don’t know, is a 1950s style burger and milkshakes diner that has been in operation since 1952 and is located at 346 Greenville Avenue.

Afterward, starting at 6:30 PM, Robert will address the Staunton Tea Party.  These days, the Staunton Tea Party holds their monthly gatherings at the VFW on 212 Frontier Drive.

Lastly, on Friday, Robert Sarvis will tour the Rockingham County Fair for a good portion of the day.  This year, the Libertarian Party has a booth alongside the Republican and Democratic Parties.

As the 2013 election season begins to kick into high gear, it should be interesting to see how many times the various statewide candidates visit the Valley.  Only a few weeks ago, E. W. Jackson held a particularly successful fundraiser on the campus of James Madison University.  With both Rockingham and Augusta Counties being typically among the most Republican (if not the most Republican) localities in the state coupled with cities like Harrisonburg and Staunton, which have been trending Democratic in recent years, the area provides a variety of political opinions and perspectives.  And, given that none of the statewide candidates have opened up a considerable lead in the polls thus far coupled with the relatively untested variable of the Libertarian Party and Robert Sarvis, politics in this part of the state might be a bit more entertaining than it has been in previous cycles.

The Rebirth of the Lynchburg Libertarians

SAMSUNG
Photo from Bridget & The Parrish Campaign

On Monday evening, a handful of liberty-minded political activists gathered at a coffee shop in Lynchburg, Virginia, for two purposes.

The first was for the reestablishment of the Libertarian Party in the region.  Although politically influential a decade or so ago, the local Libertarian effort has diminished considerably in recent years.  This newly refounded group seeks to bring together Libertarians, not only in the city of Lynchburg, but also the surrounding counties of Campbell, Bedford, and Amherst, and even the nearby county of Appomattox.

In addition, yesterday’s meeting gave these Libertarians a chance to speak with Jonathan Parrish, the Libertarian candidate for the 23rd district seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.  Mr. Parrish is challenging T. Scott Garrett, a Republican first elected in the 2009 cycle.  According to his campaign website, Parrish’s three priorities in this race are: cutting taxes and spending, fighting for the legalization of marijuana, and reforming the school system.

There is little doubt that the Virginia Libertarian Party is expanding their efforts; besides the Libertarian affiliate in Lynchburg, another group is taking shape a hundred miles away in Harrisonburg, and there are likely more yet unreported.  In addition, they are running a considerable number of candidates this November.  Including Robert Sarvis, the second ever Libertarian candidate for governor, and Jonathan Parrish in the 23rd, the party is contesting a total of six seats in the House of Delegates.

More information about the Lynchburg Libertarians, including dates of further gatherings, can be found on Facebook or meetup.com.

Gray on Campus

From Madison Liberty

Tomorrow, Monday, September 17th, Judge Jim Gray, the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate, will be on the campus of James Madison University.  Madison Liberty is hosting the event.  As their name implies, they are a liberty-minded group of students at the university.

The gathering itself will be taking place starting at 3:30 PM on The Commons, which is next to D-Hall.  For non-JMU students, a parking pass is available at parking services, located in ground floor of the parking deck beside the football stadium on Champions Drive.

Whether you consider yourself libertarian, conservative, liberal, some other political persuasion, or even those who are not particularly informed, tomorrow provides another excellent opportunity for the students of James Madison and the surrounding community to expand political dialogue and learn more about Gary Johnson and his running mate, Judge Jim Gray.

You may have forgotten, but tomorrow is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of our Constitution.  How better to commemorate the day than by spending an hour with Jim Gray alongside a bunch of students who actively seek to restore and expand our freedoms?