Libertarians lose in 2018 without the GOP



Gary Johnson, the former Libertarian candidate for president, speaks at a campaign event in Los Angeles Oct. 19, 2016. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

After a year of hurricanes devastating countries, terror attacks shaking citizens and a seemingly endless number of cultural influencers losing their reputations and their lives, many are looking to 2018 with a mixture of caution and optimism.

But hopeless optimism isn’t limited to just apolitical hopes. In several local races, there are already Libertarian Party candidates actively running for office. And with Donald Trump damaging the Republican brand among young voters, the third party’s candidates have become more noticeable and more appealing to young voters on the right.

However, as the chance for major changes in Congress and local government approaches, Libertarian candidates, voters and others of a similar small-government predilection should recognize a simple truth: they simply can’t win without the Republican Party.

In its 46 years as a political party in America, no candidate running on the Libertarian ticket has ever won office at the federal level — no presidents, governors or members of Congress. In last year’s presidential election, the party’s nominee,  Gary Johnson, could only manage a meager 3 percent of the popular vote in a contest against two of the least popular major party candidates in American history. That’s not exactly reassuring.

On the state and local level, Libertarians have historically been somewhat more successful, winning one electoral college vote in 1972 and about 150 public offices, including one state upper house seat and three state lower house seats. But this still isn’t much of a showing from a political party that’s been siphoning votes from Republicans for almost half a century.

Despite this shutout, there are some officials in elected office who identify closely with libertarian tendencies. As a Republican member of Congress from Texas, Ron Paul won 14 terms — only losing when he ran for president in 1988 as the Libertarian Party’s candidate. His son Rand, who espouses many of the same libertarian views as his father, currently serves as a Republican senator in Kentucky.

Each of these politicians found success in winning their positions thanks to the Republican Party and were able to advocate for libertarian policies and ideas while in office. Even Gary Johnson — the Libertarian Party’s erstwhile presidential candidate — only won office as governor of New Mexico as a Republican.

In the upcoming year, a number of local Libertarians are planning to try their luck breaking their party’s dry spell. Dale Kerns is running for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat, currently held by Democrat Bob Casey. Ken Krawchuk is seeking the Commonwealth’s governorship. Drew Miller is hoping for the best in March’s special election to fill the seat for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, since Tim Murphy resigned in October.

It’s unlikely that any Libertarian will stop running at this point. But if they want to stay relevant and be in the position to promote their ideas in government, these candidates would be wise to unify with other conservatives.

Thanks in part to being the party of opposition, Democrats have acted mostly as a united party since Trump’s election in 2016. But it’s also possible for conservatives and Libertarians to unite. Conservatives need to actually promote the libertarian policies they claim to support. Libertarians, in turn, should acknowledge that while government should not impose social values, social fabrics keep societies together.

Prominent conservative commentator Ben Shapiro advocates for this alliance between different factions on the right as well.

“If you actually want a lasting libertarianism, then you need to acknowledge … the value of the social fabric,” Shapiro said at a Young America’s Foundation summit in February 2017. “Once that happens, then I think there can be a conservative-Libertarian merger.”

Libertarians need to participate in the Republican Party more to see their ideas take mainstream prominence. The Republican Party is the closest ally libertarians will get in advancing their ideals and agenda — on the 2016 ballot, Gary Johnson lined up more with Republican candidate Donald Trump than the Democrats’ nominee, Hillary Clinton.

My hope, much like Shapiro’s, is that Libertarians and conservatives will learn to live with each other and unite behind a shared vision for the Republican Party. Otherwise, both stand to lose.

Write to Noah at [email protected].