A major problem for a political party that spends a long time in the political wilderness, far from the corridors of power, is that it can lose sight of what its core purpose is and lose the capacity to fulfill its purpose once returned to power. In the case of the Libertarian Party, which has been the unloved stepchild of the American political system since its foundation, the problem is even more pronounced.
Without a clear path to power, the party has abrogated virtually any hope of achieving it. The result is an organization that does not behave like a political party and lacks the core competencies necessary to mount successful national, state, and even local campaigns. That can change, but change requires the will to do it. This is what we have to do if we want the Libertarians to be more than a footnote every election:
- Act like a political party, not a social club
Anyone who tuned into the Libertarian National Convention this year would be able to tell pretty quickly that it was an event more about the camaraderie of its attendees than the serious business of politics. From presidential candidates suggesting that a legitimate replacement for much of the military would be to issue letters of marque and reprisal to privateers, to candidates for the chairmanship of the national committee strip-teasing to the audience, it was a show for a clique.
Internal rapport and friendship is all well and good, but the purpose of a political party is to pool political capital and to achieve political and electoral aims. It is not a social club. It is a very particular vehicle for a very particular purpose.
No doubt there will be some members who enjoy the fairly uncompetitive atmosphere of the party, and would fear losing their status if the tent was expanded to include more people with an eye towards actually affecting political change. The simple fact is that without a professional organization and professional attitude, there is no point having a libertarian party. If it won’t change, it might as well disband and have its resources and efforts channeled to the vast array of other libertarian organizations and clubs that are out there.
- Centralize control in the national committee
Yeah, yeah, libertarians are supposed to prize individualism and disdain central authority. But that attitude is utterly counter-productive to the success of the Libertarian Party.
Libertarians say they love the free market and private enterprise. Well, businesses don’t survive for very long when their central administrators lack any meaningful control over their brand or their branch offices. It’s time we put our money where our ideology is and recognize that a successful private organization, whether a business, charity, or political party, must have strong and effective central leadership.
The issue is not so much with the individuals of the national committee. This isn’t an attack on Nicholas Sarwark, or anyone in particular. It is rather a call to change the underlying structure of the party and to centralize the nexuses of power into a national organization that can take a genuinely national view of things. This is vital for a small organization seeking to compete with two far larger and better known incumbents. Only by carefully stewarding financial and manpower resources can the party ever hope to compete. That cannot be done with the highly decentralized and piecemeal organization now in place.
- Focus resources to build comparative advantage
A common refrain from state delegations at the national convention was that they had more candidates running than ever before. This was touted as a brag, or at least something to be proud of. But anyone who has worked for a franchise business will know, expansion into unpromising locales can be costly and destructive to the brand. The same logic applies in many ways to a political party.
It doesn’t matter if the Libertarians are running a candidate in every state house race in Kansas. None of them are going to get elected. The reasons why should be obvious. For one thing, the two main parties will have more financial and organizational resources in every single race – they have an absolute advantage.
The only hope for the Libertarian is to develop a comparative advantage. That is only achievable by focusing resources on key races, and building up an advantage by focusing on a few big prospects.
- Vet candidates, and recruit quality
It is not necessary to run candidates everywhere, nor is it necessary to support everyone who wants to run. In fact, it probably would behoove the party to withhold its brand from potential candidates who would do it a disservice. It is unnecessary to name names, but suffice to say there are significant number of candidates who are not doing credit to the Libertarian brand.
And when a party is so loosely understood in the public consciousness, its brand is extremely vulnerable. The best defense is to only support candidates with professional backgrounds that make their stories meaningful and their candidacies credible. That means going on recruitment drives to find quality candidates. There are lots of people out there who hate the two-party system and would love to fight for more free market principles in government. Efforts have to be made to galvanize these sorts of people into the fray. People like Mark Cuban, who has toyed with the idea of running for public office, should be encouraged to run. People who can bring their own strong brands will help strengthen our own with their reflected glow.
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