2016 seemed to be the year that the Libertarian Party would finally gain traction in mainstream politics. With the major parties nominating arguably the two worst candidates in recent history, the stage seemed set for a third party breakthrough. As I watched the poll numbers rise on election night, I found myself growing excited. Gary Johnson, despite a campaign full of gaffes and an unfriendly media which seemed hell-bent on reporting only negative coverage when they weren’t outright ignoring the inclusion of a third party on the ballot in fifty states, managed to climb to three percent on the national polls. The next day many libertarians were patting each other on the backs, declaring this a victory.
While it is a noteworthy accomplishment, this should have been our year. By all accounts, the two party system should have been brought to its knees by the party of principle. So what went wrong?
Many blame Bill Weld, who admittedly seemed to be doing everything in his power to disenfranchise not only Libertarian voters, but any possible defectors from the Republican Party. Perhaps former Governor Weld did not fully understand that the point of running a presidential campaign is to win, rather than to all but endorse one of your opponents in an attempt to stop the other. Perhaps no one explained to him the ideology of the Libertarian Party.
Others blame Gary Johnson; a man who stuck his tongue out during an interview knowing full well that the media was looking for anything to smear him. A man who claimed to be the most qualified person running for president, but who could not answer a question on foreign policy. I will give Governor Johnson some credit: The question was posed in such a way as to trip him up, but could have easily been turned around to point out that the Libertarian Party opposes the foreign policy which lead to Aleppo even being relevant at all. Again, a failure of our chosen candidate to properly explain libertarian ideology.
Speaking of ideology; perhaps the biggest hurdle that Libertarians failed to overcome in 2016 was ideology. Libertarians have never been able to completely agree, for instance, on where we stand on certain “key” issues, such as abortion, the NAP, and let’s not forget, baking Nazi cakes. The ideologues within the party can’t seem to get out of their own way.
Now, before you call for my head on a pike, let me explain myself.
In no way would I suggest the Libertarian Party abandon their principles in order to become more “moderate” or “mainstream”. Our principles are what set us apart from the two major parties who abandoned their own principles long ago. Rather, it seems that our biggest issue is that we cannot focus on which issues to bring to the table, and instead come forward with the most watered down and boring version of libertarianism that we can find, or go the opposite direction and appear to be outlandish to the average American voter.
For instance, when someone unfamiliar with libertarianism is watching the Libertarian primary debates and one candidate is yelling about Nazi cakes, would you assume that the viewer will be persuaded to look further into Libertarian policies? Probably not. When a newcomer to libertarianism asks what the libertarian solution to roads would be, and is thusly responded to with screams of “muh roads!”, would they really feel that this is the place for them?
We must now look to the future, my friends. We must look to the distant year of 2020.
Though we failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity to spread our message of liberty in 2016, hope is not lost. Not only must we be proactive in choosing a candidate who will not only espouse the ideals of libertarianism in a coherent, intelligent manner, but also one who wants to win, rather than to simply reach a percentage of votes.
How do we win? I believe it is within our best interest to choose our top five issues; things that we most want done by a Libertarian president, but also issues that resonate with American voters from not only the Libertarian Party, but also from both major parties and independents. End the War on Drugs, stop our interventionist foreign policy and meaningless wars, a return to sound economic policy, an end to the mass surveillance of American citizens, and a reinvigoration of individual liberty for people of all walks of life.
That is not to say that we should ignore all other issues that are important to libertarians. Rather, these are the issues that we should focus on, while also promoting other libertarian ideals in a coherent manner, in such a way that those who are unfamiliar with libertarianism can understand and relate to.
If we can do this, and put our hatred of roads and Nazi cakes on the back burner, we can not only spread the message of liberty across the nation, but we can also have a candidate who will win the presidency.
* Christopher Lee McKitrick is a 29 year old New Hampshire native, a US Army veteran, and beer enthusiast. In his free time he enjoys hiking, writing, and reading.
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