There are currently no Libertarians in Congress. After this election cycle, there will still be no Libertarians in Congress. So it may seem a bit quixotic to discuss what a notional Libertarian delegation could accomplish in the corridors of real power. I have written previously about strategies for getting a (probably small) group of congressmen and senators, and this article builds out from that.
So, let us assume for a moment that the Libertarians get their act together: They’ve pooled their national and state resources to fight a small number of winnable races, and have even succeeded in prevailing upon one or two sitting legislators to switch allegiances. With this group of maybe half a dozen individuals, can anything be achieved.
Fortunately, in this highly polarized and near-evenly divided political landscape, even a tiny Libertarian presence in Congress could give it enormous power to affect change.
Congress tends to be very nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and that does not seem likely to change any time soon. Furthermore, these parties are both fractious, most notably in the form of the powerful Tea Party caucus within the Republican Party causing chaos. Despite their biggest majority in the House for decades, the Republicans have found it difficult to advance legislation thanks to these internal divisions. The Democrats appear poised to suffer the same internal struggle, thanks to a freshly revitalized progressive wing coming into its own thanks to the rise of firebrands like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
A Libertarian delegation coming into this divided Congress could work to hold the balance of power. By supporting Democrats on civil liberties votes, drug decriminalization, and prison reform, Libertarians could get these issues passed. Similarly, they could align with Republicans to push gun rights, lower taxes, and devolution of powers to the states.
Frequently votes in Congress balance on a knife-edge, and having a group of legislators who can act along libertarian principles without feeling the pressure of a big party’s yoke could dramatically improve the cause of liberty.
What’s most important about this thought experiment is how it should inform Libertarian Party strategy and electoral tactics. The party may one day challenge the dominance of the Republicans and Democrats, but that won’t be soon. And while there is great strife and division between the incumbents, it is a rift that will not necessarily lead to a swift realignment of the political landscape.
It is up to the Libertarian Party to start thinking in terms of a small, frequently regional party. Because that is what it is and, until it proves itself as a responsible actor with a few visible elected officials, will be for quite some time. Focusing on being a responsible small player with an eye toward holding the balance on close votes, the Libertarians could establish themselves as not just an afterthought, but a vital component of the American democratic system.
This post was written by John Engle.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.
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