How the Libertarians Can Succeed in A Trump America


Before November 8th, I spent a lot of time wondering how the Libertarian Party could capitalize on what were sure to be major voting gains, and what the party’s best strategy would be under a Hillary Clinton presidency, because I was quite confident Clinton would win.

I was not as certain as the talking heads and pollsters were, but it looked like the writing was on the wall for Donald Trump and his nativist, corporatist brand of politics. I thought the Clinton ground-game would do enough to get out most of the Obama Coalition. And I thought she would probably get a windfall from voters – especially white women – who would have broken Republican if there were there a more mainstream conservative on the ballot.

I was wrong, and now we face a future very different from the one I envisioned. But it is also one that may provide more opportunities for the Libertarian Party and its message, than a Clinton presidency could.

The Mainstream Turns Against Trade

Donald Trump represents one of the greatest challenges to global markets, free trade, and rules-based adjudicating institutions that have underpinned the world order since the Second World War. Trump’s campaign flew in the face of the traditional Republican platform that advocated defending and expanding free trade with the world. Instead, he has promised to engage in active market interventions with the particular aim of bringing back industrial jobs that were lost over the past few decades to cheaper foreign labor.

Even Hillary Clinton, long a booster for trade deals and expanded global markets, found herself backsliding during the campaign. She publicly turned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal she had previously supported, in response to pressure both from Bernie Sanders on the left, and Donald Trump’s resonating message on trade.

Trump’s victory has put someone in the White House who is vociferously against free trade and skeptical of trade deals, and alliances generally. If Clinton had won, she probably would have governed in a way that was in favor of the trade status quo, even if she felt compelled by politics to scrap deals now in the pipeline.

But in the wake of her shock defeat Democrats, seem set to follow Trump’s lead, on that issue at least, elevating fellow trade skeptics to party leadership. With both parties turning against trade, an opportunity for Libertarians is beginning to open.

Getting Real About Trade Deals

I know many libertarian-minded people dislike trade deals, but the reality is that simply declaring one’s own markets open does not facilitate free trade. Trade deals are the only effective means of lowering trade barriers and expanding market opportunities around the world. If we really care about free markets, then we have to accept that trade agreements are crucial. Trade deals are complex things with many stakeholders, multilateral ones like TPP even more so. It is impossible under such circumstances for an actor to get everything it wants. All one can hope for is incremental improvement.

Once we accept that, we can see that an opportunity is opening up for a Libertarian message in politics. With both mainstream parties challenging the logic of free trade, we can seize that ground. There are many states and cities that rely on trade. They should become priority locations for future organizing.

Opportunities like this are rare indeed. Let’s not waste it.

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John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His company, Almington Capital, invests in both early-stage venture capital and in public equities. His writing has been featured in a number of academic journals, as well as the blogs of the Heartland Institute, Grassroot Institute, and Tenth Amendment Center. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford, John’s first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013.


  1. Nonsense John, trade deals are deals that limit trade and create incentives for lobbies, corporatism and political corruption.

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