Being Libertarian Perspectives serves as a weekly, multi-perspective opinion and analysis piece by members of Being Libertarian’s writing team. Every week the panel, comprised of randomly selected writers, answers a question based on current events or libertarian philosophy. Managing Editor Dillon Eliassen moderates and facilitates the discussion.
Dillon Eliassen: It’s time once again for Perspectives, the game show where nobody is a winner, and you all feel worse after participating. Today’s topic comes courtesy of CNN: “Why is Gary Johnson Still In the Race?”
Brandon Kirby: I’d prefer to be governed by a random name in the phone book rather than Trump or Clinton. Johnson represents an alternative to a racist, narcissistic sociopath in Trump, or genocidal war criminal, corrupt by the big banks during the biggest currency bubble in recent history, in Clinton. Johnson responds with, “Aw, shucks,” to foreign policy questions, but this is several magnitudes superior to the barbarism endorsed and aided by Clinton, especially the genocide in Yemen and the immoralities of Libya. Johnson isn’t my ideal candidate and I disagree with him strongly, which is bound to happen even more should I pick a random name in the phone book.
Nathaniel Owen: When you’re taking double digits in 42 states, dropping out discards the opportunity to have some kind of impact on the race. Whether his presence results in Trump losing to Clinton or vice versa, this result is a very clear signal that the losing party made a mistake by allowing this to happen to them.
But, if I were in Johnson’s position, I would very carefully think through the perception that the public would have at the news of my dropping out. “He’s doing this to give his votes to Clinton!” “Johnson is getting out of Trump’s way!” There is no positive way to swing this.
Dillon: I’ll play Devil’s Advocate for why Johnson should drop out.
Nathaniel, that’s one of the reasons I have for Johnson to drop out of the race. If Johnson, and to a lesser extant that maniac Stein, siphon enough votes away from Clinton and Trump so that neither one reaches 270 electoral votes, Congress is then tasked with voting for who will become president. And then you have an even further separation between the people and the presidential election process.
The other reason I would say Johnson should drop out is he can’t win by popular vote, and he did not make it into the debates, which he himself said that if he can’t get into the debates, “There’s no way to win.” So a continued campaign for president would prevent some of those resources from going towards state or other national LP candidates.
Nathaniel: It’s already well known that either Clinton or Trump will be the next president, and they are so similar to each other policy-wise that it makes little difference which one wins, or even how they win. The electors have previously chosen candidates that didn’t win the popular vote – the way elections work in the USA is already very distant from pure democracy.
Dillon: Then, what is the point of Johnson staying in? He couldn’t get in the debates, and he’d have to get five times the votes he got in 2016 for the LP to get public funding in 2020, which is a milestone I find odd for a libertarian to cheer for. Most likely in 2020 the candidates from both major parties will be more acceptable to their bases and the protest vote Johnson is enjoying won’t be there for whoever the LP candidate is next year.
Nathaniel: But it is there now, and having an impact on the election increase the chance that both major parties will more carefully choose their candidates in the future.
Alon Ganon: Because it’s more about changing the political system and giving people the option of more than the Douche vs. Turd Sandwich we see every election. We know he won’t win this year, but it’s about much bigger things than a single election. People are tired of the status quo of the Republicans vs Democrats; there isn’t any real difference. If anything he will serve to attempt to have parties become more “honest” by having the parties pick better candidates and stop having them take their voters for granted. We as libertarians know better than most that competition brings us better choices and results.
Dillon: Sure. But there are other ways parties’ bases can express dissatisfaction. I think this election will have a low turnout.
Alon: The voters tried other ways but the DNC showed that they were shut out of their most likely real choice, Bernie Samders, and Republicans in 2012 with rule 40b regarding Ron Paul. So I think the voters have tried and those who see it as a problem are throwing their weight behind Stein and Johnson.
Danny Chabino: The question of whether Gary Johnson should stay in the race is very similar to the question of why someone would “waste their vote” in voting for him. It’s partly about sending a message to the other parties, it’s partly about sending a message to other voters about taking a stand, and it’s partly about looking toward a future. By staying in the race, Gary Johnson aids in putting the message of libertarianism out there. I know many may argue he isn’t completely libertarian, but he is still disseminating the message nonetheless. It’s something to build off of not just for the next presidential election but also for House and Senate Races. LP membership has to be growing quite significantly. What a tragedy it would be to throw away such a high standing soap box as someone who is running for President and getting double digit polling numbers.
Dillon: The LP has a stigma of being populated by weirdos, drug addicts and deviants. If I was a libertarian running for office, I’d run as a Republican. And I don’t think the issue is that people aren’t aware of libertarianism, it’s that they find minarchy unfeasible as well as unsatisfactory for what they expect government should do for them.
John Engle: I think the 5 percent hurdle to get federal funding is all important. It’s the only possibility for the libertarians to operate as an independent political vehicle. If Johnson fails to do that, even in this year, then maybe we should all pack it in.
Danny: Dillon, that’s why Gary Johnson staying in is important. It’s the loudest platform the LP has ever had, and it’s an opportunity to explain minarchy. I think very few people have even heard the term before.
I don’t think it’s that bleak, John. There is plenty to build on even if that were the case, though I don’t believe it will be. It doesn’t take all that much to control the agenda in the House and Senate. Sometimes, as little as a five percent membership of either could do it. That in itself is a huge hurdle to get over, but it’s not unfeasible, even if Johnson doesn’t do too well.
Dillon: Most Americans don’t want what libertarians consider “small government.” Those on the Left certainly don’t want it, and those on the Right may claim to want it, but then they get all pissy when they think they might not have Medicare and Social Security when they reach retirement.
Danny: I agree with that, Dillon, but at the same time, things can be approached in smaller steps. Libertarians can run with pieces of an agenda without having to tackle the whole agenda all at once. Even small steps are positive ones.
Dillon: I think we libertarians should be leery of treating receiving public funding as a triumph.
John: I am not squeamish at all about taking the money. From an optics perspective, it is easy to demonstrate that the additional costs enforced on third parties are themselves government inventions. So why not have some payback for all the millions spent to get our boys on the ballot?
Danny: I am curious. If Johnson did drop out of the race, who would get those votes? Or would the Johnson supporters just not vote at all?
John: By pack it in, I mean move away from a separate political vehicle. There is not much we can do if even when the best of circumstances deny us the funding we need to one day stage a viable campaign.
Danny: I think that’s the sort of defeatism that feeds and supports the two party system.
John: It is far from defeatism. To build a serious political operation you need funding and you need organization. The LP right now is in a shocking state organizationally. My point is that we need a catalyst to enact the necessary internal institutional and strategic changes to make a party that can fight and win elections, especially down ballot.
Danny: Perhaps it is my being a new member of the LP that I am so hopeful and optimistic. I’ve moved the other way from the GOP to the LP. I understand the point. I guess I am just more optimistic.
Nathaniel: If the Libertarian Party wanted to break through the political system, they would choose their most viable state candidate and put as much funding toward that campaign as possible.
John: And the fact is funding is tied to executive races at the state and national level, so even if the LP were to focus exclusively on smaller races it would ultimately be very costly.
But I do think the only viable path forward after 2016 is to take federal funding and use it across a core group of winnable seats. Electoral breakthrough anywhere, even if we won one seat in the House, would have a massive positive impact.