A recent op-ed in the New York Times posed an intriguing possibility–Republican voters who are frantically looking for an alternative to The Donald might opt for Gary Johnson, a former Republican Governor of New Mexico. (At least he has more government experience than Trump.)
Johnson was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President last time, and is likely to be their candidate again in 2016. Supporting him would solve the biggest problem facing those who are advocating a third-party or independent presidential campaign.
The biggest hurdle anti-Trump Republicans must overcome, aside from finding a candidate willing to go into the wilderness for them, is getting on the ballot. The presidential election system is a patchwork of state deadlines and ballot requirements. Ralph Nader, who critics say helped usher George W. Bush into the White House by running as a Green Party candidate in 2000, is extremely familiar with the ballot requirements, having been booted off the Pennsylvania ballot in 2004. While Mr. Nader is happy to rail against the “two-party tyranny” of the American electoral system, he thinks starting a third-party run at this point in the election season a near-impossible goal.
“It’s almost too late, unless you’re a multibillionaire,” Mr. Nader said. “Other than just a tailored two- or three-state approach, I don’t see it happening.”
There was a time, twenty or twenty-five years ago, when the Republican Party was beginning its change from a big-tent major party into the extremist, litmus-test amalgam of resentment and reaction that it has become, that the Libertarians had an opening–an opportunity to step in and gather up those members of the GOP who were increasingly uncomfortable with the party but not inclined to join the Democrats.
Here in Indiana, I knew several former Republicans who were trying to make the Libertarian Party the logical alternative–to appeal to Republicans whose “small government” rhetoric was genuine– not of the “keep government out of my boardroom but not out of my bedroom” variety–and whose anti-welfare beliefs encompassed crony capitalists as well as impoverished single mothers.
It didn’t work then, because the base of the Libertarian Party was in-your-face pro-gun and anti-drug-war. (Today, ironically, most Americans probably agree about the drug war.) Any softening of those positions would have led to a wholesale abandonment by the party’s base–but a failure to move even a bit toward more “mainstream” positions frightened off the disaffected GOP prospects.
This is probably not the Libertarian moment, either. We are seeing too many examples of what happens when government is neutered, or wholly-owned by private interests. (The water in Flint, the crumbling infrastructure in Indiana, etc. etc.) If the pendulum is swinging, it’s probably swinging in the other direction.
But the great virtue of libertarianism as a philosophy is that it forces us to ask an all-important question: what should government do? What is the role of the state?
Just as there are things that–I would argue–government must do, there are things that government should not do, decisions that government should not make. Think how refreshing it would be to have those discussions, those debates–free of the propaganda, self-dealing and hypocrisy that characterize (and attempt to mask) today’s efforts to gain power and advantage.
It’s an intriguing thought.