The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Libertarian Party Gets a Big Opportunity, and Fumbles

You could argue this was the year every major and minor party fumbled with their selection of presidential nominees. The flaws of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have been argued at length. The Green Party nominated Jill Stein, the vaccination skeptic who fears WiFi signals harm children’s brains and who wants to put Ed Snowden in her cabinet. 

And then there’s Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. In a year with two phenomenally unpopular major party nominees, he’s just failed to break through in a significant way. In the last 11 national polls he’s at 4, 8, 5, 4, 3, 4, 3, 6, 6, 4 and 5 percent.

Here is Johnson’s total in the last three polls in New Mexico, his home state, all conducted in November: 11, 11, 6.

For contrast, here’s how independent conservative Evan McMullin is performing in the last five polls in his home state – and noting that Trump has led every poll: 21, 24, 24, 28, 28.

Can we just put away any talk of a “Libertarian Future” for a while? I’d love to live in it, but there’s no sign it’s coming, in either a capital-L Libertarian Party way or a small-L philosophical way. This was the year that the Democrats nominated a corrupt, longtime-insider, big-government, scandal-ridden statist, and the Republicans nominated a guy who wants government to get bigger – more infrastructure spending, mandated maternity leave, opposes entitlement reform, cheers eminent domain, and a new 35 percent tax on companies that fire workers. Trump’s focus was never freedom or liberty. It was about empowering government, run by him, to address grievances of working-class whites and return America to a golden past, un-doing decades of changes to the country and the world.

This year was the golden opportunity libertarians – capital L and little L – had dreamed of for decades… and they fumbled it away.

The gang at Reason is looking at the bright side:

As of 10 pm ET last night, the poll averages of both FiveThirtyEightand RealClearPolitics had Johnson at 4.8 percent of the vote, tantalizingly close to the mythical 5 percent level that would trigger federal classification as a “minor party,” thus making the L.P. eligible for an estimated $10 million in public matching funds in 2020. (Whether the party would accept that money is another story.) 

We’ll see if Johnson hits 5 percent. I remember a lot of buzz in 2000 that Ralph Nader was going to reach 5 percent and get the Green Party matching funds in the following election cycle; he won 2.74 percent.

Some of the shots Gary Johnson took this cycle were unfair. If you’re asked, out of the blue, “What are you going to do about Aleppo?” a lot of Americans would stumble, and perhaps think it was an unfamiliar acronym. His inability to name any world leader when asked for his favorite is harder to justify.

Some people will find his goofy sense of humor, like talking with his tongue out, charming; others will find it weird and un-presidential. Every once in a while, he would lose his temper with a reporter – he really, really, really doesn’t like calling an illegal immigrant an “illegal immigrant.”

Then again, Johnson chose William Weld as his running mate, and Weld will go down in history as the first running mate to basically switch sides in the campaign’s final weeks, going out of his way to defend Hillary Clinton over and over again.

Maybe Weld wants another President Clinton to name him to be Ambassador to Mexico. If so, the first season of True Detective was right all along: