What The Pennsylvania Special Election Says About The State Of The Libertarian Party

By Spencer Kellogg | United States

The Libertarian Party has a serious problem. Namely, we keep getting our asses handed to us.

Image Source: New York Times

This week, in Pennsylvania’s District 18 special election, Libertarian candidate Drew Miller barely scraped together 1,379 votes out of more than 225,000 cast. I bolded that last part because it deserves to be emphasized. The gap between winning and losing doesn’t just feel an ocean apart – it is one.

What’s worse, far too often we pat our candidates on the back, make excuses about how the race was unwinnable to begin with and then start sending out emails begging the membership to donate for the next circus campaign. And nothing changes. Nothing ever changes.

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In the middle of the vote count Tuesday night, Miller shared the David Axelrod tweet above. I would like to point out that celebrating a 0.6% showing by retweeting an Obama era stooge is possibly the clearest symbol of what the Libertarian Party has been reduced to – a running joke. After getting stomped on in similar fashion in Virginia and Florida over the past few months, is there any question that our candidates, our ideas, and our leadership are sub-par?

Miller further championed his efforts in classic libertarian style by promoting his campaign as the #spoiler of the election. Spoiler? The only thing spoiled about the election was Miller’s performance. The idea that 0.6% is in any way relevant to these races is something that has become a consistent fallback for LP candidates across the nation as they look to save face on undeniable failure. By crowning yourself an important feature of an election, the LP attempts to put a positive spin on campaigns and candidates that have more likely tarnished the reputation and future goals of our organization. While the LP leadership lectures the party membership on Ron Paul and Tom Woods, the pragmatic gee whiz brand of libertarianism remains the real issue at the heart of modern-day libertarianism.

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Supporters might have expected an apology or a speech explaining why his numbers were so incredibly low. Instead, on Facebook and Twitter, Miller was congratulated by followers. He posted about how excited he was that Wolf Blitzer had asked for his photo (what an honor) and called his voters “courageous” for essentially throwing the race into Lamb’s favor. Today, he was practically glowing as he linked an article to the Huffington Post that touted his role, again, as the #spoiler.

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Supporters were quick to lament poor press coverage in the lead up to the event and suggested that if outlets like the Huffington Post had covered him throughout the race, then Miller may have actually won. This is the sort of asinine thinking and rah rah cheerleading that dots failed campaign after failed campaign across the nation in the Libertarian Party. As a member of the press, let me point out something about media organizations – if it bleeds it leads and there wasn’t a drop of blood in Miller’s clunky, plodding tank of a campaign.

I don’t mean to pile onto Miller. I am only interested in the truth. I can’t comprehend how one gets only 1,400 votes out of 225,000. Perhaps I grew up watching too many triumphant underdog movies that colored my belief in the will to win. Watching these elections, it feels like our party isn’t even in the script.

As I mulled over the results the next morning, I couldn’t help but think of the worst soda on the shelf – RC Cola. After all, to use a crude analogy, RC Cola is competing against the two soda duopoly of sugar water much in the same way that the LP is stacked against the two giants political heads of the DNC and RNC. I wondered, “Do we pity RC Cola? Do we congratulate their company for the courageous production of low-grade soda in the face of such sugar water tyranny”?

No! We reject it by market standards and it only exists to fill a niche demographic. It will never be a top cola because it aims only to be a shady knockoff of the real thing. To the voting public, that’s exactly what The Libertarian Party has become (or maybe always been) – a shitty knockoff of no-good RC Cola.

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Image Source: Brent Moore

Besides their libertarian orient, many of these campaigns share one thing in common – they easily become show fodder for late night and corporate media. In the run-up to the election, the media doesn’t pay us any attention. Or so, that’s the line of thinking. You have to make them pay attention. Our candidates have to get better at utilizing the elements in our platform that are distinct to directly engage with the disenfranchised public. When an election ends, the media only care about one thing in regards to the LP – was the candidate a spoiler? We should not embrace this label and we should not be beaming on the corporate news as if it’s some sort of prize to be won.

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Where is the real courage necessary to compete in a race? Where is the real courage to stand out and offer something completely different that blows the doors off of allowable political thought? Our candidates seem not to possess the fight or moxie to speak with the sort of active voice necessary to cut through the flatness of wall to wall media. There is a huge group of Americans who feel disowned and betrayed by our government, our laws and our media. Even though our ideas are strong in principle, we seem innately incapable of making a dent in the political spectrum. There is no reason why we can’t be the ideas platform that connects to those masses.


We can learn a lot from the past two major election cycles. If Donald Trump and Barack Obama have taught us any lesson then it is about the new slant of politics in the 21st century. It is only about a cult of personality. To win, your campaign has to connect on a cultural level that sits far outside the narrow confines of ideological pandering. And it must be fearless.

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That is not fearless. That is gutless pandering to virtue signaling leftists and it produces gut-wrenching results.

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That is not fearless either. That is one of the dumbest things the Libertarian Party has ever done and it is suggestive of the mentality that exists at the highest levels of what has become a corporate-minded LP headquarters.

Do you need more evidence of the incompetence running the Libertarian Party?

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After seeing the latest post from the LP, Michael Heise, head of the break-off LP Mises Caucus, urged supporters to rally around two of the many challengers for the LP’s top leadership roles. The immense ideological difference between current LP leadership and its growing membership appears to be at an all-time pitch.

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The LP does occasionally get one of these fearless candidates – McAfee, Petersen, Kokesh, Dunn, Paschal, and Istvan are some modern examples of outside thinkers that possess the ideological merit and social skills necessary to compete. But these campaigns are too few and far between to make a cohesive impact on any grand scale and out of the five people I mentioned, the two strongest have left the party unceremoniously after rising to its height in mere months.

The National Party leadership deserve as much blame as anyone involved in the numerous poorly thought out campaigns across the country. If the Libertarian Party were run like a successful company then they would be forced by market standards to clean house in Pennsylvania. Or they’d be fired.

That may very well happen this summer at the Libertarian National Committee where challengers to leadership brass have been met with renewed interest and support. The campaign’s of Joshua Smith and Alex Merced seemed early favorites but the race is opening up with latecomer Alicia Dearn and western wildcard Joe Paschal standing out amongst the competitors.

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But more than changing the leadership of the Libertarian Party, we must change the culture surrounding the LP that allows for such losses to continue. We dance around causes instead of activating them. Whether it’s gun rights, the NSA, cryptocurrency, immigration, or the endless wars, the Libertarian Party has watered down every single expression of their founding message with a modern pitch to the membership that if we let the firebrands run the party, we will never win. This is a lie.

When I think of a great libertarian campaign, I think of Hunter S. Thompson’s insane bid for Sheriff of Aspen in 1970. He wasn’t a libertarian. He couldn’t be. He came within a handful of votes from winning. His candidacy, a year before the LP even existed, saw Thompson run as a Freak Power candidate on a simple counter-culture message that was completely energized around his cult of personality. He advocated for free speech, the environment, the legalization of drugs, and a direct rebuttal to the cumbersome Nixon administration and the fallout generation that had made Aspen home in the decades before Gozno arrived.

His campaign did not plead to be heard, it demanded to be heard.

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He was a complete affront to the system of illegitimate governance and he refused to apologize for it. When the media asked him how he would refute being called a “freak,” he unapologetically raised his voice and suggested that being a freak was a good thing. That to be a freak really only meant that you stood in direct opposition to the political, cultural and technological hegemony that America has wrapped itself in. If Thompson showed up at an LP meeting today, there is little doubt in my mind that he’d be met with the sort of skeptical glances and vocal outbursts against his minor ideological differences that characterize the boneless leadership.

He didn’t ask forgiveness for his rebel ways and that is precisely what we are missing in the Libertarian Party.


The bearish result in Pennsylvania’s 18th is just another notch on the current administration’s belt who seem to spend every day littering our email boxes with pronouncements of surging membership while actual polls show the direct opposite:

The reality is that Miller should never have been in the race to begin with. Much like the ill-gotten campaigns of Foxhall in Florida and Hyra in Virginia, none of these candidates stood a snowball’s chance in hell and their inclusion in these races served only as money pits for each state party’s treasury. While staffers and candidates champion themselves as ‘rebels’ and inevitably move up party rank as payment for their meager showings, the real optics for the party and membership are made worse by these miserable performances.

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While the libertarian ideology espouses free market idealism, we seem to suffer from a severe case of market amnesia. While the National Party spent the run-up to election day touting party membership numbers as ‘surging,’ it’s apparent to any layperson that the electorate doesn’t like us or our candidates.


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That’s why.

We are clean when we should be dirty. We ask permission when we should break down the wall. We claim ideological higher ground when we have never governed. We wear suits and smell like $10,000 when we should have dreadlocks down to our muddy knees. We have sold our membership a distilled version of libertarian pragmatism with the hope that it would appeal to the mainstream voter and it has been a consistently losing strategy.

That is why I suggest we swim in the opposite direction. To do that, we first need to look at the map.

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It’s obvious that Libertarians can’t win in the East. Whether it’s the sunshine state of Florida or the chilly green mountains of Vermont, it is high time we abandon running Congressional and National candidates in the East. Take the 2016 election. If Bill Weld’s northeastern block had shown up on election day, the LP would have had easily achieved that stated goal of Johnson’s campaign, to grab 5% in the national election. As it stood, Weld’s bread and butter demographic barely mustered 2% in most states. For that ghastly performance, he’s been awarded serious consideration for the presidential nominee of the party.

If you look a bit deeper at the 2016 election results, the Western states of America represented the largest vote-getting territories for The Libertarian Party. In New York, Johnson/Weld got 2.2% of the vote while in Montana they received 5.5%. In Florida, Johnson/Weld got 2.1% of the vote while in Colorado they received 5.8%. In Pennsylvania, Johnson/Weld got 2.3% while in Oklahoma they received 5.7%. On and on it goes.

We are wasting our time if we believe we can make an impact on the east coast. Until we can win somewhere (anywhere) we should consider making it a priority to run well-financed campaigns in states that lie West of the Mississippi River. Hell, at this point, I’d be legitimately interested to see what it might look like if we took all of our manpower and money to Alaska and solely ran state race in the homeland of Seward’s Folly.


I know we can win. Our ideas are timeless, principled and noble in their intent. We have always stood to protect the decency of the individual and our poor results do not sway my belief that what we fight for is right and true. When candidates run as a Libertarian, many are proud that someone is willing to stand up for liberty principles in their district. It’s a rarity. But it’s not enough to just stand up. We have been standing up for nearly 50 years. We must begin walking onto the path of victory and it must be done quickly. Nobility does not engender success and until we begin placing candidates into office, we must criticize our party, its campaigns and its message until we begin to see real results.

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6 thoughts on “What The Pennsylvania Special Election Says About The State Of The Libertarian Party”

  1. 71 Republic, if you want real Libertarians like myself to keep reading your articles, you’ll fire this Spencer clown. He’s clearly another conservative pretending to be a libertarian, and does nothing but trash the party we’re all working towards building.

    1. It is generally true that western states have higher Presidential election results than eastern states, northern New England being the exception. And the southeast is typically horrible, not only for LP Presidential candidates, but for every 3rd party Presidential candidate since George Wallace. John Anderson did lousy in the southeast in 1980, Ross Perot did lousy there in both of his runs. Ralph Nader did lousy there in 2000. The southeast is not a good place for 3rd party Presidential candidates in general.

      But the same is not true below the Presidential level.

      The earlier drivel along these lines by Kellog suggested no candidates at all outside of 7 states: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington. (It’s unclear what his idea is to stop candidates from running in other states.)

      3 of the 4 best LP results for US Senate came from Indiana and Massachusetts. 8 LP candidates have done better than 25% for US House and none of them are from those 7 states. 2 of those 8 came from east of the Mississippi. The 2nd best Gubernatorial result came from Wisconsin. The best state senate result came from Nevada and the best state house result comes from South Carolina.

      And Kellog’s hoped-for concentration of nationwide revenue will never happen. The announcement that the LP is shutting down competition, even if only at the federal level, in 90%+ of the country (by population), will cause both revenues and vote totals to implode.

  2. their inclusion in these races served only as money pits for each state party’s treasury Total funds spent on the Miller Campaign by the LPPA $0.00. Candidates fund their own operations in Pennsylvania.

  3. I really, really, don’t get the hate on the L.P. Yeah it’s soft, but it brought me in. We’ve literally been being dicks for years, with success only after we softened up. Being a libertarian is about human rights, not being an edgelord. Didn’t y’all hate the age of consent ordeal? That’s hardcore libertarianism.

  4. Spencer Kellog is an armchair quarterback who, like most cowards, finds it easier to counterproductively snipe at his allies than to do any real work that would advance liberty.

    And his idiotic theory of not running candidates east of the Mississippi based on Presidential election results is the sub-minimal level of thought and research that would flunk most high school freshman.

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