Spencer Kellogg | @Spencer_Kellogg
Mitt Romney? The affable oaf of the neoconservative hierarchy Mitt Romney? The gee whiz, gosh golly, boomer-lite Mitt Romney? The once left his dog on top of his car during a twelve-hour drive Mitt Romney? The never ever ever been a libertarian in his whole corporate politico career Mitt Romney? And here we were thinking we had it bad with Bill Weld!
This past week, a favorites list for the 2020 Libertarian presidential nomination was released by outlet IVN. Romney, incredulously, sat at the very top. For anyone following the Libertarian Party since its summer convention, this suggestion comes as no surprise. The party leadership refused to back Craig Bowden, the libertarian candidate for Senate in Utah this Fall. Instead, LP leadership remained quiet as Romney easily won the Senate seat as a Republican leading many to believe the LP has strategic interests in remaining friendly with Romney.
It’s important to note that whoever runs for Libertarian as a president will be roundly defeated and mocked while doing so. It’s not a great job and I’m not sure why anyone would want to do it. Especially when die-hard, purist libertarians will smugly tell you that it’s really about the local races anyway – which libertarians will also lose in embarrassing fashion.
But let’s not play coy here, the presidential nominee does matter precisely because it’s the only real chance for your average American to take a good look at the party and its ideas. What are those ideas? For the modern libertarian party, a message of pragmatic lite libertarianism that emphasizes identity politics seems to be the choice. There isn’t a smack of the radical economic agenda that birthed libertarianism and continues to be cast out by the smart types who run the always losing Libertarian Party.
What’s more distressing is the data that shows how eager many voters are for another option – just not libertarianism. Although many voters are eager for a third choice, the soft sell vaporware of the Libertarian Party is dismissed every election cycle for its putridly indistinctive messaging and unnameable candidates. Many of our candidates read like cardboard cutouts of what a confident leader might actually look and look like.
It is clear that the Libertarian Party of the United States does not speak to the greater demographic of citizens who are interested in a general upheaval of the direction and policies of the United States government. If the LP had any desire to move the needle and commit to sending shivers down the spine of the Federal Election Committee and the American media apparatus, they would be mocking the gossip that is now suggesting a full-blooded Republican Senator and former presidential nominee for the two-party duopoly is at the top of their favorites list for 2020.
The other rumored candidates aren’t much better. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has put in the legwork and is likely to be the front-runner but many in the membership are outraged after Weld all but endorsed Hillary Clinton a week before the 2016 election. Some are even convinced running Gary Johnson for the third time is a legitimate idea. Neither is worthy of the opportunity. It was an admirable performance that saw the two exceed historical hurdles and gain over 4% of the popular vote but that doesn’t mean the carnival should continue. In fact, lAst time I checked, no matter how you slice it, four percent is an epic loss.
In the west, Gary Johnson consistently brought in totals exceeding 8%. But in the all-important northeastern corridor of the country, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld underperformed. In Weld’s home region, the results were gut-wrenching.. The real reason the LP didn’t hit 5% nationwide and receive coveted funding for future elections was that throughout the northeast (a notoriously difficult area for libertarian hopefuls) Johnson and primarily Weld got their butts handed to them. The only reason to put Weld on the top of the ticket is with the hopes that the American public takes us seriously. Newsflash – they don’t and a curmudgeonly old politico who can’t dance and doesn’t win votes and isn’t even an actual libertarian isn’t going to help us get over that barrier.
Larry Sharpe seems to be the favorite of the slightly more progressive libertarian wing who want a mildly new look and feel. But Sharpe, a consultant and entrepreneur, received less than 1.5% of the vote in the New York governor race in November. While Sharpe had stumped on winning more than a million votes in New York, he couldn’t even reach 100 thousand. He was also defeated by Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins who won several thousand more votes than Sharpe. The golden ticket of the new libertarian movement was completely rejected in the major urban sites of the state. In New York City, Sharpe was a complete afterthought.
The irony between the contemporary Libertarian Party’s interest in beltwayism and appealing to upper crust cosmopolitans is most distributing when the election results are considered. In those urban areas of high culture and electoral snobbery, libertarianism is absolutely rejected. In city after city along the eastern seaboard and throughout the nation, libertarianism has no groundswell. Sharpe, unsurprisingly, outperformed well in the farming communities outside of Buffalo.
It is worth mentioning the troubling electoral results in urban sites because the Libertarian Party seems particularly interested with winning favor with this base. In Washington DC, where the National headquarters sit, the Libertarian Party can barely grab 3% in local and federal races. While leaderships strategy is to win over the most centralized districts of our country, the philosophy of libertarianism seems to be a distinctly anti cosmopolitan message that finds strong support in western states and amongst the anti government demographics that live in the farmlands of this country.
So it’s not surprising Sharpe did well with the citizens of New York that don’t depend on the government for every trapping of their modern life. A distressing entropy in the Libertarian Party is it’s memberships lionization of failed politicians. In the days after Sharpe’s poor performance in New York, supporters rallied behind Sharpe and refused to tell the truth: that Larry Sharpe, the libertarian party’s ‘next big candidate,’ barely made a dent. His supporters had called for 5-20% of the vote and his campaign couldn’t even get 2%. After a year of fundraising and appearing on nationally syndicated talk shows and in town events across the state his message of arming teachers and gutting the New York public school system was soundly rejected. But ya sure, I guess Sharpe is someone to really watch for in 2020.
And then there is Adam Kokesh. The ultimate dark horse candidate with a massive X on his back. Some people love him and a lot more just roll their eyes with every mounting stunt. He technically doesn’t even want to be president as his platform calls for the ‘dissolving of the federal government.’ It’s a cute parlor trick and stringently in line with most of the things Mr. Kokesh enjoys pursuing. It’s safe to say he won’t gather more than 3-5% (if that) of the vote at the 2020 Austin convention. His support will get to relish in the knowledge that they are the ‘real’ libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party. Yahoo!
Then you have a large group in the Mises crowd who appear to be calling for Overstock CEO Patrick Bryne. At this point, I’m at least somewhat interested in the prospect. Here is someone who has shown real success in life and sharp business acumen. He is at the forefront of the technology sector (which is the present and future of our civilization) and he is an avid supporter of cryptocurrency. Even with all those credentials though, he’s not going to move the needle in terms of hipness or cultural capital.
Libertarians aren’t interested in cultural capital because for them it is a movement of ideas. However, this is an area of presentation that the Libertarian Party is woeful at selling. You can’t win in the modern era without being able to sell your candidate on social media. Here is the libertarian’s biggest Achilles heel – trying to bring in people, to sell the ideas with charisma and propaganda. You know, like every successful non violent political movement… ever. Patrick Byrne ain’t going to cut it either, folks.
Personally, I don’t think any of them are going to come close to the 4% that Johnson received in a black swan 2016 election. It will, inevitably, be a down year for the Libertarian Party as they strive, again, to prove to all good Americans that we aren’t actually that crazy. That we can be every bit as capable of driving an energy efficient Prius while guzzling silk lattes from Starbucks as the rest of the merry go lucky American crowd. The LP, with a leadership saturated in the cosmopolitan culture of neoliberal politics, has no real interest in punishing the bankers and oil politicians who have dragged a hollowed out America through the mud of interventionism. In other words, it’s safe to vote for us! We might even legalize pot federally!
The modern Libertarian Party would never lower themselves to the caste of putrid radicals! Why, unlike the professional and pragmatic meatloaves running the Libertarian Party, they could never get elected! The Libertarian doesn’t talk about auditing the Federal Reserve or legalizing every drug tomorrow. They wouldn’t want to rock the boat and lose that all coveted, once every four-year interview on CNBC where they are mocked and belittled by a media apparatus that help to keep our party and movement immobilized.
All of these candidates are just the best of a limited and bland field that never seems to truly inspire. When was the last time the Libertarian party had a candidate that really got people excited? Oh, right, it was Ron Paul and he ran as Republican. The modern Libertarian Party has done everything in their power to attack, smear and distance themselves from that man, by the way. Wouldn’t want to get too close to the real anti establishment types now would they? Meanwhile, no libertarian since has inspired the kind of devotion and excitement in the greater American voter base.
All of which is why I think we should nominate an empty chair in 2020.
An empty chair would be a physical representation of the one choice that is always on the libertarian ballot for the nominee but never really considered: NOTA, aka none of the above. If the libertarians are going to lose (and they are definitely going to lose) they might as well pitch themselves to the public in a truly radical way. By promoting the idea of an empty chair, the libertarians could possibly wrestle attention from the mainstream in a fun and nuanced jab at the entire modern political structure.
Americans, more and more, know that the jig is up. One person with power over a divided nation of more than 350 million is not cutting it anymore. An empty chair is an intellectual refutation of the idea that one man or woman could positively represent the diverse classes of people across our land. It points willingly at an uber-centralization of power that has led to wars that never end, budgets that never get balanced, and a complicated economic organization that is faltering at the seems. The American people don’t have a president, they have an empty chair that is swindled and sold to the highest bidder every four years. Why not give the people something to really chew on? An idea instead of a person.
The empty chair is a narrative-driven strategy that invites the American public to consider a completely new modal. Young people want a new voice. Poll after poll shows that more and more citizens in the American voter base are dissatisfied with their political options and are ready for a distinctly new brand of politics and people. The empty chair, with its sharp critique of the failing 21st-century neoliberal democracy, could provide a radical re-energization of the base and actually spur a new crop of activists, artists and thinkers into the movement for 2022 and beyond.
And even if all of that is bullshit, wouldn’t an empty chair still be better than this guy? I mean, really? Mitt Romney? Where is the Libertarian brass to shoot down this garbage? Why not take a full page ad out in the New York Times and express to the American people that we are a new group of people who wish to salvage the wreckage of the modern American society and that we’re not going to put up with all these glum looking plutocrats anymore! That Mitt Romney is every bit a piece of the structure we reject? That he’s never going to be our presidential nominee. Ever!
Anyway, you know how this all goes. You’ve seen this horror show for years. The Libertarian Party is there to lose in the most pitiful and sad way imaginable. C’est la vie.
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