Will the Tea Party movement be willing to support libertarian-leaning candidates?

Reason‘s Jesse Walker and the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan have some back and forth and back again going on relating to the Tea Party movement and libertarianism.

Sullivan notes:

If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?

Yes, they are, for the most part, emphasizing economic and fiscal issues, which is wonderful, even though they have no actual realistic plans to cut spending by the amount they would have to if taxes are not to rise. But that does not mean they have in any way forsaken the social issues substantively. Name a tea-party candidate who is pro-choice. Name one who backs marriage equality. Name one who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning next year. Name one who has opposed torture. Name one who has the slightest qualms about police powers. Name one who would end the military ban on gays serving openly, and take even the slightest political risk on any of these subjects.

I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you’re dreaming.

From the perspective of a libertarian Tea Party activist, I’d like to add my two cents to the conversation.

To begin, Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen scribed the following in Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System:

…it is premature to consider the prospects of a Tea Party message on the biggest national political stage. However, Gary Johnson, the libertarian-leaning Republican former governor of New Mexico, is rumored to be a contender in the 2012 presidential election, and possible the preferred presidential candidate of the Tea Party movement.

While Johnson, who has attended several Tea Party rallies, diverges from the Tea Party movement on certain issues such as immigration and support for the Iraq war, he has been praised by Tea Party groups for his support for personal liberty and smaller government. As governor, Johnson vetoes 750 bills, more than all the vetoes of the country’s forty-nine other governors combined, and he gained national notoriety for his support of legalizing drugs.

John Dennis, the Republican running for Nancy Pelosi’s congressional seat, offers the following on his platform:

  • The Constitution was written to restrict the actions of the government, not individuals.
  • If we support some types of liberty but not others, ultimately we will be left without liberty at all.
  • I oppose, warrant less wiretaps, water-boarding and other forms of torture.
  • Governments have historically institutionalized racism through legal preference and advantages to certain groups.
  • Racism a form of collectivism is the antithesis of liberty.
  • It is the pursuit of liberty and the equal application of the law that draws people together.
  • I support ending both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and withdrawing our troops as safely and quickly as possible.
  • I believe the men and women who bravely serve and defend our country should be well trained, well equipped, well clothed, well fed and deployed only when necessary.
  • I do not believe that our troops should be forced to be policemen of the world. Our troops, first and foremost, should protect Americans where they live – in America.

While these platform snippets don’t directly address all of Sullivan’s concerns, they seem to indicate that the candidate is certainly leaning in the direction Sully suggests. To be clear, I have no clue as to whether Dennis considers himself a Tea Party candidate. However, the only Tea Party activists I know in the district support him and it is difficult to imagine any person affiliated with the Tea Party movement supporting Pelosi.

I spoke with Daniel Adams, the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, on the telephone this morning.  His gubernatorial candidate, John Monds, had recently spoken at a Tea party event. Adams informed me that by the end of the evening half the of the people in attendance wearing stickers for a gubernatorial candidate preferred Monds while the other half preferred GOP nominee Nathan Deal. At this moment, all of Georgia’s statewide libertarian candidates are polling relatively high for third-party candidates while Deal continues to be plagued with financial (and other) problems.  I’m not stating that the Tea Party movement will go third party, but the Hoffman/Scozzafava debacle in New York indicates at least some willingness to pursue this option, if absolutely necessary.

To be sure, there hasn’t been a plethora of strong libertarian-leaning Tea Party candidates out there so far, but there are certainly plenty of libertarians within the Tea Party movement. Even in Alabama, I’m more likely to run into a Campaign for Liberty member than a Roy Moore supporter at a Tea party event — although both coexist within the movement to pursue common goals regarding fiscal policy and fighting “the establishment.”

There is a certain degree of pragmatism within the Tea Party movement, Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts serving as the perfect example.  It is also interesting to note that I know quite a few libertarians who snicker about Christine O’Donnell’s stance on a certain individual liberty issue, but still enjoy watching an establishment big-government Republican go down in flames in Delaware. I’ve also seen plenty of Ron Paul supporters speaking at Tea Party rallies.  There is clearly some give and take on both sides.

In their book, Rasmussen and Schoen clearly identify libertarians as one of the three major ideological components of the movement.  Combining the aforementioned factors, Tea Party support for reasonable libertarian-leaning candidates seems possible – at least in some districts and in some cases.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    The snickering about Christine O’Donnell needs to stop. She attended the Libertarian Party of Delaware meeting in Dover on June 20 of this year as a guest speaker. She was asked specifically about her position on the war on drugs. Her response, according to Kent County Libertarian Party Chair Will McVay:

    “I’m against the Federal Government being involved, it’s a States Rights issue.” And people ought to just let others alone.

    Anyone can call McVay up to confirm this.

    There’s also another well-known libertarian group that has hard evidence of her anti-drug war stance. They tentatively plan to announce it late next week.

  • Pingback: Will the Tea Party movement be willing to support libertarian-leaning candidates? | Hammer of Truth 2010()

  • http://gordonunleashed.com/blog/ Stephen Gordon


    Note how I worded the O’Donnell line: “a certain *individual* liberty issue.”

  • Procopius

    From what I’ve seen first locally, and then nationally, the Tea Party is a bunch of horseshit. A bunch of old ass people who are Huckabee-esque Christian zealots who only understand discontent with the Democrats as any sort of impetus. Completely worthless.

    That said, there’s not much consistency, or follow-through, or lack of betrayal within the Libertarian Party or the libertarian movement as well.

    In general, I’ve learned over the last few years that once you get enough people together, it becomes worthless.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    Now Stephen, she never said she would support outlawing masturbation. Just that she hoped her boyfriend or future husband wouldn’t masturbate so that she could have his manhood all to herself.

    Perfectly reasonable position if you ask me.

  • Michael O. Powell

    I am completely with Procopius here. I was in D.C. when the Tea Parties were at their health care nexus and what I saw was definitely not intellectual libertarianism of the Gary Johnson variety. Tea party enthusiasm hasn’t spilled over into support for California’s Proposition 19. It’s spilled over into Christine O’Donnell’s win, Rand Paul’s “constitutional conservative” win in Kentucky (it’s worth noting that that state’s Libertarian Party said Paul isn’t one of them), Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally and protests of the Cordoba House community center in New York City. If that’s anyone’s idea of movements for individual liberty, we’re running on completely different software.

    I can understand many libertarians wanting to be represented by a massive political movement but to see the Tea Parties as a vessel of that and not a vessel of conservative populism is to be denying reality when it’s right under our noses.

    The biggest Tea Party enthusiast I met was exactly what Procopius described. He voted for Mike Huckabee and when I told him that I hoped to volunteer for the Prop. 19 campaign to legalize marijuana, he became tense and asked if I really wanted to sanction that kind of behavior.

    As for Sully’s comments, Sullivan was an advocate for the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan. There’s nothing wrong with that, but because of that he should have the responsibility to be advocating a policy in which the United States actively recruits countries whose interests are in the region, such as India and even Iran, to play a role in making sure things don’t totally break down.

    By the way, Procopius, your quote about too many people messing up a good thing was brilliant.

  • Michael O. Powell

    Stephen – As for John Dennis, it’s worth keeping in mind that right-wing political movements as opposed to left-wing political movements are far more chaotic and all over the place. As he is running in an extremely progressive leaning district and doesn’t overtly run as a Tea Party candidate, as you noted, viewing him as a representation of national conservative populism is just plain silly. Candidates who are succeeding nationally are more appropriate to view in such a context.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    Michael Powell, that is an incorrect statement. The Kentucky Libertarian Party did not say they were not supporting Rand Paul. A former disgruntled employee of Rand Paul for Senate who then became Vice-Chair of the Libertarian Party said that. KY LP Chair Ken Moellman was furious with him, and took him to the tool shed. They fully retracted his statements against Rand.

    The libertarian movement is not just represented by its leftwing. Rightwing libertarians like Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Christine O’Donnell and Rand Paul are just as entitled to use the libertarian label as leftwing libertarians.

  • Michael O. Powell

    Paul has said that he is not a libertarian but a “constitutional conservative:” http://www.mediaite.com/online/libertarian-rand-paul/

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Gordo! Glad to read something of yours here again. I’ve been wondering what your take on the Tea Party is these days as quite a lot has happened since you wrote about your observations. I’m afraid the social cons have co-opted the Tea Party and will have little semblance of anything libertarian at all.

  • Westmiller

    I think you have to define the tea party movement as almost entirely a *reactionary* force. The various elements know what they do *not* like, but don’t have any coherent affirmative ideals.

    They are certain that they don’t like what Obama has been doing, but “not that way” leaves lots of other directions to travel, beyond the exact opposite. Some do and some don’t like the direction of the Bush Presidency and most don’t like the Republican inclination to compromise or simply mitigate the programs of the “progressives”. Being a “Party of No” to their opponent’s agenda is sufficient motivation.

    If reaction is the sole coherent motive, then one can find many “vectors” in the opposite direction, from libertarian to social conservative to simple anti-establishment sentiments. Once the “progress” of their opponents has been stopped, the blend of preferred vectors will be in dispute.

    So, one can hope that this is an opportunity for libertarian logic and political ethics to become the primar vector in future American politics, but there’s no guarantee. Whichever vector dominates, it will certainly be better (on most issues) than the current “track” we’re on.

  • Michael O. Powell

    Right on.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    And by definition a “Constititonal Conservative” most certainly falls into the wide spectrum of libertarian belief. It just happens to be a more marketable term in the State of Kentucky.

    Trust me. Having known Rand for over 25 years, he’s about as libertarian as they come.

  • Michael O. Powell

    All right. I’m not trying to argue the man himself. I just have strong doubts about him getting his rise in Kentucky, stuff I’ve heard from Kentuckians and his eyebrow raising positions on immigration and the CRA. The right and left wing chasm in libertarianism over immigration especially is worth noting and I’m not an ideological purist here. Nevertheless, I would personally like to see someone in the political world who makes the case for shredding the immigration bureaucracy and not the typical bad choices of punitive police state ala Arizona or blanket amnesty that only furthers the problem.

  • http://gordonunleashed.com/blog/ Stephen Gordon

    Stephen, I’m not sure you could say the socons have coopted the movement, as they have always been a player. I think I once wrote that they (depending upon how one defines socon) seem to be about a third of the movement, and that still seems to hold up.

    The key thing, from my perspective, is that the two or three key issues this very broad coalition movement seems to agree and focus upon are not anti-libertarian positions. And I’ve advised Tea Party people (on this blog, even) not to stray to far from those common goals.

  • http://gordonunleashed.com/blog/ Stephen Gordon


    It’s a populist movement, and I wouldn’t expect to see “intellectual libertarianism.” That isn’t their role in the political landscape.

  • Pingback: The Drug War | Hemp Products and News()

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    Michael, allowing illegal aliens to enter our country without a Visa, and to trample on the private property of ranchers and farmers in the southern environs of our 4 border states is not “libertarian.” The correct libertarian position would be to enforce the law. We welcome legal immigrants, and we most certainly welcome visitors and tourists to this Great Nation of ours who want to visit DisneyWorld, Washington D.C., Mt. Rushmore, Yosemetie, the Grand Canyon, ect… But kindly ENTER OUR COUNTRY THROUGH THE GATES THAT WE’VE SET UP, so that we can run a quick background check on you and ensure you’re not some sort of child molestor, murderer, or drug kingpin fleeing the Mexican government.

    When I travel to Mexico, I have to go through extensive background checks from the Mexican government. Why the double-standard?

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    Y’know, I started this thread with some information about Christine O’Donnell having attended the June meeting of the Libertarian Party in Dover. Amazing not a single one of you has commented on that. I guess it doesn’t fit y’all’s template that she cannot possibly be a libertarian.

    It’s like in 2008. Sarah Palin had attended numerous meetings of the Libertarian Party of Alaska. She was buddies with the leaders of the ALP. They endorsed her in her Governor’s race in 2006. Yet, you didn’t hear a single Libertarian Party person talking about that in 2008 when she ran as VP. And you hardly hear anything about it today.

    Some of you people are truly pathetic. If something doesn’t fit your template – “Sarah Palin cannot possibly be a libertarian” – you ignore it. And you wonder why some libertarians are hopeless when it comes to real world politics.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau

    Eric, I’ll address your notion that Christine O’Donnell is a libertarian. The truth is I don’t know a whole lot about her other than what I read about her yesterday from several news articles. From what I have read so far: she scares the shit out of me on her extreme social conservative issues.

    As far as her ideas about birth control, abstinence, and masturbation are concerned, I’m not sure if she still holds these views or if her views have since matured. I’m also not clear if these are “just” her personal views or if she wants to somehow codify these views into law (ex: waste more tax dollars on abstinence only sex education, ban certain forms of birth control, etc.).

    The most disturbing thing I have read about her so far is her stance on abortion. I fully realize that libertarians have very different views on this issue. Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Andrew Napolitano, and Bob Barr are all pro-life (which is fine) while many others are staunchly pro-choice. Christine O’Donnell takes a view that is far more extreme than most who call themselves pro-life though. She doesn’t even believe there should be an exception for rape or incest; the only exception she would allow is if the mother’s life is at stake in which case, the woman’s family would make the choice of “which life to save.”

    This is just one pill I cannot swallow. Why should it be up to the woman’s family rather than the woman? This sounds like a sort of policy that the Taliban would have and certainly not by any stretch of the imagination one that is in line with libertarian ideals.

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    Okay, think of it this way. Christine O’Donnell is not so much a “libertarian.” She’s a social conservative with a libertarian streak.

    Kind of like Ron Paul is a libertarian with a social conservative streak.

    I’m not sure we want Christine to be a full-blooded libertarian. There’s lots and lots of Catholics in Delaware, especially around Wilmington. Having a pro-lifer with a libertarian streak is about the most we could ask for in Delaware. Let’s celebrate having her as our standard-bearer, and stop denigrating her, and questioning her, and saying that she’s “not perfect.”

  • http://www.libertarianrepublican.net Eric Dondero

    BTW, today in Sussex County, at a church picnic Christine was asked about her past views on social issues. She said pretty much that she said these things as a teenager, and since her views “have matured.”

  • Procopius

    Steven, I’d like to correct, or clarify, your claim of Ron Paul + Pro Life. He is against abortion in spirit, but he feels that abortion is “too complex of an issue” to be either outlawed, or govt funded. This is a distinct stance that is separate from anti-abortion codifying and he said that on national TV in response to an abortion question during the 2008 prez debates.

  • Galtish bus driver

    I’m a strong (lower-case “l”) libertarian, and have had no problem identifying myself with the general tea party message of smaller government, less spending, and lower taxes.

    So I keep reading from people with various political points of view to spin that I don’t exist. I think there are a lot of libertarians who identify with the tea party movement.

    Having said that, I realize there are lots of conservatives, some of whom are economic or fiscal conservatives and some of whom are social conservatives, within the tea party movement. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they are a majority WITHIN THE TEA PARTY. I don’t have a problem with that. In majoritarian democracy politics, we can obtain movement in the direction of smaller government if we get 50% +1 of the folks in the polity to want less spending and taxes. If others also want socially conservative personal decisions to be legislated and then enforced by the coercive state, they would likewise need 50% + 1 on those policy decisions.

    I suspect it will be easier in our US polity today to get a majority on the first than it will be on the last.