Why Libertarians Should Vote Libertarian This November (and Always)

As usual at this stage in the election cycle, my social media newsfeeds are filled with indignant Republicans lecturing libertarians about “spoiling” elections in favor of Democrats. I will do as always, listen to the howls as they cast themselves impotently upon the shoals of my principles—and continue to fill in ovals only for those candidates with an established commitment to limited government, enumerated powers and fiscal restraint.

I urge my fellow libertarians to do the same.

Never mind Libertarian candidates pull votes from Democrats as well as Republicans. Never mind Libertarians sometimes spoil elections in favor of the Republican. What I find even more interesting this election cycle is how much more sympathetic the howlers are to third parties and spoilers now that it is the social conservatives feeling betrayed by the GOP.

Tax-Hike Mike Huckabee is threatening to leave the party and take “a whole bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people” with him if the party “abdicates” on gay marriage. Chairman of the (misnamed) Liberty Council Matthew Staver is now openly calling for the creation of a third party if Republican “cowards” cannot hold the line against gay marriage. The (misnamed) National Organization for Marriage is actively campaigning against Republican candidates Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei for their breach of party orthodoxy:

We refuse to follow the leaders in Washington as if we were sheep expected to dutifully support candidates whose positions are an insult to conservatives and will severely damage the nation. We are going to do our best to defeat these candidates because they are wholly unworthy of holding high office.

Remember all the times libertarians have said the same thing, not in connection to gay marriage, but as to a plethora of other issues? I know my social media will soon light up with outrage  at these social conservatives actively spoiling elections against Republic candidates.

…Any time now…

It is ironic, really, because however faithless the GOP has been with the theocratic wing of its base, its breach of faith with the small government contingent has been near absolute. The GOP has given us the Patriot Act, warrantless wire-tapping, protectionist tariffs, expensive subsidies for agribusiness, a crony capitalist energy bill, and Sarbanes-Oxley.

It has bequeathed us a $1.9 trillion war waged on credit to topple a secular dictator whose position is now being filled by the group known as ISIS. Its War on Drugs is a spectacular failure, whose face looks like this, and which is now opposed by the majority of Americans—along with five Nobel prize economists.

The GOP “abdicated” long ago on local control of schools, federalizing education to an unprecedented extent with No Child Left Behind. In an irony observed by Edward H. Crane of the Cato Institute back in 2002:

Mr. Bush campaigned for the greatest federal role in education that any president, Republican or Democrat, had in US history. Never mind that 20 years before, Mr. Reagan had won a landslide victory on a platform that called for the abolition of the Department of Education.

The GOP oversaw an incredible expansion in the federal budget, even for non-defense discretionary spending, and a new entitlement program in the form Medicare Part D, with net expenditures of $727.3 billion through 2018. Its candidates now openly campaign against cuts to Medicare and Social Security and the party leadership takes the position that it cannot risk unpopular cuts when winning re-election is so crucial.

…So they can cut spending?

There will always be another election looming. This is not the logic of a party sincere in its intent to rein in the size and scope of government. It is the logic of a party whose purpose in winning elections is to hold onto power for its own sake.

Even if the GOP had given libertarians a reason for support this November, it is increasingly unclear it can deliver in national elections. Only 25% of Americans identify as Republican, the party having lost fully 12% of its base to Independents, who now make up 42% of the electorate (31% are Democrats).

Is there a target electorate for a party of politicians who are entitlement-state liberals on economic issues, hawks on foreign policy, surveillance state security-fetishists, and who believe in using the power of the government to promote conservative values on social issues? How big can that voting block be? According to Dave Nalle writing for American Broadside, Huckabee’s following consists of about 6-8% of Republican voters nationwide.

In contrast, as many as 59 % of voters self-identify as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” the exact opposite of the “socially conservative, fiscally liberal” brand of conservatism the GOP has served up in the last fifteen years. Against Huckabee’s 6-8% following, 61% of young Republicans and 64% of millennial evangelicals support treating same-sex marriages equally under the law.

Even the Catholic Church sees the writing on the wall.

Contrary to Huckabee’s handwringing, the GOP can maintain its position on abortion and remain a viable party. Forty-six percent of American adults, 45% of independents and 28% of Democrats are pro-life. Even outspoken Democrat women like Kirsten Powers would put a limits on abortion well before the end of the second trimester. There is common ground to be had there.

But the GOP cannot remain a viable party without the libertarian swing vote. Even under conservative estimates, 15% of voters can be treated as consistently “libertarian” in their positions, representing a voting block as big as the religious right—and one that is far more willing to stray from the GOP.

It is clear the GOP needs libertarians this November—hence the shrill refrain from the peanut gallery of social media. But it is not clear what the GOP has to offer. Its tent is big enough to cover both libertarians and social conservatives. But there is no such thing as a tent big enough to cover both libertarians and social conservatives who want to use the power of the government to promote their social preferences.

Those two are mutually exclusive. They are matter and anti-matter. They cannot exist in the same time in the same place.

Until the GOP chooses, it will remain a splintered force in politics. And unless it chooses the side of small government, it offers little incentive for libertarians to look for shelter in its tent.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

  • Kevin Boyd

    Nice job and this is the type of thought-provoking posts I like to publish.

    I don’t 100% agree and here’s why. If a libertarian is working within the Republican Party, it’s counter-productive in the long-term for them to push the Libertarian candidate, who usually has no chance of winning an election. Obviously, to each their own preference and I’m not a believer in a libertarian block vote and that all libertarians have to vote a certain way.

  • Sarah Baker

    I optimistically think we are on the brink of a “libertarian moment” and that a large part of the impetus for that has been the defection of libertarians from the other two parties. I definitely agree, however, that libertarian voters don’t owe their votes to Libertarian candidates any more than they owe them to Republicans. It seems almost blasphemous to suggest libertarians must be of a single mind on this or any other issue. :-)

  • Kevin Boyd

    I’m not as optimistic as you on the “libertarian moment”. The Democratic party is largely doubling down on statism, the Republican Party is dead, and libertarians are just too few in the American political arena to be a factor.

  • Sarah Baker

    It just occurred to me that a subtle nuance was lost in the headline. If I had written it as a sentence, both uses of “libertarian” would have been with the “small l.” I include liberty-candidates in the Republican party as “libertarians.” I’m just unsure what they can deliver on a national-level without more widespread support for small government in the mainstream of their party…

  • Sarah Baker

    Do you think the GOP is dead even for these midterms??

  • Kevin Boyd

    In a title, you can’t exactly show nuance with that word.

  • Kevin Boyd

    No, they’ll win big inspite of themselves. 2016 will be interesting though.

  • Brad Warbiany

    I agree. The folks who think libertarians should kowtow to the Republican party line as the lesser of two evils make a big assumption. They assume that we want either Libertarians or Republicans to win, but that we simply prefer the Libertarians.

    If you make that assumption, to vote for a Republican makes sense as the Libertarian candidate is HIGHLY unlikely to win.

    That said, the assumption is wrong. I *don’t* want the Republican to win. The Republicans have betrayed the principals of fiscal conservatism, never believed in the principles of civil liberties, and are so beholden to the social conservative agenda that I actively want them to lose.

    Why would I vote for them?