This is an exciting time for the Libertarian Party, coming off of its most successful presidential campaigns in the party’s history. Gary Johnson, though uninspiring and clumsy as he could be, was enough to engage a large number of people that were previously independent or uninterested. Paired with the two lackluster, scandal-ridden major party candidates, the LP was able to look reasonable, and even attractive. With more media attention than usual and an acceleration of the social media campaign opportunities, The Libertarian Party and its candidates were able to convince over four million voters that they had a chance to make history.
The LP’s success was historic, but the future may be looking even brighter. One must examine the social climate of America, and abroad, to understand the collective consciousness shift that has been taking shape to understand the full implications and opportunity presented to such a minor actor in the current political sphere. Where do Americans place their beliefs? What are their expectations in a candidate, or a party? How does a candidate address the gravitational pull of populism? How can the party appeal to the common man in meaningful ways, and generate an identity of its own? First, we must examine the events leading up to the election.
In 2014, presidential nominees were already showing interest, hinting at bids, and making campaign preparations. I have no faith in either major parties to represent the people. Thus, I was almost certain that we would see the most expensive consent ever manufactured, with a 90’s re-run of Bush vs. Clinton. Since my entrance into the liberty movement in 2007, I had conceded that the major parties have a will of their own. They serve to protect the politically and economically elite. The country, just four years prior, had equally moderate shades of status quo. I thought it would be nothing short of a money-slinging showdown of two equally terrifying candidates. Then, in 2015, the world was introduced to two wildly extreme choices, and I was proven completely wrong about the power of collective activism and a uniquely American desire for radical change.
First, Donald J. Trump, a real-estate mogul with zero experience holding public office. A flamboyant millionaire television personality with a seemingly genuine disgust for both parties. His campaign, and his nomination was nothing short of spectacular. He faced some of the most powerful and popular conservative republicans. He showed no shame in saying whatever it took to win support, often contradicting himself in the same day. His views were never in line with true conservativism, and quite often it seemed he went out of his way to embrace, and embellish, the stereotypical Republican, as seen from the left.
Second, Bernie Sanders, the independent Senator from Vermont. A self-professed socialist, targeting millennials with unrealistic promises such as outrageous minimum wage standards, tuition-free secondary education, and higher taxes on the rich. Bernie ran against, arguably, the most powerful public figure in America, Secretary Hillary Clinton. Not even the Democratic Party was ready for the following he would garner. Bernie successfully captured the bleeding hearts in the young and old, while offering solutions to those financially struggling, regardless of how unrealistic his promises were.
Two things they each had in common, was a rabidly aggressive, public disdain for the “establishment in DC,” (I’m sure we can find a reference to that in almost every speech both candidates,) and promised radical change. To me, those are the ideas that won the election. The same can be applied to Brexit. That’s what’s selling right now, radical outsiders, rebellious warriors, antiheroes of the people.
Bernie’s controversial defeat, paired with Trump’s failures and puppet-like behavior since the victory, have even further shattered the confidence of Americans that the answers they need will come from Washington, or the two major parties. They are correct, and it’s about damn time they wake up. Rule number one, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Rule number two, never trust a politician when he promises the state will care about, or for, the people.
Then we have the Libertarian Party, and Johnson/Weld. Two former republican governors, moderate republicans, moderate liberals. Self-identified as Jeffersonian Classical liberals. Their campaign, and nomination were also unprecedented. Gary Johnson narrowly won the presidential nomination after two contentions, and Bill Weld’s VP nomination was also contended, defeating Larry Sharpe in a second vote by only a few delegates. The anarchists were furious, feeling the party had traded principles for pragmatism, prompting James Weeks II to strip down to a thong, live on C-SPAN, assumingly in protest of the moderate candidate that would be representing him.
As the election race continued, Clinton struggled to garner the youth and minority vote that Bernie inspired. Gary Johnson continued to distance himself from the hardline, and traditional, Libertarian beliefs, even distancing himself with the conservative libertarians that got him elected. Meanwhile, the “Trump Train” turned the volume up to 11, promising to build a massive wall, crush Islamic terrorists (all of them), and jail Secretary Clinton if elected. Gary limped to the finish line with a disappointing, yet still record number, 4% of the vote. Clinton won only in the small pockets you would expect a Democrat to win. Trump, meanwhile, seemed to have united the country in a crushing electoral victory.
Now here we are in 2017, and it seems that the Trump revolution will be nothing more than a few tax breaks, lavish vacations, and WWIII. The Berniecrats are busy creating gender pronouns and microaggressions, and the Republican conservatives have been reduced to observers and obstructionists within their own party. We essentially have much of the people feeling politically homeless.
This is what the Libertarian Party has been waiting for. I know 2016 was sold as the best chance the LP would ever get at success, but I can’t disagree with that enough. We were woefully unprepared. I’m not talking about the infighting, and I’m not talking about the on-camera Gary-gaffes and blunders. I’m talking about, in my best Gary voice, BOOTS ON THE GROUND! State and local affiliates were either unorganized, unwilling to participate, or non-existent. There is no chance of winning without community presence and outreach. ZERO! Without the R or D stamp of approval, the only way to get a large enough number of votes is organically, through advertisement, marketing, and putting a local face on the LP brand.
The good news, it’s happening. Currently, there is a massive influx of members and support, and it’s shaping into an entirely different brand of Libertarian than we’ve ever seen before. Growth is not always peaceful, friendly, or smooth, however. The growing pains can be seen most recently as the infighting and arguing over branding and message continue to evolve. One thing that is happening regardless of the Party and its members, is libertarianism is becoming cool. The ideas of self-ownership, free markets, and individual empowerment are sweeping through college campuses. Young Americans for Liberty, in ten years, has gone from hosting speeches to be heard by dozens, to thousands. It seems the most extreme, or disenfranchised, of them have found the Libertarian Party as a vessel for activism.
The LP can position itself as a dominant force in politics, but it must shed its moderate/conservative skin. The people are clear, they want a radical, and they want that person far removed from the current business-as-usual model. They don’t need to be eased into accepting freedom. They need to be exposed to it, in an open and honest way. They need to be invited to it, by having the party and its members actively engaging individuals currently ignored. They need to have reason to vote, and pure, unadulterated liberty offers the reason for everyone. Liberty is logic. Liberty is honesty. Liberty is anti-establishment. Liberty is change. Liberty is cool, and it’s about time the Libertarian Party presents itself as an outlet for intelligent, virtuous, rebellious, and open minded individuals of all walks of life.