Real Talk: Republicans Hate Libertarians, Regardless of What Party They Are In

In his response essay, Matt Nye brings up the commonplace argument that libertarians, people who love liberty, are able to achieve more inside the Republican Party than they would be able to achieve as members of the Libertarian Party. This strategy is akin to getting a bunch of motivated vegan fry cooks to all get jobs working at McDonald’s so they can change it to a vegan restaurant from the inside. They will be disciplined or fired as soon as they stop making the food on the menu, because their goals are not the goals of the organization.

The strongest point of his argument is the reality that there are counties and districts that are so heavily weighted toward one of the two old parties that whoever wins the primary automatically wins the general election. If you want to be able to tell people that you voted for the winner not only in the general election, but also in the primary, you have to be registered in the dominant party. And yet, even in those districts people are registered to vote for the less dominant party. They know that their party’s candidate is unlikely to win the general election, but they don’t change who they are just to be on the winning team.

Mr. Nye and I completely agree about how great Laura Ebke is, and we are both disappointed that she didn’t win last November, but he edits out some important facts that raise more questions about his position than mine. 

Running as a Libertarian when you were first elected as a Republican is not a race for re-election in the traditional sense, because you need to form a new voter coalition. There is a name recognition advantage as an incumbent, but partisan voters don’t usually follow party switchers. Senator Ebke ran a great campaign, but crossing Nebraska’s governor comes at a high price, and the district was tilted in favor of the Republican.

 Which brings me to the more important point: Republican Governor Pete Ricketts bullied her for her libertarian views while she was still in his party. That governor was coming after her for standing up for her principles regardless of whether she stayed in the Republican Party or not. Indeed, libertarians in the GOP are attacked any time that they stand up for their principles.

But that’s really the rub here, isn’t it? If you join the Republican Party, and if you make it through a primary process that is designed to eliminate libertarian voices, over the opposition of Republican Party bosses, you may get elected to office, but you still can’t get any libertarian policy passed, not because of the Democrats, but because of your fellow Republicans. On top of it, if you don’t support all of the anti-libertarian policies of the Republican Party or the anti-libertarian president, you will be attacked by the Republicans again.

Is it worth it to be in office?

Mr. Nye says in his essay, “if we’re going to invest our precious volunteer time and energy, the return on investment on getting elected as a Republican can be big, if you can stomach the all-too-frequent disappointment,” to which I ask, “What return on investment?” 
When it comes to public policy, electing a few liberty-leaning Republicans has delivered absolutely nothing. And who could expect it to? When you have to fight your own party and the one across the aisle, it’s not surprising that the effort has failed to deliver results while also enabling anti-libertarian policy on trade, debt, foreign policy, civil liberties, immigration, and the racist war on drugs. 

Some suggest that the calculation may be different in particular states, and there are some good advances that have been made by a libertarian caucus within the GOP in New Hampshire, helping to protect gun rights and bucking their party platform on repealing the death penalty. While there are rare state-level policy successes, there are two reasons that libertarians should avoid that path even at the state level.

First, state and local races are the level where the Libertarian Party is becoming very competitive with the two old parties, with one of our 2018 candidates in Wyoming, Bethany Baldes, nearly unseating the sitting Speaker of the House. And she did it without changing her principles or her message or putting on a GOP label to play the game on easy mode.

But more importantly, supporting the GOP means carrying water for a lot of anti-libertarian policies. Even here in New Hampshire, arguably the most libertarian state in the nation, the state GOP platform defines marriage as “legal and sacred union between one man and one woman as ordained by God,” supports “the State’s Constitutional right to determine legal restrictions on possession of controlled substances,” and wants to take “any and all actions possible to protect against the implementation of any part of Sharia law in New Hampshire, including legislation outlawing Sharia law.” This is why Gary Johnson said joining the Libertarian Party was great for his back, since he didn’t have to carry around all of the GOP’s anti-libertarian baggage anymore.

Being a caucus in a political party that has a platform and track record of working against your principles is not only frustrating, it is counterproductive for liberty. And it doesn’t come with any leverage to change the direction of the party as long as the position of the caucus is to never oppose a Republican candidate. 

The GOP is happy to take the support of libertarians, but it provides nothing in return. Those who have been elected as Republicans either get frustrated with that situation and quit or betray their principles to support the party and keep their seats. The experiment of working inside the GOP has been tried and is an objective failure. When you look at the reality of the results, the juice just ain’t worth the squeeze.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Nicholas Sarwark says that now more than ever, the Libertarian Party is the best home for people with libertarian views. The two major parties are both thoroughly populist and win elections only by promising increasingly unlibertarian policies. Strategically, striking out on our own makes sense, he says, because it amounts to negotiating from a position of relative strength.

Response Essays

  • Matt Nye says that the Republican Party is the true home of libertarians, one where they will find an undeniable gift: electability. This the Libertarian Party has never provided, making it largely a wasted effort. Nye is candid about the GOP’s ideological shortcomings and its venality. But, he says, the Libertarian Party hasn’t exactly been pure itself.

  • Graham Vyse argues that libertarians need to focus on the immediate danger of a second Trump administration. Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies have remade the Republican Party, he argues, and not for the better. The time has come for libertarians to unite with their former enemies on the left, at least temporarily, to defend a minimal form of liberalism against an extraordinary threat.