Sarwark Wants to Have His Big Mac and Eat It Too

In his lead essay, Nicholas Sarwark says a political party is made up of “those who show up” to excuse the quality and behavior of Libertarian candidates and party activists. If you don’t like what you see, he says, step up to the plate and make change. Yet for some reason, despite also being a political party, the Republican Party doesn’t fall into the same category. Instead, Sarwark compares the Republican Party to McDonald’s—a privately owned company—and those of us trying to do exactly what he recommends he casts as “vegan fry cooks.”

I agree that vegan fry cooks have little hope of changing the corporate culture or direction of McDonald’s; corporations aren’t meant to be operated from the bottom up. Political parties are, however. In his zeal to make a clever analogy while simultaneously belittling liberty Republican activists like myself, he eloquently makes my point about Big “L” libertarians failing to recognize reality: one of these things is not like the other. A corporation is different both organizationally and legally from a political party.

It’s about Having a Voice

In his next paragraph, Sarwark mistakenly implies fellow liberty Republicans and I participate in primaries only because we want to be on the winning team. While we all want to win, the candidates we recruit in the RLC aren’t the types to roll over and compromise their principles when the going gets tough. I’ve run for office twice and lost twice, but I never compromised.

The first time I ran was back in 2010. I ran for County Commission against an incumbent liberal tax-and-spend Republican. I was offered the support of some very heavy hitters if I would change my position on opposing government funding of economic development. I refused, and I ultimately lost that race. For the record, my failure to roll over was not the only reason I lost, but it was a factor.

Sarwark’s attempt to paint liberty Republicans as mindless, unprincipled “Team Red” automatons isn’t just insulting and inaccurate, it overrides his ability to understand the simple point I was making. I shall endeavor to try to make it again here.

By registering third party in Florida, I would have no ability to vote for a liberty leaning Republican over a left-leaning one. My district is predominantly Republican, and no matter how hard I might wish otherwise, the Republican will almost certainly win in the general. My choice is to have SOME voice as a registered Republican as opposed to NO voice as a no-party or third-party voter. Something is better than nothing. Two is better than one, and one is better than zero. This simple concept—known as math—seems to be lost on Sarwark and some of the commentators on my original essay.

Furthermore, the primary isn’t designed to eliminate libertarian voices, as Sarwark claims; it’s designed to put forth the most electable candidate for each party. Who determines electability? In Florida, that would be the voters. What Sarwark is really saying is that the voters don’t want libertarian ideas.

While there may be some truth there, I don’t know that I agree completely. If it is true, I suspect the condescending tone that oozes throughout Mr. Sarwark’s essay may have something to do with it. The job of a political party is to sway public opinion to get your candidate elected. This is hard to do when you are insulting and talking down to voters at every turn.

I frequently hear Libertarian Party members say things like, “Well {Name}, if you had studied this issue as I have…” at which point the person tunes out. How you say something is often just as important as what you say.

Methinks the Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much

Sarwark points to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts’ bullying of former state Senator Laura Ebke as proof that Republicans attack Libertarians for standing up for their principles. Newsflash for Mr. Sarwark—there will always be someone in a position of power that disagrees with you. There will always be people who are more concerned with power or money or prestige than principles. This isn’t a party phenomenon; it’s a human nature phenomenon. It’s called politics.

I’ve listened to Libertarian Party members defend Gary Johnson’s position on baking cakes for gay couples because he was “more electable,” and I’ve heard Bill Weld’s atrocious record on guns defended by those same Libertarians because he would be able to “raise a lot of money.” To try to hold the LP up as the moral standard when it comes to not compromising on principles is simply laughable.

The only practical role of the LP at the national level is to run presidential candidates that stick solidly to principles to have the opportunity to articulate them on the national stage. By putting up the Johnson/Weld ticket, the LP failed utterly and completely in that role in the one election cycle where America was most ready to hear the message.

Lastly, and contrary to Sarwark’s assertions, my experience here in Florida is that elected officials that hold fast to their principles and stand their ground regardless of party politics get re-elected by their constituents, “party bosses” be damned.

Something Is Better Than Nothing

Sarwark concludes that the libertarian Republican experiment is an “objective failure”. He says we have nothing to show for the last 28 years—no return on investment at all.

Ron Paul, Bob Barr, Rand Paul, Mark Sanford, Thomas Massie, Justin Amash—even his beloved Gary Johnson, who was the Republican Governor of New Mexico and ran as a Republican for President his first time around—all are complete losers that have contributed absolutely nothing to the public discussion and liberty movement according to Sarwark.

What, I wonder then, is the Libertarian Party’s claim to fame?

Sarwark failed to identify a single achievement in either of his essays. The LP has been around for almost 50 years and can’t name one success at the federal level. Not one. While I certainly wish we had achieved more within the Republican Party during the last few decades, my position is that SOME success is better than NO success. Or, to use Sarwark’s metaphor, an orange that produces a little bit of juice when squeezed is better than no orange and no juice at all.

The irrefutable fact is that liberty Republicans have advanced the principles of liberty in government more during the last three decades than the LP has in almost 50 years, and no amount of condescension or name-calling will change that reality.

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.