In my last post, I was pretty clear about why I think third party presidential votes are a bad idea. But I have to say more about one of those candidates: Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.
Johnson is perhaps the closest I’ve seen in my political life to a third party candidate worth supporting. Unlike most, he has some impressive administrative experience: 2 terms as governor of New Mexico. That’s no small feat and certainly puts him on the short list of those with sufficient qualifications to potentially be a successful president. The Libertarian Party actually seems to be making some gains of late – Johnson’s vote total is the highest in Libertarian Party history. And I suspect that in addition to some party supporters, a President Johnson could draw from potential supporters in both major parties, so he might actually be in reach of staffing the executive (though it would be a challenge). In addition, Johnson has the advantage of a clear ideological perspective without coming across as a crazy who knows how to compromise in order to get closer to his goals.
Though I didn’t vote for him, I do hope Gary Johnson sticks around. Not because I hope he’ll be a right-wing spoiler a la Ralph Nader. But because I think his continuing presence could help down-ticket Libertarians in positive ways. As a general principle, I think the way to build a new political party is from the ground up. But a reasonably well-regarded presidential candidate could help that grassroots growth by lending some cache and publicity. If I were Johnson’s political manager, this is what I’d recommend:
1) Hire a real campaign manager, one with experience in a major-party presidential campaign.
2) Start running, now, in the presidential election of 2016, just as though you were hoping to be a major-party candidate. That means a few well-timed visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to reach out to supporters and potential donors. Your potential competition will be doing so shortly.
3) Start preparing a political book. Obviously, you won’t write most of it yourself. But all the big candidates have them eventually and a clear statement of sensible Libertarian ideals can only help you and your fellow party members. Start with the war on terror, TSA, FISA, and the Patriot Act, then move into social and economic policy. Make clear that Libertarianism is more about a direction and governing philosophy than the end of government. In addition to helping you it will also provide ammunition for the more moderate members of your party in their efforts to keep the wackos at bay.
4) Make it clear that (a) you’re running for president, (b) you expect to be treated seriously as a candidate, and (c) you’ll need like-minded members of the U.S. Congress to accomplish your legislative objectives. Identify at least a handful of potential viable Libertarian candidates in key states so you can raise money for them and promote their efforts alongside your own. Don’t be afraid of embracing moderate defectors from other parties. They’ll lend you credibility and a sense of ‘momentum.’ As screwed up as our two-party system is right now, there is potential in the growing number of unaffiliated voters. If you can make the Libertarian Party a safe place for them you’ll have a much larger potential constituency.
5) Realize that you’re in for a long-haul. Not only is 2016 a long way off, it’s a long-shot. But there’s no reason you can’t keep running. That’s the benefit of being in a third party – as long as you remain the big fish in the small pond you can write your own nomination ticket. Eugene Debs did it in the early 20th century. And though he didn’t win he did help change modern American politics in a positive direction, bringing in first the Progressives and later the Liberals into his views on Constitutional liberties and economic policy. On the policy front, you can win by losing as long as you establish yourself as a credible candidate whose supporters might hold the margin of victory rather than a one-off electoral fluke.
Of course, I didn’t vote for the man and don’t expect to do so in 2016. But I’d love to see him help some real, independent Libertarians get elected to Congress and see an aggressive defense of our civil liberties. Here’s to hoping.