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Elections, Politics

Will Libertarian candidates continue to serve as spoilers?

Posted: December 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm   /   by

A comment in the thread of Colleen Mathis gets the last laugh by our own Kevin McNeill came in a few days ago that read,

It’s important to keep in mind that in the new AZ CD9, Libertarian Gammil Powell received 6% of the vote. If Libertarian voters had gone Republican, they would now be represented by Vernon Parker (R). Instead, Libertarian voters will be represented by Kirsten Sinema (D).

What the commenter is describing happened across the land in 2012, as it has in many elections in past years. Libertarian candidates almost never win, but they often serve as spoilers, pulling away enough votes from the Republican to give the Democrat the win. It happens in big races and small in every election. That is a problem for the GOP.

I have long argued that the solution is for the Republicans to get more libertarian and for Libertarians to become Republicans. In other words, I have long called for unity on the right. In fairness, most Republicans are conservatives, and most conservatives share their core ideology with libertarians. The problem, largely, is that actual libertarians (small l) are so much more aware of their own ideology and the philosophies undergirding it, whereas a lot of conservatives are much more focused on specific issues and think less about the actual philosophy.

This means that libertarians are more likely to be purists, and purists have a tendency to grow impatient with their fellows who are less pure. In my view, if conservatives (both rank-and-file and politicians) got a little bit more educated on the abiding principles that undergird our own ideology, and libertarians got just a bit more pragmatic and developed a keener desire to be politically relevant as more than spoilers, we could have a lot more of that unity. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

Again, this is a problem for the GOP. The left now has pretty good unity. The radicals are in charge, the moderate elements have been purged, and their rank-and-file do not seem to be bothered by it. There was no swarm of “Romney Democrats” this time—no Democrats frightened off by the radicalism of their own party. The Democrats face no serious challenge from the left. That is no longer true for the Republicans (from the libertarian right).

But how serious is the threat? Over at Zero Hedge—a site that has distinguished itself for its highly trenchant economic analyses—”Tyler Durden” suggests that the problem is actually fatal for the GOP. His point of view is decidedly in favor of the GOP’s demise, as he considers it to be a failed vehicle for truly core conservative (i.e. libertarian, classical liberal) ideas. He believes that the growing strength of the liberty movement is the reason why the GOP is in the trouble he suggests it is.

Speaking as someone who ardently wants there to be a truly liberty-based, anti-statist political party in this country, I understand where Durden is coming from. I do not share his fight-club attitude towards the GOP—I still believe it can be that party, and be that anti-statist force, if conservatives and libertarians work together to make it so. But what I believe, and what he believes, doesn’t matter. What matters is what actually happens, and that remains to be seen. And whatever your views, I think Durden’s position is worth considering, because it is on the table as one of the possible outcomes of this situation.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook