Should #NeverTrump try to take over the Libertarian Party this year?

Forming a new party and meeting dozens of different looming deadlines to qualify for 50 state presidential ballots is way too tall an order organizationally with so little time left, argues Ben Domenech. If #NeverTrumpers are serious about finding a place to park their votes, the logical thing to do is to try to get their candidate nominated by one of the parties that’s already qualified for the ballot in all 50 states.

Has the “libertarian moment” arrived at last?

The Libertarians have their convention at the end of May, and the current likely candidate is Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, climber, and generally nice oddball. But he’s pro-choice and has never shown appeal beyond the normal Libertarian ranks.

If the #NeverTrump people want a protest vote, their best path is a Libertarian takeover, with someone who is Libertarianish on some issues – pot, prostitution, marriage – and yet pro-life and pro-religion enough to win over the votes of the holdouts to the Trump machine: churchgoing evangelicals, avowed social and fiscal conservatives, and those who just find his presence on the national scene to be a vulgar and demeaning one. (It’s no accident that Trump’s worst numbers come in states with heavy Mormon populations.)

Whoever the #NeverTrump folks settle on, they’d be wiser to choose someone with the ability to win a few key states, not just to make a generalized protest vote case against Clintonism and Trumpism. They should be focused on making a difference in the outcome, not just providing a better vehicle for throwing your vote away.

Is there a single conservative candidate in all of America capable of actually winning “a few key states” outright from Trump and Hillary in a general election? I can sort of imagine Rick Perry winning Texas, and I can kind of imagine Mitt Romney picking off a few western states like Utah and its neighbors. But even that seems far-fetched. Hillary will pull 40 percent of the vote or so even in deep red Texas; it seems likely to me that, even in a worst-case scenario, Trump would pull at least 20 percent there purely by dint of partisan loyalty to the GOP. That would leave Perry with a chance to win the state but at dire risk of losing narrowly to Clinton, handing Texas to the Democrats and the presidential election to Hillary in one fell swoop. Romney might have enough support in Utah to win there even with that same dynamic at play, but it’s impossible to imagine the House of Representatives choosing him over Trump as president if the race ends with Trump at 266 electoral votes, Hillary at 266, and Romney at … six. It’s also nearly impossible to imagine Trump running strongly enough nationally to battle Hillary to a near draw while Romney ekes out a victory in one lone state to deny the two major party candidates a majority of EVs. Ross Douthat’s right: If the #NeverTrump candidate has any effect on the electoral college, it’ll simply be to hand the election to Clinton by denying Trump a winning margin in a few closely contested states like Ohio or Florida. If you want to force the election to the House, you need a centrist candidate, not a right-winger, since a centrist could theoretically pick off a few red states and a few blue states, holding Trump and Hillary under 270. In that case you’re better off with someone like Mike Bloomberg as your third-party candidate. Or, as Douthat suggests … John Kasich.

I think it’s a mistake from the jump to imagine #NeverTrump as anything more than a pure protest vehicle. The point isn’t to win states, which will never happen; the point is to give people who have a conscientious objection to Trump an outlet for their vote. They already have a few outlets — staying home, writing someone in, voting Libertarian, or (gulp) voting Democratic — but none of those express an objection to Trump per se the way a party dedicated to that purpose would and none of them offer the sort of conservative option that would naturally appeal to #NeverTrumpers. (None of them are as likely to turn out #NeverTrumpers to vote downballot for Republicans either.) Taking over the Libertarian Party could work in theory if the Libertarian nominee were someone respected by the #NeverTrump contingent, but I can’t figure out why Libertarians would acquiesce in that. Sure, having a semi-serious campaign this year led by someone like Rick Perry would raise public awareness of the LP, but true believers would end up in the same position vis-a-vis their party as anti-Trump Republicans are in right now with respect to their own. The party may be getting lots of extra media attention — but for the wrong reasons. Why would Libertarians agree to let their party be redefined as a socially conservative-ish, border-hawk-ish vehicle for disaffected Republicans just because it would earn them a few extra votes this year in a losing effort before all of its new “members” promptly quit and become Republicans again? What could conservatives possibly offer Libertarians to make them go along with such an idea? The only option, I think, would be a hostile takeover of the party, with conservatives organizing to somehow become Libertarian delegates and then throwing the nomination at the Libertarian convention to someone like Perry. But how likely is that? The convention’s in late May and most #NeverTrumpers will be consumed with the GOP primary until then. In the end, Libertarians have an easy counterargument: If you hate Trump all that much, just suck it up and vote for Gary Johnson, their (likely) actual nominee. Johnson doubling his vote total from 2012 as #NeverTrumpers rally to him in protest is better PR for the Libertarian Party than becoming a handmaiden to the anti-Trump right is.

If #NeverTrumpers are dead set on having their own party, their best bet might be to form one now and then focus on getting on the ballot not in all 50 states but in just the eight to 10 key swing states that’ll decide the election. That would reduce the organizational burden, but it’d also make clear that the party is devoted purely to tilting the election to Hillary. Whether even anti-Trump conservatives would sign on for that, who knows.