Gary Johnson believes the Republican Party is on its way out. He told a group at University of Chicago yesterday the GOP is going to die sooner, rather than later.
“I really think the the GOP is going to die as a result of this election cycle…I potentially see the Libertarian Party as supplanting the Republican Party. But we’ll see. I think moving forward there are going to be a lot more Libertarians on the ballot going forward.”
It’s a pretty interesting appearance for Johnson, and he does a good job in this Q&A defending the Constitution, free markets, and keeping cronyism and the buying and selling of politicians in check. He also gives a really good defense of his foreign policy, something he hasn’t always done while on TV.
People have speculated about the “death of the GOP” for some time. I certainly believed it was dead when the late Senator Jim Jeffords left the GOP to caucus with the Democrats. The party was able to stick around because of September 11th, and the decision to coalesce around President George W. Bush. It also stayed together because of the Tea Party, and to be the “opposition party” to President Barack Obama.
One reason why the Libertarian Party has had a tough time making waves in national politics is its inability to get organized. This was something my friend Jason Pye wrote on last year, after he decided to leave the Georgia Libertarian Party for the GOP.
I gave up on the Libertarian Party for a number of reasons, but there are two big ones on which I’ll focus for purposes of this post.
First, I recall a conversation with a prominent party member during the 2012 Libertarian National Convention. She told me something along the lines of this: “We’ve got to stop thinking of ourselves as a political party. We’re here to educate people.”
“Why am I here, then? What’s the point of this?” I asked, after all, there are a number of think tanks and organizations — such as the Cato Institute, the Institute for Justice, and FreedomWorks — that effectively promote libertarian ideals.
Second, the level of dysfunction I saw at all levels of the Libertarian Party was ridiculous. “This is a sh*t show,” I recall a friend saying to me on the floor of the convention. He’d been removed as a delegate because he wasn’t going to vote the right way and was understandably frustrated, but I agreed with his assessment.
Though the previous examples are just the tip of the iceberg, I left that convention highly annoyed, frustrated, and asking questions.
I shared the same frustrations as Jason did when I tried to get involved with Texas’ Libertarian Party. It was highly disorganized and never seemed to know what it needed to do to get its message out there or win elections. It seemed more logical to stick around with the GOP, warts and all, and try to influence it from within. There certainly were Republicans who seemed to be more small-l libertarian (Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Thomas Massie, Justin Amash) so it made sense to support them, while trying to keep more “big government” Republicans in check
Then along came Trump.
Now it seems the GOP is hearing its death knells. There are libertarian Republicans, conservative Republicans, and conservatarian Republicans who are exiting the party over Trump’s nationalistic and big government stances. Jason resigned from his local GOP because he couldn’t support Trump. Katrina Jorgensen decided to step down from the Young Republican National Federation for the same reason.
[I]f we have instead decided to uphold a man who does not represent us or our views — a man that has belittled war heroes, explicitly stated misogynist beliefs, relied on intimidation of minorities, insulted our international allies, rewarded violence, championed divisive rhetoric and proved completely uneducated in conservative fiscal policy — I cannot participate in that. When each of us decided to get involved in politics, we all hoped to change our county, our state, our nation for the better. We sit on the edge of history now, a choice to be made.
Katrina considers herself a woman without a party, as do other friends of mine who are repulsed by Trump but aren’t as libertarian as I am. It’s possible they’ll return to the fold after the election is over, but there’s no guarantee. The Libertarian Party has an opportunity, but they’ll have to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing its own soul for more of a say in politics. How will Libertarian Party brass (and lower level members) encourage curious voters they’re more than just a “fiscally responsible, socially tolerant” party? There IS so much more to the party, which Johnson and Bill Weld haven’t always been mentioning. How will the Libertarian Party deal with the purist libertarians who aren’t fans of Johnson/Weld? Will they be pushed aside for the party’s newfound popularity or will they still be a force for policy? That’s something for smarter people than I to figure out.
There’s also the chance Trump’s appeal is larger than the polls are showing and his push to turn the GOP into a nationalist party, full of people who want the government involved in almost everything (while claiming not to) will succeed. If that’s the case, then will Bernie Sanders fans move over to support Trump or will they decide to stay with the Democrats?
This is why Johnson’s claim the GOP is on death’s door may be correct, but it could be another false alarm like the last time the GOP was declared “on death’s door.” The soul searching the GOP seems to do after every election (then deciding not really to do anything), will have to be longer and harder. They should become a party that’s more for freedom, free trade, and making sure the government actually gets out of the lives of individuals. Whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess.