So tonight is Mitt Romney's big night. He's running even now with President Barack Obama in most polls but all indications suggest this is going to be a tight race. The GOP ticket is going to need every vote it can scrounge up.
Even—and especially—from those of us who are independent, libertarian voters who prize "free minds and free markets." As can be seen from its treatment of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at this year's Republican National Convention in Tampa, the GOP establishment doesn't care much for small-government types until it absolutely has to. Which it does, at least in this election.
Here are three ways Romney, Ryan, and the rest of their party-mates might win over at least some of the 10 percent to 15 percent of libertarian-minded voters who want exactly the same thing the GOP says it stands for: sharp reductions in the size, scope, and spending of the federal government.
1. Get serious about cutting spending.
Democrats and Republicans alike pay lip service to cutting spending, but the GOP's entire identity is predicated on the notion of smaller government.
If Romney wants to carry libertarians, he needs to start talking about cutting the actual year-over-year totals that taxpayers shell out for big-ticket items such as Social Security, Medicare, and defense. Outlays on Medicare alone have risen over 75 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2001 and Romney's calls for "preserving and protecting" Medicare makes a mockery of the idea that the GOP will be fiscally responsible with Mitt in the White House.
Indeed, even Paul Ryan's much-celebrated budget plan would increase annual spending by more than $1 trillion in 2022 compared to what we're spending annually now. That's an echo of Obama's own awful proposal (which would spend $2 trillion annually in a decade).
2. Get serious about bringing home the troops.
Defense spending is up more than 70 percent in real terms in the 21st century and everyone is tired of us trying to be the world's policeman. Libertarians believe in a strong national defense but, like the majority of Americans, they don't believe that endless wars like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan will either make us safer at home or bring peace to foreign lands.
Romney needs to tell the Pentagon what he told countless businesses while working at Bain Capital: Do more with less.
3. Get serious about staying out of personal lives.
Many people rightly fear that Republicans want to sharply curtail reproductive freedom, expand the drug war, ban whatever they consider pornography, and treat gays and lesbians as second class citizens. Romney needs to make clear that his limited government philosophy means the feds shouldn't be intervening in the private lives of individuals unless it's absolutely central to the survival of the nation. Nobody's asking for lifestyle approval, they just want to make sure Romney and the Republicans will respect our right to be left alone.
If Romney, Ryan, and the GOP want to win the libertarian vote—and hence win in November—they should acknowledge that the memory of George W. Bush and his big govenment ways – not to mention a great LP candidate in former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson—means they've got their work cut out for them, no matter how genuinely awful Barack Obama has proven.
Romney and the Republicans will have to do something that's almost unthinkable in politics: They will need to actually live up to what they say they stand for.