Without You Meddling Libertarian Voters, Romney Could Have Lost By Only 2.7 Million Votes!

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty takes to task those 1.22 million of us who voted for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson.


Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty takes to task those 1.22 million of us who voted for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. Excerpt:

I suspect that if you voted Libertarian this cycle, you're a pretty hard-core Libertarian, and unlikely to be won over by any half-measures the GOP might offer in the near future. Considering how there was little dispute that another four years of Obama would mean another four years of government growing bigger and taking a more active role in citizens' lives, and how no one really thought Johnson would win, it would appear that the 1.22 million Libertarian voters were content to "send a message" with their votes… a message that will now be almost entirely ignored in Washington.

It's their right; every vote has to be earned, and surely a Romney presidency would have offered its own disappointments to the Libertarian worldview. But it may be a continuing liability for the GOP that roughly one percent of the electorate believes strongly in limited government, but votes in a way that does not empower the GOP to do anything to limit that government.

A couple of notes in response:

* In not one single state did Gary Johnson's vote total exceed President Barack Obama's margin of victory over Mitt Romney. Speaking as one of the 42,542 votes for Johnson in New York, Obama's inevitable victory in that state (by more than 1.5 million votes) was definitely part of my decision-making calculus.

* As I mentioned in this Friday post on purported Libertarian "spoilers," in the only polling on the subject that I'm aware of (conducted by the Reason-Rupe Poll), likely Johnson voters said they broke down as leaning 53 percent Republican, 38 percent Democratic, and 10 percent independent. While that same poll also indicated Johnson with 6 percent support (when he received only 1), A) third-party candidates always poll pre-election higher than they'll receive, and B) Johnson's Democratic support there makes at least some intuitive sense given that the position he's most famous for is his support for legalizing marijuana.

* Speaking of which, let's think about one possible message that Washington will have received with the Nov. 6 vote—that, with the votes in Colorado and Washington state, legalizing pot is now officially a winnable electoral issue. Does it help or hurt the likelihood of Democratic Party movement on this issue that the highest vote-getting third party candidate this year was, by far, the one most famous for wanting to end the Drug War? (You can make a similar argument about gay marriage, which finally became electorally viable this year, and which Johnson also supported.) Libertarians of both the large-L and small-l variety (I am the latter) have a strong interest in pushing both parties in the direction of smaller government and bigger freedom.

* Even if a vote for Gary Johnson was 100% transferable to any Republican (which it is not), let alone to the hands-off-my-Medicare-and-military-spending Mitt Romney (which it definitely is not); and even if applying that bogus math would have changed the outcome in even one state (which it did not), it does not automatically follow that causing the lesser of two evils to lose is a bad strategy. As Nick Gillespie and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents, the Tea Party became a force in national politics precisely because it was willing to gamble on a Democrat winning now and then as an acceptable price of using the primary process to push the GOP in a more robustly government-cutting direction. A faction crazy enough to lose is one that has to be reckoned with, instead of being taken for granted.

There is an argument to be made that Ralph Nader's spoilertastic 2000 run, coupled with lukewarm Massachusetts flip-flopper John Kerry's 2004 loss, and Ned Lamont's successful primarying (but unsuccessful general-electioning) of Sen. Joe Lieberman, all contributed to pushing the Democratic Party further to the progressive left. I'm not saying that political history works that neatly, but that sometimes short-term tactical losses can contribute to long-term philosophical (and even tactical) victories.

Republicans miffed at Libertarian voters right now should be reminded that 12 years' worth of GOP presidential nominees ran as explicit anti-libertarians. Then,

After [46] months of consistent public hostility to bailout economics, after the rise of the tea party movement, after town-hall opposition to "Obama care," after the long-shot Scott Brown win in Massachusetts, after the 2010 limited-government resurgence in the House of Representatives … after all of these unmistakable signs of public—let alone Republican—sentiment, the alleged party of limited government […] nominat[ed] someone who [was] running to President Barack Obama's left on Medicare , who helped pave the way for the Obama policy Republicans hate most and who has no real plan for cutting the biggest growth items in the federal budget.

It seems to me that giving near-historical votes to the LP candidate in the face of such a GOP nominee is arguably a low-cost method for encouraging a more libertarian nominee next time around. And for encouraging the LP itself for putting up a good candidate as well!

But then, voting rationales are like, um, bellybuttons: Everyone's got one, and they all look a bit weird.