Libertarian Party

The Third-Party Catch-22

The lack of coverage for Libertarian candidates isn't just bad journalism. It makes for bad politics as well.


News stories are supposed to report new information. By that standard, the recent Washington Post article "McAuliffe, Cuccinelli Race Drips With Venom" failed. It reported in detail that which everyone already knew, while leaving out a key detail not many do.

The piece quoted Virginia political scientist Robert Holsworth: "What I hear just from ordinary folks is, 'This is a tough choice – I wish I had a third choice. Are we really going to have to choose between these two?'"

The article then moved on with its main theme: the "negative tone" of the fight between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli. It never pointed out that voters actually do have a third choice: Robert Sarvis, who is running for governor on the Libertarian ticket, will be on the ballot as well.

It's not just The Post. National Journal committed a similar sin two days later. "Pity the Virginiavoter," began a piece on the "historically unpleasant" contest. The article quoted an unnamed voter thoroughly disgusted with the Cuccinelli and McAuliffe: "Jesus, who the hell am I supposed to vote for?" It also quoted Leslie Campbell, a 53-year-old homemaker: "I wish I had more than two candidates," she said. "I wish there was a third choice."

The article doesn't mention Sarvis once.

This isn't just bad journalism. It makes for bad politics as well.

Last month Cuccinelli declined to participate in a debate sponsored by the Virginia branches of AARP and the League of Women Voters. He called it a "left-wing, stacked debate." The groups chided Cuccinelli for ducking out. According to League president Ann Sterling, "all voters in Virginia deserve a chance to see the candidates who want to be their governor debate."

So the two groups invited Sarvis to participate, right? Wrong.

Their rationale: They invite only candidates who are polling at least 15 percent. (Virginia Tech, which will host an October debate, sets the bar at 10 percent.) According to AARP, this ensures only "viable candidates" debate  in "cases where many" candidates are on the ballot.

Ignore the dubious notion that three equals "many." Never mind that in 2011 the Republican Party managed to hold presidential primary debates with as many as nine candidates at once. Instead, consider the Catch-22 this puts third-party candidates in: They are denied the public exposure they could receive in debates until they reach a level of popularity they can scarcely attain without first getting more public exposure. They don't get into debates or news stories because their poll numbers are low, and their poll numbers are low partly because they don't get into debates or news stories. (Incidentally, The Times-Dispatch has run several pieces about Sarvis, including a front-page Sunday profile.)

It's bad enough for the AARP to take such a position. For the League of Women Voters, it is inexcusable. The group considers voter education essential to its mission. Well, then: A debate between Sarvis and one or both of the other two candidates would be highly educational. Clearly, many Virginians not only know nothing about Sarvis – they do not even know of him. Yet given that he is on the ballot, shouldn't they?

At least the AARP and the League can cite an objective standard. Not so the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, which will host a gubernatorial debate Sept. 25. It has not invited Sarvis, either. Why not? "It's our tradition," says a Chamber spokeswoman, that these debates "include the two major party candidates." Isn't there some other reason – any other reason at all? "Nope, no other reason other than our tradition to provide a forum for the two major party candidates."

That won't do – not when many Virginians are so fed up with the other two candidates but haven't even heard about the third one.

The only other potential rationale for excluding a candidate who will appear on the ballot is that the Libertarian's ideas fall so far out of the mainstream they must be shunned. This is wrong for two reasons.

First, Sarvis' platform combines the social views of liberal Democrats with the economic views of conservative Republicans. That's it. No conspiracy theories, no birtherism or trutherism, no alternative history or racial bigotry. And on a host of issues – from gay rights and marijuana legalization to school choice and deregulation – the Libertarian Party often has been not on the fringe, but on the cutting edge – with the other two parties playing catch-up.

That is a contingent argument. Here is an unconditional one: Even if debate organizers think Sarvis' views fall beyond the pale, denying him a place on the stage denies the voters the opportunity to hear and consider those views. The organizers have every right to do that if they wish. But if they do, then they cannot claim to be merely neutral facilitators of the democratic process. They are, instead, activists trying to influence the outcome of the election for their own ideological reasons.

Now that's a stacked debate.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. Third party candidates can’t win because not enough people will vote for them, and not enough people will vote for third party candidates because they can’t win.

    1. I’m voting for Sarvis, even if he didn’t even rate his name in the alt-text.

    2. I would like to point out that “exposure/polling” inst the root of the catch 22. It is simple money. Money goes where it is effective and therefore little money goes to the LP. If 10 wealthy folks decided to form a pac and support Sarvis with airtime, print ads, and self funded polls. He would have a chance. I had a very successful financial analyst tell me we could easily win State level races and likely Gov., Senator, and House races. We just need to spend three to five times as much as the other guys.

      1. i.e. a 30-50 million dollar gubernatorial campaign, or a 3-5 million dollar State Senate campaign.

      2. If 10 wealthy folks decided to form a pac and support Sarvis with airtime, print ads, and self funded polls. He would have a chance.

        The whole point of campaign finance “reform” is to prevent that from happening.

      3. We just need to spend three to five times as much as the other guys.

        That’s all?

      4. The obvious choice is to target video advertisements on YouTube for everyone in the geographic region. Say a $10 (average) or $20 (to illustrate a point) CPM rate, geo-targetted.

        For every $1000 in ad-spend you get 50,000 video views at $20CPM.

        The idea that reaching an audience in 2013 is as hard as getting newspaper mentions or as expensive as television ads is simply dishonest.

        Would more money to the LP and individual candidates be a good thing? Sure. Does that mean that without a billion-dollar bankroll it’s impossible to break-out into the public sphere? Of course not.

    3. People who don’t like Democrats and Republicans tend not to vote, so most of the potential support for third party candidates stays home on election day.

      1. not to mention the many libertarians who don’t vote out of respect for the Non-Aggression Principle.

        The other parties are hindered by such pesky things as principles.

    4. And you can’t win because of some of your issues. Open borders and no drug restrictions are two that most Americans will not support.

      Wise up guys.

    5. my neighbor’s step-sister makes $64 an hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 10 months but last month her payment was $17489 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more

  2. Especially poignant in this race, because the R & D candidates are both so vile.

    1. It’s bad enough that friends who have sneered in the past when I’ve voted Libertarian are now asking me if a Libertarian is running.

      1. Sadly, I suspect they will be in the minority. The rest of the populace will hold their nose (if they’re even aware) and pull the lever for one of the TEAM members.

  3. Colorado has just won a lawsuit to get our candidate on a recall ballot (long story but the CO Const. conflicted with an SoS and statutory deadline). We MAY have a real chance IF the recall is successful. It is a two questiosn ballot : Shall X be crecalled? Who will replace X?
    If the first succeeds then the second is counted. The only guy on right now is a total douche.

    1. I see it as an opportunity to encourage the others.

    2. Recall all politicians and don’t replace them.

  4. Yes we know, it sucks, but I can’t see a solution.

  5. This is why Libertarians should promote a “party first” mentality, just like the Red and Blue. Republicans and Democrats both have very recognizable brands, even if the candidates don’t always match up to the traditional platforms, so when someone goes into the booth they pick the party they like, barring any actual informed decision-making. Libertarians need to advertise what the Libertarian party stands for, all the time, everywhere. In off-years. Locally, at the state level, and nationally.

    1. The LP is in all ways a total waste. The statists could not have conceived a better device for their enemies to ineffectually pour resources into.

    2. Everyone already knows what the LP brand stands for — getting 2 percent of the vote, and drugs. They want a serious third party alternative.

      1. Just saying how it is. I am in the 2 percent, and think the LP platform is great.

      2. If that’s what the public’s perception is, than the LP has an image problem. It’s NOT about drugs, that’s just a corollary of reducing government intrusion. You might as well say that Democrats are all about enabling personal sloth, or that Republicans only care about establishing a theocracy.

        Reading the article, I came away thinking that the newspapers are deliberately suppressing knowledge of a third party candidate. They have a vested interest in preserving the political status quo, and we all know that, in practice, there is little difference between modern R’s and D’s.

        1. Media conglomerates reap millions of dollars in political advertising both parties spend in an effort to persuade only 1% of the electorate to favor one candidate over the other. Would you jeopardize this regular and frequent income with the inclusion of a third party?

    3. Unfortunately most people will not support what your party stands for.

      I believe in a lot of the things you guys say you stand for, but your stance on open borders and drug policy is a big turn off to me and a lot of my friends.

  6. I think the solution is to bypass the conventional media as much as possible and use the internet. Web sites like this one and blogs will eventually crowd out newspapers and the mainstream networks. As more and more people get tired of the same old shell game sooner or later they will wake up.

    1. Lots of people woke up in 2012. Ron Paul finished fourth in the primaries.

      1. If by fourth, you mean 2nd:

        Romney 2061
        Paul 185
        Santorum 9

        ^^^Convention floor vote.

        1. He finished 4th in the popular vote. Yes, I know that’s not how the nomination is directly decided but Santorum and Gingrich would have had more delegates had they stayed in the race and if their followers were not TEAM players

  7. Why vote Libertarian? Ken Cuccinelli is right there. The TEA Party and libertarians are the same thing, right?

  8. This is why there are no Libertarians?

    1. I don’t know any, for all I know, the commentariat is all a bunch of highly advanced forum bots.

      1. For a while, in the office I worked at there were 6 people. 3 of us were libertarian.

        1. I have 27 screen names, and all of them are libertarian. Except for a few anarchists.

  9. The reality is that third party candidates can’t win in partisan races. Yes, LP candidates can (and do) win, but only in non-partisan city and county races. The reality is that “true” libertarians will never be more than 5% of the population within the foreseeable future.

    The only viable strategy open to us is to infiltrate the two major parties. The party bases will never vote for anarchism, but you do have a tiny chance to get them interested in shrinking the size and scope of government. Instead of burning them at the stake for their impurities, we should be embracing the Rand Pauls and Thomas Masseys of the parties.

    We will never get ourselves an anarchist/minarchist society. That’s just fantasy. Hence the word “libertopia”. Instead of making libertopia a goal, we should make it a direction. We will never reach it, but we can always be moving a bit closer towards it.

    1. This is a pragmatic view, but I don’t know if it is shared by enough other libertarians (who are generally anti-team anything).

      One thought though. For this to work, libertarians must find a way to reach out to the left more often. Their association with the Tea Party (or at least those who’ve highjacked the TP) alienates a very large portion of the center, and center left, who would be otherwise open to libertarian ideals. The libertarian party needs to be seen as a true third way, and not just an offshoot of the republican party.

      1. For this to work, libertarians must find a way to reach out to the left more often.

        Tried that.

        The libertarian party needs to be seen as a true third way, and not just an offshoot of the republican party.

        No, the LP needs to die and libertarians should focus on taking over whatever party is vulnerable at the moment. Right now that’s the GOP and that strategy is paying off.

        1. I’m sure that’s the sentiment of most “republicans who now call themselves libertarians since W/Delay/et al.” ruined the brand.

          The problem is, it only works until the Republicans regain the presidency and congress and they inevitably show their authoritarian horns again. See 2001-2006 for reference.

          1. Then you drop the Republican pretense and attack them as Democrats. Political parties exist to be used.

            1. Libertarian is already becoming a bad word to leftists. Soon, the masses who consume thier propaganda will follow suit.
              How easy will it be for any libertarian to affix a “D” after his/her name in two years? If that happens, and libertarians are truly just an arm of team red, then they’ll also be associated with all of the horrible shit that team is doing when in power. I’d rather see beach heads in both parties, with each side affecting policy in thier own way. Safer bet and better for the long game.

              1. One problem with that is that is the Republican credo, at least in theory although not in practice, is a belief in smaller government. For Democrats, bigger government is always better, and there is no practical upper limit to how big it should get.

                I do agree that, on the civil liberties side of things, there is much more common ground with Democrats than with most Republicans. But then when you look at property rights, you find more abuse of eminent domain on the D side.

                The point is that there is always a trade-off, and often a fatal compromise of principles. Also, at least in Congress, it is typical for the leaders to dictate how the rank and file should vote, with the threat of withholding party campaign funds or encouraging primary challenges for those who do not toe the line. I’m not sure that it is a wise course for libertarians to “hide out” in either of the major parties.

        2. This actually makes sense. A third party will never be successful.

      2. There’s no way to reach out to the left. Libertarian principles are abhorrent to the left. The left wants control, control, control. They despise liberty. They feel that no one should be allowed to do anything without first asking permission, and once they have permission there should be someone from the state there to issue orders. The whole idea of people being free to do what they wish as long as they don’t harm the life, liberty or property of others is offensive to the left. They consider that to be chaos. Anarchy. Mayhem. No, there must be order. And by order that means Top. Men. issuing orders, with everyone else submitting and obeying.

        1. I hear that “Teh Left” likes to rape teh horses and ride off on teh women too.


          1. I see. So the left supports reducing professional licensing requirements? Oh. Nope. Sorry. What about getting rid of regulatory agencies? No. Wrong again. Hmmm. I see a pattern here. The left opposes economic liberty, am I right? How can you have any liberty if all voluntary exchanges between consenting parties must require government approval? You can’t.

            How’s that for derp?


            1. That’s a bit better. But from my perspective the problem isn’t left/right. It’s those who seek to use power to restrict any liberty. And I’ll be damned if both parties don’t do this equally. The only difference is that the left PRETENDS to love personal liberty while seeking to restrict economic liberty, while the right does the opposite. Anyone who argues differently hasn’t been paying attention.

              1. The right at least pretends to support economic liberty, which is why libertarians try to infiltrate the Republican part.

                Democrats are openly hostile to the concept, which is why there is no point in reaching out to them.

                “Political tags ? such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth ? are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

                ? Robert A. Heinlein

                The latter would describe libertarians, while the Rs and Ds are the former, arguing over what will be controlled and how.

                1. The latter would describe libertarians, while the Rs and Ds are the former, arguing over what will be controlled and how.

                  Yep. The only difference between parties is managerial philosophy.

              2. This. Absolutely.

                I once heard where Judge Napolitano nailed it when he pointed out the left will give you some personal freedom in exchange for taking away your economic freedom, while the right will grant you some economic freedom in exchange for taking away your personal freedom – so between the two of them, there is not one freedom they won’t take from you.

        2. What he said. There is no common ground between Libertarians and the left.

    2. THIS. Brandybuck is 100% right too bad most libertarians are too wrapped up in their own sense of TRUE SCOTSMEN to follow through.

      1. Or, you know, not interested in selling out and becoming the very thing we hate that was the problem to begin with.

        Tomato tomahto.

        1. ^Case in point^

          1. “It’ll be different when I’m holding the whip because I’m a TOP MAN!”

          2. I would hardly say that three or four members of congress is really “taking over” anything.

            1. it’s a start.

        2. Success can only lead to despair and betrayal. Best not to risk it.

    3. Stop chipping away at the problem. People don’t get excited about little changes. Keep telling people what you want: a free society, unfettered by the widespread theft and abuse endemic to forcible government.

      If you want to cut their favorite program and cut spending 5 percent, everyone who loves that program complains, and no one rallies for the 5 percent spending cut. Cut spending by 80 percent and get rid of the income tax completely, and lots of people will get excited.

      1. 80% is even less obtainable than 5%.

      2. I’m pretty sure an 80% cut will eliminate a lot of people’s favorite programs.

    4. The reality is that third party candidates can’t win in partisan races.

      NH has elected candidates running as an L from time to time to their state house.

      Not many, and the free state project is doing better inside the Rs and Ds, but the Ls have, in fact, won in partisan races.

    5. If infiltration of the two major parties constitutes the “only viable strategy,” then we are screwed: there is no viable strategy. This strategy has been recommended, and to a greater or lesser extent attempted, since I started paying serious attention to libertarian politics in 1980, always resulting in resounding failure to push national or state policy even an inch in the direction of libertopia. The best we ever seem to do by going this route is to get the majors (usually GOP, to my disappointment) to dress up their rhetoric with nice-sounding words and phrases from the libertarian style book. All is forgotten once the victorious candidates assume office, and we move ever further away from the libertopian ideal. In the meantime, activists who feel themselves ill used and burned out either leave politics altogether or go the independent or LP route, licking their wounds all the while.

      1. If “true libertarians” are ever only going to be about 5% of the population, then that 5% will likely never swing a worthwhile election in their own right. If an independent or third-party candidate can NEVER win in such elections, then the best that “true libertarians” can hope for is to carry water for one of the major party candidates. But supporting candidates who do not sincerely embrace and act upon libertarian beliefs is counterproductive, and such candidates come along only once in a great while: Even if they attain office, they are often hamstrung by the established institutions, especially the party machines that elect them. So why should the 5% invest their blood, sweat, and tears into campaigns that involve such overwhelmingly lackluster rates of political ROI? I don’t want to be on “the winning side” if all that buys me is bragging rights. I want the candidate I support to win so that he or she can make a real difference, to move us even an inch toward that idealistic, libertopian target.

      2. After having watched libertarian politics for over 30 years, I am confirmed in my belief that we need a strong third party that can at least win local and regional non-partisan office reliably, while presenting credible candidates in partisan offices, who can deny the “presumptive victor” in “safe districts” the victory to which their major party sponsorship “entitles” them, and who can swing an election one way or another with even a small percentage of the vote. Politicians only respect and understand electoral victory or defeat: all else is irrelevant or negotiable. Over and over, almost without exception, the party machines corrupt, distract, divert, chew up, and spit out those who seek “reform from within.” The 5% of true libertarians out there can be most effective by, if they cannot win office themselves, at least denying victory to major party candidates and forcing them to make and be held accountable for promises to move policy in a libertarian direction, so as to honestly earn the support of libertarian-leaning voters. If there is nobody to beat the parties with a stick, they’ll just keep rolling over all of us.

  10. I’m voting for Sarvis.

    I’ve already been pointing out his existence to my Democrat friends who are disgruntled about McAuliffe. They don’t *have* to vote for the crook if they don’t want to.

    The LP has never had much of a Virginia presence that I recall, and I think a big part of the reason is that so much of the state’s population works for the government, either directly or indirectly. There’s really no other major industry in the state, besides the fading tobacco business.

  11. Everytime I bring up voting for a third-party (mostly libertarian) candidate, I am told this by Repubs “A vote for [third-party candidate] is a vote for [Democrat candidate].” fucking disgusts me. I hate your Republican candidate. I also hate the Democratic candidate. So, I’m not voting for either one, shitbag!

    1. Your repub contacts apparently don’t understand how numbers work. Kinda like Tulpa.

  12. “Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.”


    Virginians have to choose between a habitual shyster and a man who cares way too much about what other people put in their own butts. How can you not like your choices?

  13. Good article.

  14. Giant Douche or Turd Sandwich?

    Turd Sandwich or Giant Douche?

    That’s a tough one.

  15. I bought into the possibility of a third party having no chance in a major election until Jesse Ventura won the governor race in MN — this was in spite of the unbelievable misinformation and minimal coverage of the local press pre-election.

    As an aside, Jesse was interviewed by the local Libertarian Party and couldn’t pass their purity test, fucking up (as usual) their chance to be a political player.

    1. It seems to pass a Libertarian purity test one must have no muscle tone and some sort of skin disease.

      1. From what I’ve read from Ventura, I would put him in the libertarian camp.

        I have a problem with ideological purity, in any case. So you always have to hold out for a candidate who is 100% down the line in agreement with you personally? Ever hear of the 80/20 rule, folks?

        The main thrust I want in a candidate is to be serious about protecting constitutional rights and shrinking government, even when doing those things starts to piss off the people in power.

  16. “…Sarvis’ platform combines *the social views of liberal Democrats* with the economic views of conservative Republicans.” [emphasis added]

    So, Sarvis wants to force employers, including Catholic employers and religious institutions, to but birth control, abortifacients and sterilization for their employees? He wants to force florists to provide flowers for same-sex weddings? He wants to “reform” marijuana laws by arbitrarily under-prosecuting a select random number of drug defendants and putting them into compulsory “treatment”? He wants to provide tax money to abortionists?

    1. Oh, and guess which major-party candidate praises Washington and Colorado’s MJ-legalization experiment as “federalism in action”?

      (Hint: not the “socially liberal” Democrat)…..powerful-t

      1. the quote should be a paraphrase

  17. The press tries really hard never to mention any candidate unless such candidate is a certified Statist.

  18. Following this race has been pretty awful. It’s pretty much Terry’s to lose at this point, but his general terribleness makes it very possible. Basically he needs to keep up the “war on women” scare tactics and he should eek by.

    Sarvis will probably only harm Cuccinelli.

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  20. Just like the presidential elections when Gary Johnson got shut out of the debates for the primaries. A successful businessman and successful 2 term governor. Better resume and accomplishments than anyone allowed into those debates.
    Anyway he got my vote last election and another republican like Bush/Romney/McCain and I’ll be with Johnson on the Libertarian ticket again.

  21. mancrush on Hinkle…just sayin

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  23. The paradigm of putting all our liberty in the basket of “representative” government needs change. The Libertarian Party wasn’t gonna win the 2012 presidential election anymore than Romney was. The point is that relying on electing libertarians to make any difference is a pipe dream.
    As I open myself up for a cascade of shit, the answer (in my opinion) is amending the legislative process to allow for direct citizen law-making. On many issues libertarians support a majority of citizens would support if put to them. Establishing a system of direct legislation puts power back into the hands of citizens and state representatives that now are effectively under the complete control of bureaucrats and statists.

  24. Libertarians Greens and all other varieties of 3rd party need to unite with ONE voice and talk about NOTHING else for a while.

    We need something like approval voting to break the 2 party strangle hold. Google it and spread the word.

  25. We need something like approval voting to break the 2 party strangle hold. Google it and spread the word.

    Too late now.

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