Election 2014

From Election 'Spoilers' to Weaponized Libertarians

Major-party candidates love blaming libertarians for the consequences of their own failings.


Robert Sarvis
Robert Sarvis

At his post election press conference the day after their electoral sweep, President Obama announced that "Republicans had a good night." On FOX's The Five, token Democrat Bob Beckel admitted "We got our asses kicked."

And yet, with all that success, Republicans spent a good part of November 5th complaining about Libertarian spoilers.

Starting Wednesday at 7:30 am at the monthly Leadership Institute (LI) conservative breakfast (technically in Arlington, Virginia, a few zip codes outside of D.C., but still inside the Beltway) the caterwauling began. Held the first Wednesday of each month, LI has had a somewhat libertarian-leaning tinged breakfast series this year, with Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and the executive director of the campus free speech group F.I.R.E. (Glenn Greenwald hasn't appeared yet.) Perhaps the staff of the Leadership Institute did have a crystal ball, as they had scheduled fabled dark wizard of the right, Grover Norquist, to be their post election day speaker.

The breakfast regulars include mainly Virginia tea party, GOP, and Ron Paul folk—many there had gnashed their teeth just a year ago at the obvious (in their minds) Democrat-funded plant, Robert Sarvis (pictured), whose Libertarian gubernatorial campaign in 2013 had, they thought, denied Ken Cuccinelli the governorship. And here they were a year later, burning over Robert Sarvis running for Senate and getting 2.5 percent of the vote, much less than his 6 percent in the 2012 gubernatorial race, but much more than the slim difference this year between Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie.

One audience member put a question to Mr. Norquist—a Capitol Hill resident who did, however, endorse Virginia Libertarian Congressional candidate Jeffrey Carson, because he was "running in a race the GOP couldn't win"—about how to deal with Libertarian spoilers. Norquist—whose mission at Americans for Tax Reform is to assemble a tax limiting, budget cutting, "leave us alone" coalition that keeps social conservatives, libertarian independents, Republicans, and anyone else he can lasso, working together—answered by proposing some type of negotiations over an anti-compete contract: the GOP in each state should agree with the Libertarian Party about letting them run in some one or two races without a Republican challenger, if they will then promise not to run in any others. He claimed this had worked once in a Nevada.

Fortunately no one from the Antitrust Division was at the breakfast, so Norquist may not be prosecuted for punitive damages, and Americans for Tax Reform may not be forced to split into several competing organizations. But his suggestion won't work in most states, and certainly not in Virginia. Virginia ballot access law condemns Libertarians, and other new parties, to spend tens of thousands of dollars in every election, and thousands of volunteer hours, collecting signatures just to get each candidate on the ballot until they have a statewide contender who gets 10 percent of the vote. Republicans (and Democrats) created that law, not Libertarians. Only Republicans and Democrats in state legislatures can change it.

Next I attended a pre-lunch meeting of major conservative and Republican activists. The question of Libertarian spoilers rose again (even without Ann Coulter in attendance), with the crowd angry that Libertarians dared to threaten their sweep in North Carolina, Virginia, and other states. Two voices slightly calmed them with some information. Northern Virginia GOP activist James Parmelee said he had actually examined Sarvis ballots back in 2013, to see whom Sarvis voters supported for Attorney General, and they split equally for the Democrat and the Republican. Journalist John Fund, co-author of Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, also weighed in, saying he'd studied the issue at length and Libertarians draw equally from Democrats, Republicans, and people who otherwise would not vote, unless the Republicans run "a real turkey." (In his view Libertarians are the scavengers of the tea party electorate.) Norquist concurred, saying whenever a Republican supports a new tax this taints the whole GOP and turns voters away, who then conclude there is no difference between the two older parties.

In fact, Rand Paul may have actually been a spoiler for Libertarian candidates, as he campaigned actively in almost every state for GOP contenders, second in ubiquity only to Chris Christie, the head of the Republican Governors' Association. Rand Paul's stock in trade is to announce that real libertarians support the GOP candidate he campaigns for, not the Libertarian candidate—even in states like North Carolina where the Republican nominee Thom Tillis was not his pick in the primary. Paul is trying to assemble an army for 2016, and so the enemy of his enemy is his friend. Tellingly, Libertarian candidates' performance in 2014 wasn't as good as it had been in 2012 and 2013.

But Rand Paul may need to educate his new troops if he wants libertarian-leaning voters to vote for them more than once after this cleaning of Obama's clock. Libertarians have already started identifying wets and statists among the newly elected Republicans. A case in point, Libertarian Party national HQ political director Carla Howell (a former Massachusetts LP candidate), pointed out to me that newly elected Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker (who presents himself as a libertarianish, fiscally conservative/socially liberal William Weld protege) supported Romneycare (because it provided government subsidies to the health care company where he was an executive) and opposed a popular tax cutting initiative she shepherded onto the ballot.

The major parties are moving beyond their decades old strategies of keeping Libertarians out of debates and attempting to keep them off the ballot. This year saw the rise of a new strategy, weaponized Libertarianism, whereby Democrats and Republicans promote the Libertarian to voters otherwise likely to vote for their major party rival, with Democrats paying for mailers in an Arizona Congressional race, and Republicans paying for TV spots in the Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign and the North Carolina senatorial race. Libertarians have been underfunded for years, spending far less dollars-per-vote than the well-funded major parties. While Democrats and Republicans pass the point of diminishing marginal returns, shoveling cash into ads, mailings and signs even as voters are fatigued or resentful of having to see their candidates constantly on TV and radio and in their mailbox, Libertarians frequently find in the days after an election some voters didn't even know that they were on the ballot. The rise of the outsider funded "weaponized" Libertarians may finally begin to change that.

And Libertarian "spoilers" may be here to stay.

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  1. ” This year saw the rise of a new strategy, weaponized Libertarianism, whereby Democrats and Republicans promote the Libertarian to voters otherwise likely to vote for their major party rival,”

    “Weaponized” Libertarianism?. Frankly “weaponized” is a loaded term and I’m unconvinced the process as described should be labeled as such. I agree that the two big parties are likely to get upset about the other side doing it, but as long as there’s no actual deceit I don’t see the harm.

    1. I think the “if you’re going to vote, vote for that loser” strategy is ingenious

    2. I neglected to add the Illinois Democrats donating money to the Libertarian gubernatorial campaign. And weaponized is a perfect term. Major parties are using the Libertarian in the race as a weapon.

      1. Roy Cohen gave a suitcase full of cash to a Democratic splinter party called the “Liberty Party” to use in the 1980 Presidential election. They ended up pulling the margin of victory for Reagan in New York that year.

        It is an old tactic. And it only works if your opponent has done something to piss off their supporters.

        1. Well, both parties did it in four different states at least in 2014. It seems to be on the upswing.

      2. That weapon is easy to defeat: Republicans can come around to libertarian positions.

    3. Obviously these dangerous military-style assault libertarians must be strictly regulated by the government.

  2. I’m getting an ad for “Farming Simulator 15”. That suggests there were 14 before it.

    1. I’ve heard that Europeans, particularly the Germans, really love them some farming simulators.

  3. You can weaponize anything


  4. So we become the proxy for the other teams. We’re going from being the Jews of the electorate-blamed for everything-to being the Kurds of the electorate.

    1. Exactly. It’s part of the dialectic of late stage disaster statism.

  5. If weaponized libertarians are anything like the other weapons favored by the majority Teams, they’ll be supplying us to Middle Eastern insurgents now and then act super surprised when the insurgents turn around and use us against the US in ten years.

    1. Aren’t libertarians essentially a sleeper cell?

    2. I thought the definition of a weaponized libertarian was Warty. I mean, if the DOOMCOCK doesn’t qualify as “weaponized”, what does?

      1. Don’t forget COINTELSUGARFREEPRO.


    3. If you are going to weaponize something, don’t you have to come up with a delivery mechanism that keeps the dangerous stuff stable until you can release it on your enemy?

      How in the hell are you going to contain critical libertarian mass without it exploding prematurely?

      FFS, just trying to pay them would result in the secret libertarian cabal to explode as they immediately start arguing about whether it should be in cash, bit coins or whatever.

    4. Probably won’t happen, but you know there are American and other libertarians who set up conferences and cells of college students in Asia, Latin america, and Africa. So a nationalist – or even Islamist? – anti-American but libertarian influenced insurgency could happen.

  6. And yet, with all that success, Republicans spent a good part of November 5th complaining about Libertarian spoilers.

    ReallY? The only place I have read about that is on Reason. Who outside of a couple of angry Gillespie staffers are saying this?

    1. You don’t live in DC, and I spent most of the day at conservative GOP meetings where it was a major topic. If you had turned on FOX News or even MSNBC the days before the election you would have heard it discussed too.

      1. For one Senate race that everyone thought warner was going to win anyway. BFD

        1. No people also fretted about Sean Haugh in North Carolina and other races as well.

    2. Michael Medved was in full on pants wetting mode over the early returns in North Carolina. In the same breath, he condemned Libertarian voters as Stupid Losertarians then declared that they need to come inside the GOP tent and do their duty to vote Republican.

      Dipshit Medved fails to realize is that many Libertarians were Republicans until the Socons Culture Warriors and Neocon Warboner Tribe told the small government types to sit down and shut up.

  7. Bruce got less votes than the Greens in DC.

    1. But we ran 9 candidates and some of them got 10 times my vote total. Sadly I was in a 6 way race, and the late entrants were two former Republicans turned independents, both nice as people, one another gay man, the other a diva who in impolite circles might be called a fag hag. I became just the other gay white meat.

      1. Uh, what???

        This is unusually, um, frank. (See what I did there?)

  8. Slightly OT Democrats have thrown in the towel in LA.

    No more money to be spent on election ads for the runoff.

    They say the still support here ( lol ) but not enough to keep wasting money on her campaign ads.

    1. News to me. Good news. Very good news.

      If I had a nickel for every time people here told me we would never be rid of Mary I could have funded Maness’ campaign. Although, with that much money I could have just outright bought the seat for him Koch-style.

      Now I get to run around to everyone I know and say ‘I told ya so!’.

      I have a big smile.

  9. I wonder why the Republican party doesn’t approach Sarvis and ask him to run as a Republican. He supposedly left the Republican party because they didn’t support his platform on personal liberty, but if they got him nominated somewhere he would likely win. Surely there is a congressional district in Virginia that they could swing.

  10. I thought this was going to be an article about guns. Fuckers.

  11. if you say your campaign name in Spanglish, it’s absolutely perfect. But where do you stand on Israel?

    1. Amazingly I got a few calls the week before Election Day from single issue voters who got my mobile number from the voter guide and wanted to know what I thought about abortion, marriage equality and Israel. I did not know mayoral candidates usually had positions on Israel.

  12. I’m not sure if the antitrust jab wasn’t just tongue-in-cheek, but the Sherman Act requires a restraint of “trade,” and hasn’t been applied in the political realm (even with state-sanctioned monopolies being the scourge that they are). So I think it is highly unlikely that political parties could be liable for colluding, etc.

    And the comment about the Mass. Governor isn’t entirely conclusive. Sure, if a businessman accepts a subsidy and supports the subsidy politically, he isn’t being “principled,” but he’s looking out for his self-interest. Just because he’s wiling to maximize his profit in the private sector doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to minimize the government’s ability to provide such benefits in the first place. If a business owner doesn’t take advantage of government subsidies, and all his competitors do, he could soon find himself out of business for “sticking to his principles.”

    1. The former was indeed a joke. The latter is mainly the opinion of my friend Carla Howell, though it is easy to google his opposition to her tax repeal initiative.

  13. my friend’s sister-in-law makes $82 /hr on the laptop . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her paycheck was $15787 just working on the laptop for a few hours. hop over to this website….

    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

  14. I consider big “L” Libertarians to be no more rational or logical in regards to how the real world works than Liberals and Mad Dog Conservatives are. I’m what I guess you could call a “constitutionalist” (which makes sense if you understand I’m a retired military guy who spent most of his adult life making an oath to protect it). You can’t fully believe in the Constitution without pissing off Republicans, Democrats, AND Libertarians–pretty much equally.

    I can understand that Libertarians running probably siphon of votes distributed as close as equal as practical to negate their supposed role as “spoilers”.

    Why? Because it is true that as intersecting sets, Libertarians probably have more in common with Republicans than Democrats. This is especially true if the Republican in question is a traditional Republican and could be completely the opposite if the Democrat is similar to many Southern Democrats (minus the fixation with religion).

    The irony is that if Republicans truly respected the Constitution they would be almost indistinguishable from Libertarians. Democrats not so much so.

    1. I think rather than violating the First Amendment rights of, and engaging in character assassination of, Libertarians, liberty movement Republicans should attend to their own work, or raise funds for Libertarians running in Democrat dominated states and cities like DC or Hawaii, and weaponize Libertarian campaigns with ads pointing out that they are the anti war or pro pot etc. candidate.

  15. Republicans claim they support smaller government, democrats claim they support civil liberties both have sold out those positions long ago. Maybe someday voters from both parties will realize they have been sold out on these issues.

  16. The solution to being labeled a spoiler, vote splitting, and the shenanigans that are being outlined in this article is a simple concept called Approval Voting.
    Approval Voting allows each voter to express themselves honestly and sincerely at the polls by voting for all the candidates they like. The candidate with the broadest popular support, i.e. marked on the most ballots, is the candidate that is elected. What could be simpler than this?
    Approval Voting is also a way to end small factions from getting elected and instead electing the candidates with the broadest popular support?
    Blake Huber
    Approval Voting Party candidate for Colorado Secretary of State

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