The GOP's Third Party Option
The Libertarian Party is an anti-Trump party.
So revolting do many Republicans find the prospect of having Donald Trump as their nominee that three in 10 say they would not vote for him in November, some are now speaking openly about leaving the GOP for a third party. An exodus like that could wreck the GOP. But it might be wrecked already. And at least those leaving could look themselves in the mirror—rather than looking like, say, a horrified Chris Christie, who appeared behind Trump on Super Tuesday resembling Oedipus at the moment he realized what he had done.
But what sort of party would appeal to the GOP's anti-Trump forces? The answer seems obvious: a party that embodies the opposite of Trump.
On the issues, that would mean:
- A party that does not merely welcome immigration, but celebrates it.
- A party that treats individuals as individuals, not as indistinguishable sub-units of larger racial, ethnic, or other cohorts (Jews, Muslims, "The Mexicans," etc.).
- A party that is therefore not "fine" with either bigotry or affirmative action, as Trump is.
- A party that, unlike Trump, consistently supports the First Amendment.
- And the Second.
- A party that would never endorse a record-shattering $5.7 trillion-with-a-T tax hike—which Trump not only endorsed, but proposed.
- A party that, unlike Trump, doesn't think it's a good idea to go around killing the family members of suspected terrorists. Or torturing people, either.
- A party that believes in free trade, not 45 percent tariffs on countries that supply goods American consumers want.
- A party that steadfastly opposes forcing people to buy things they don't want, such as health insurance.
- A party that finds eminent-domain abhorrent, not a "wonderful" club to bash little old ladies with.
- A party that, unlike Trump, supports equal rights for the LGBT community.
- A party that, unlike Trump, opposed government bailouts for the auto companies.
- And Wall Street.
- And handouts to nonprofit groups such as Planned Parenthood, too.
It would take a lot of work to launch a third party like that, especially in time for the November election. Fortunately for disaffected Republicans, they don't have to. There already is one: the Libertarian Party.
Granted, libertarians and conservatives disagree as often as they agree. Unlike the GOP, which takes a uniformly interventionist position on foreign policy, the Libertarian Party is decidedly non-interventionist. (But not isolationist—which implies pulling up a drawbridge and severing even peaceful ties with other countries.) The Libertarian Party also prefers to treat terrorist attacks as matters for law enforcement rather than military intervention.
Libertarians are highly skeptical of domestic law enforcement as well—unlike conservatives, who tend to side with the police in debates over unreasonable searches, excessive force, and so on. They're strong defenders of privacy, hence hostile to domestic surveillance and enthusiastic about innovations, such as Bitcoin and encryption, that make government tracking harder.
And libertarians generally think that since you own yourself, you can do whatever you want with your body. That includes prostitution, drug use, and sex acts that are, shall we say, non-Euclidean. Not too many of the GOP's family-values crowd will find much appeal in that. (On abortion, the party says people can have good-faith views on all sides but government should butt out.)
In one realm—economics—libertarians and Republicans both agree and disagree. The former are fiercely laissez-faire, to the point of opposing even minimum-wage laws: If Smith is willing to take a job at two bucks an hour, they say, why should anybody else try to stop him? But unlike a lot of pro-business Republicans, libertarians fiercely oppose any kind of corporate welfare—and some find right-to-work laws, which are an article of Republican faith, an affront to free-market economics because they infringe on the liberty of contract.
On the other hand, you won't find any more fervent supporters of free enterprise and entrepreneurship than within libertarian ranks. As a group, libertarians are less religious than the public as a whole: 39 percent of them profess no faith, compared to 15 percent of the general public. But if the libertarian movement had a patron saint, it might be the small businessman or woman starting a new company—perhaps a marijuana dispensary—against the headwinds of government red tape.
The Libertarian Party's 2012 nominee and a 2016 candidate, Gary Johnson—who was twice elected governor of New Mexico as a Republican before he, too, jumped ship—was in Richmond over the weekend. Asked about the fit between the GOP and the LP, he said Donald Trump "is no small-government conservative. As that reality sets in, more and more Republicans should, and hopefully will, take a serious look at the Libertarian candidate in November. In New Mexico, I proved to a frankly skeptical Republican 'establishment' that governing with libertarian principles not only works, but appeals to a broad swath of the electorate. At CPAC—the Conservative Political Action Conference held last week—"I was definitely received more enthusiastically and more warmly than in years past. I don't think it was a coincidence that, this year, CPAC invited a Libertarian candidate to speak on the main stage."
Thanks to its views on sex and drugs, the libertarian movement has a reputation as rather hippy-dippy. The enthusiasm among some libertarians for Ayn Rand, or Austrian economics, or abstruse philosophical hair-splitting reinforces the oddball impression. And in the U.S., third parties inhabit the fringe almost by definition. So, understandably, many Republicans might think libertarians are kind of weird.
Then again, of those two parties only one of them is about to nominate Donald Trump.
This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times Dispatch.