Libertarian Party

Can Libertarian Party Presidential Candidates Overcome Media Indifference?

Watch the second half of the Stossel debate between Gary Johnson, Austin Petersen and John McAfee


What if they held a Libertarian Party presidential debate and nobody came? That's the question asked by Karl Dickey at "Yesterday, April 9, 2016, the Libertarian Party of Florida (LPF) held a presidential debate in West Palm Beach, Florida during their 2016 state convention, yet not one mainstream media person was present—local or national." This despite historic levels of voter antipathy toward the last remaining major-party candidates in the race, and a widely acknowledged opening for any third party to punch above its weight in 2016.

Leading LP candidates Gary Johnson, Austin Petersen and John McAfee held the second half of their nationally televised debate on Friday, which you can watch below (see the first half here):

The candidates have been replicating that Fox Business Network exchange (often with additional challengers) as they barnstorm through various state LP conventions in Florida, Texas and elsewhere, trying to rally support in advance of the national convention at the end of May. With the Democratic and Republican races still showing surprising competitiveness and producing crazy headlines in historically irrelevant states such as New York and California, it seems likely that the vast majority of media oxygen will be devote there, leaving the LP contest of interest mostly to familiarsounding weirdos.

Which is a shame. As former GOP state-assembly candidate Susan Shelley pointed out in the L.A. Daily News, "It's high time to let the Libertarian presidential candidate debate." America is not nearly as interventionist (across all policy areas) as the five remaining major-party hopefuls are. (Don't forget that Ted Cruz, who is at least semi-fluent in the language of libertarianism, has also dropped the philosophy like a flaming bag of poo when it comes to sentencing reform, mass surveillance, mass deportation, war, and other non-trivial matters.)

The one candidate breaking through the media fog so far (despite the, uh, extremely colorful aspects of John McAfee's biography), is last cycle's nominee, Gary Johnson. As GarJo put it succinctly in an interview with New Jersey's Daily Record, "I'm the guy with the resume." Johnson is hitting the media circuit reasonably hard, and is being treated as all but the presumptive nominee by the likes of The New York Times.

But is that premature? I can't speak for the calculations of LP state delegations, who will, after all, be making the final decision here. But it seems to me that the same familiarity giving Johnson front-runner status may also be heightening his own negatives among the Libertarian faithful. Ten years ago if you had asked the median capital-L or small-l libertarian to name a fantasy presidential candidate I reckon (from my memory of Hit & Run commenters, and various conversations) that the winner of that open-ended question would have been Gary Johnson—he was a successful two-term executive who was the first major politician in America to favor the legalization of pot. But by now we know this guy, are familiar with both his inconsistently energetic/eloquent public debating skills and with his emphasis on cost/benefit analysis rather than bedrock philosophy. Those who seek someone who knows the Right Libertarian Answer to most of the questions may gravitate toward Austin Petersen; those who appreciate a little charismatic kink to go with their philosophy will be intrigued by McAfee. Anarchists, meanwhile, are likely to choose someone different altogether.

In short, it will be an excellent debate to cover, one that illustrates the variety of a maturing if still endearingly non-mainstream political party, and the broader and growing libertarian movement around it. Here's hoping more media show interest in the biggest third party in America. 

After the jump, Reason TV's most recent interview with Gary Johnson, from last summer:

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  1. media indifference?

    i think even libertarians are indifferent.

    This election is all about who to vote “Against”. there’s no case for a symbolic vote for a 3rd party which will appeal to any wide range of people. everyone’s too caught up fascinated with the monsters on TEAM OTHER.

    1. If it helps, I’m not Libertarian (registered as independent) but I’ll almost certainly be voting for the eventual Libertarian candidate in November.

      1. Not sure why you think that helps.

    2. If Gary Johnson keeps polling in double digits against Trump-Clinton, the media, and everyone else, will start paying attention.

    3. Millions of people will be glad to vote “Against” Donald Trump AND “Against” Hillary Clinton.
      Gary Johnson was at 11 percent in the first poll to include him, and only 9 percent knew who he was.

  2. Any libertarian candidate following the rules of a presidential debate he’s entered has shredded his libertarian bona fides in my book.

  3. Oh for crying out loud. Who cares?

  4. No. Next question.

    With the primaries headed the way they are, I find it a little odd/interesting that the third parties are getting zero coverage nationally.

    1. It is much more fun to write fake news stories about Donald Trump.

    2. The coverage is starting. The New York Times has had 2 stories on Gary Johnson already.

  5. Can Libertarian Party Presidential Candidates Overcome Media Indifference?
    For starters, they could hold a debate that doesn’t have the feel of a public access TV channel — sorry Stossel, love ya and all, but your 7 studio audience members didn’t give the movement the gravitas it needs to be taken seriously. And FFS, in my cable guide it merely showed up as “Stossel”, with no mention of a debate…

    1. Just be happy Stoss didn’t have the Obama impersonator or his giant novelty scissors there.


    2. What would make a big difference even in these debates is if every candidate called for people who support them to call up and get a generic ‘Vote Libertarian 2016’ or ‘Vote Freedom 2016’ yard sign from the LP website. Even if few people are watching, they are by definition committed to voting third party. And they will only get others to become aware of it if they take a personal action that bypasses relying on the media itself to take action.

      The LP candidates have a chance to prove that they can expand the pool of LP voters. By action – not babble. And this should be something they can all agree on too.

  6. Echoing Steve G……I watched Friday night’s second half, and the production values were shockingly amateurish. It did indeed look like public access TV. Like maybe they were holding the debate in Wayne and Garth’s basement.

    1. “All I have to say about that is asphinctersayswhat.”

    2. “Like maybe they were holding the debate in Wayne and Garth’s basement.”

      You’re not worthy to make that comparison.

  7. “…shockingly amateurish.”
    As opposed to the routinely amateurish Rand Paul. Libertarianism’s best hope for President USA in 2012.

    1. Rand Paul didn’t run in 2012.

      1. He was no hope in 2016.

  8. No.

    Brief biography of myself, as a libertarian. For whatever reason(s), I’m not a projector of myself outward. It’s not pure introversion per se, just that there’s not a whole lot I care to discuss with people unless there’s a depth involved. I don’t know if it’s a matter or anti-superficiality, but it’s not on purpose. It’s just that if it’s not worth an analysis and a depth of coverage, it’s not worth platitudes. Is it a very slight case of autism or some other “deficiency”, I don’t know. The point? Because I am “choosy” about what I interact with people over, or share, and yet am not particularly offish, I seem to become a “blank slate” upon which people project. I’ve had people hate me deeply over assumptions of who I am, or what they suppose I am, when they do not have a clue. I’ve been accused of holding opinions completely opposite to the ones I hold. Even my own parents assumed I was gay when I am straight hetero. THAT’S how much of a blank slate I can be.

    1. cont

      The final point? I think the whole libertarian concept is a “blank slate” upon which the majority of the body politic projects on. There’s simply very little common ground philosophically for people to even begin to understand, so they don’t even try, and libertarians become the root of all problems. In one day I can see libertarians of being accused as the culprit behind completely opposite ends of a problem.

      There is no solution to it as far as I can see. It’s a problem to deal with at the best of times, but things get even uglier when the culture decides it’s time for hysterics and witch hunts, etc. And when the average person is conditioned to irrational, times get bleak.

      1. There is a solution – but it does require the face-to-face and person-to-person contact that you aren’t comfortable with. Many libertarians aren’t comfortable with that. But I’d argue that those libertarians who collect signatures for ballot access are exactly the sort who are very comfortable with that. The LP is VERY good at that – and then it stops once it gets access.

        Just channel that energy into organizing neighborhoods and precincts. It can be more passive than signature-gathering – but more personal too. For those who aren’t comfortable with the face-to-face, just seeing someone else’s yard sign or neighborhood meeting helps one realize that ‘libertarian’ can also be ‘normal’. And if that person is a dog owner or front-yard gardener or (more obsolete) porch sitter, then that person is political gold.

        Politics isn’t about philosophy. It’s about people. Top-down wholesale politics is designed to minimize people – by manipulating the animal/instinctual part of our brains that we all have and are controlled by – so that we will ‘do something’ without thinking about it much. Break that mold

  9. Can Libertarian Party Presidential Candidates Overcome Media Indifference?

    These particular ones? No. A hypothetical celebrity candidate? Absolutely.

    1. Vince Vaughn/Drew Carey 2020

    2. Is McAfee still a billionaire? Maybe he could buy some air time.
      But I think Johnson is our best bet. He’s more qualified than Trump or Clinton, moderate enough for Dems and independents to consider, and more fiscally conservative than Trump for the Reps.

  10. If the LP is targeting the media for attention first, it is making a fundamental mistake. The media is wholesale politics. So whoever uses that avenue must first capture big donors and be captured by them. So you can use the money to poll demographic slices, and hire consultants to figure the marketing snippets/soundbites that work, and hire producers to produce the 30 second ads that will be shown on TV. Then the media will give all sorts of free attention to those folks to position themselves as the channel to spend money on to reach voters who give a shit about the candidate. And compete with the D’s and R’s for most of the top-down talent and top-down institutional corruption that makes that work.

    The alternative (assuming no reality TV show or celebrity background) is grassroots politics. Some of which can be candidate-driven – Obama and Sanders are very talented at that. But a better option is the non-candidate driven stuff – such as the stuff that happened on the net for Ron Paul in 2008. Take it beyond the net to neighborhoods and focused on general election voters rather than primary voters – and you have a serious chance of getting free media coverage. The media will cover legitimate news – and few things in politics are more legitimate news than a self-organizing decentralized uncontrollable system.

    If libertarians can’t figure out how self-organizing decentralized uncontrollable systems work; then maybe libertarians don’t really understand free markets either.

    1. The alternative (assuming no reality TV show or celebrity background) is grassroots politics. Some of which can be candidate-driven

      As I said on the earlier thread, if and when we ever see a libertarian movement in the US, it will be because liberty becomes cool and entices people to want to learn more about it. It’ll need to be grass roots as both politics and thus the media are lagging indicators of society. Changing it from the top down is an impossibility IMHO.

      1. I dunno, the right venue, the right time/date slot, the right moderators with an advertising/marketing campaign that actually grabbed the attention of the large number of disenfranchised Ds and Rs, would go a long way in force-ably pushing it more mainstream. If only Reason and/or the LP had a rich benefactor or two, or a couple of brothers or something who could have the clout to pull that off….

        1. Getting into the prez election debates is seriously valuable and I hope the LP can get that done. But apart from that, I think the notion of trying to get big money involved is a huge mistake. Big money never gets involved in anything for free. And nothing is worse for classical liberal and free market ideas – than libertarians becoming an organ-grinders monkey for highly-connected billionaires.

  11. Funny that it should be so hard to convince people that they should want to be free.

    1. Freedom is scary. It’s a tough sell to people who want security.

    2. Who gives permission? Who issues orders? How will anyone know what to do?

      1. Would someone please tell me how to respond to this!!1!

    3. To be fair, libertarians/Libertarians are really shitty at selling the concept.

    4. I personally think LP needs to focus on school governance. Not the ideological charter school crap that allows people to remain passive and uninterested and let everyone allow everything to be run by ‘professionals’. But the reversion back to individual school boards rather than consolidated school districts.

      It wasn’t that long ago (pre-WW2) that there were 125,000 school boards in the US. That was about 1 million or so (assuming a board of 8 or so) part-time non-careerist ‘self-governance’ opportunities. Where ‘normal’ people like parents or property owners or individual teachers could be interested in and knowledgeable about what happens. And that’s then a whole bunch of people who chafe at restrictions on their freedom to ‘do something for their kids’ imposed from above.

      Today we have about 15,000 school districts. All of which have to be run by full-time careerist professionals rather than interested motivated amateurs. Where everyone else is passive. And that passivity then carries over to other less important areas of politics/governance.

      Anyone who thinks K-12 education results have improved as a result of that consolidation is delusional. I understand why the consolidation happened in the 1950’s – but the loss of the number of people who have a tangible interest in freedom is a nasty side-effect

      1. I personally think LP needs to focus on school governance.

        I think the LP would be far more influential if they picked a very-few specific issues that they had very solid policy ideas on (e.g. end the drug war, increase school choice, reduce regulatory burden on businesses, etc.)… and just fucking punted on the rest.

        i.e. pick things the US voters actually care about which everyone else has ignored, and push those issues emphatically. And stop trying to make every other thing fit inside some libertarian cookie-cutter template.

        1. I agree with the need for focus but disagree on the scope. Libertarians need to focus on a local issue – and get the experience in solving it. Not a grandiose natl/global issue where it is talk with no hope of having credibility to be chosen to try to solve it.

          Schools are one of the few things that everyone cares deeply about at some point in their life. Without the already established D/R partisanship. And there is no possibility that any solution will occur from the top-down – which includes a top-down solution imposing ‘charters’ or ‘vouchers’. That is central-planning posing as ‘free market’. It’s an ideal issue for small-l libertarians to quickly find that they have something in common with each other – and that is what will turn them into big-l Libertarian.

          There are tons of ways to increase school choice within a single building (eg your local elementary school). Where the building/facilities itself is infrastructure that affects nearby property values. Where the activities within can meet a wide range of choices/effectiveness/accountability required by parents/teachers/students. And where opt-out choices can still happen as well.

          Let 100,000 flowers bloom and show what works and what doesn’t. It is exactly a free market at work – nationally and locally – even if it is a market within a governmental form of governance.

    5. Everyone wants to be free. They just don’t want other people to be free.

  12. I saw the debate last weekend…it wasn’t that cool.

    The whole idea of having LP candidates debate on Fox is silly. LP members can presumably be relied on to select a nominee for their party. As for non-LP people, if they watch at all, it will simply show them some people squabbling over the nomination of a minor party – why should that be interesting?

    If Stossel wants to get some publicity, then he should wait until the LP has its nominee, then recruit some Dem and Rep hacks yearning for media exposure to debate against the LP candidate on behalf of the major-party candidates.

    That way the actual differences among the candidates can be addressed in a substantive debate which covers all the political options – a better recipe for getting viewers and for exposing viewers to the contrast between the LP candidate and the major-party candidate.

    The beauty of my suggestion is that there is no shortage of Dem and Rep attention whores who would be willing to provide exposure to the LP candidate in exchange for exposure for themselves.

    1. he should wait until the LP has its nominee, then recruit some Dem and Rep hacks yearning for media exposure to debate against the LP candidate on behalf of the major-party candidates.

      I agree that there’s a far better prospect for increasing the influence of the “libertarian vote” by getting mainstream candidates to ADDRESS libertarian policy issues.

      Just having libertarians debate each other in some late-nite vacuum-chamber is useless.

    2. Or wait for the first Trump-Clinton debate (if it excludes Johnson), and then ask the same questions to the LP candidate and the Green candidate and whatever “independent” candidate the sore lose Republicans trot out.

  13. Besides the crappy quality, the debate was on Fox Business on a Friday night. Who the hell watches that show?

  14. The lesson the Libertarian party hasn’t learned, is that now is the time to go-for-broke. Gary Johnson would be a great choice, if the electorate wanted an experienced, able politician at the helm. They don’t. They want someone who reflects their own dissatisfaction with the system.
    John McAfee is a personality. He doesn’t have the polished image of Petersen, or the public-sector experience that Johnson would bring to the table. But he is the guy who can absolutely put forward the viewpoint of the liberty movement on a national stage, not because he studied Ron Paul’s playbook to death, but because the man lives the values he speaks of.

    He scares the hell out of a lot of people, especially pundits who really delve into his past. But people will be talking about him. And examining what he is saying. They’d be listening, at least. And the message would reach a new set of people.

    Breaking out of this echo chamber would do wonders for the L party, especially in a year where an unprecedented number of people are truly ready to finally hear the message. McAfee might not be able to win an election, but he could recruit a lot of new converts, by simple force of nature.

    1. “McAfee for President – because the 2016 campaign isn’t surreal enough!”

      1. I don’t think he’ll use the slogan “McAfee for President – you’ll love my libertarian program”

      2. “McAfee for President – making Trump look normal!”

        1. “McAfee for President – BFYTW”

        2. “McAfee for President — Stop the Trump-Clinton Virus, and Slow Down the DC System”. Just like it does to your PC.

      3. Honestly, not a bad call.

        Look at the support for Trump, Sanders, and Clinton. CLEARLY the electorate WANTS a crazy person in charge!! If libertarians want to win, they have to supply a crazy libertarian. Because sanity is NOT what the people want this election season!!

        “McAfee for President – Crazy, but he’ll leave to run your own life”

        1. But where could the LP find a crazy candidate? Oh, wait…

    2. Thx for mentioning the ‘echo chamber’. That’s another thing that tweaks me, the questions by libertarians for libertarians. How about instead of questions straight from the purity test, we hear from the LP candidates on how they plan to actually succeed in DC as a political outsider. What will be their strategy to integrate their platform into the system and accomplish something.

      1. this. start running to win, so people will take them seriously this time.

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  16. That my friend is why we must roll with the punches.

  17. Gary Johnson’s politics and political experience, Petersen’s polish and quick soundbite like answers, McAfee’s charisma and outsider aura, and Bloomberg’s money and connections. Elements that a libertarian candidate needs to win a Presidential Election outside (or even inside) the two party system, which none of these candidates have on their own. Johnson lacks charisma and isn’t a very good speaker or debater, Petersen and McAfee lack Johnson’s political experience. And all three men have no where near the resources or connections to bring through the Two Party lock on the Presidency. In truth all three of these gentlemen would be better off building a base of political support and running for office in their respective states. Same goes for John McAfee whose “Gonzo” persona could benefit from the “moderation” or “gloss” of holding a public office.

    Really I wish the LP would give up on its pursuit of the Presidency and focus on a few select states where one of the two major parties are weak or non-existent and pour their resources into building a slew of strong state parties that could replace one of the big two in that state (ex: Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah states where the Dems are almost non-existent.)

    1. But you get way more bang for your buck running for president. No other office gets any media coverage at all. And if you just try to supplant the D or R candidate in a particular state, you become them.

      1. Not necessarily. Rob Sarvis (L-VA) and Sean Haugh (L-NC) got plenty of national coverage from the media when they were trying to paint them as spoilers. Besides we don’t necessarily care that much about National Coverage if we can get the local and statewide coverage National will eventually follow if its a big enough story.

        “And if you just try to supplant the D or R candidate in a particular state, you become them.”

        We become a little more like them moderating our image and embracing incrementalism. They become a little more like us, embracing lower taxes, lower spending, decriminalized cannabis, etc. Yes we’re gonna have to become a little more like the voters of Utah, Wyoming, etc. in order to win them over. The voters who’ve been spoon fed how great the New Deal is for decades need to be won over slowly.

        Consider for a moment that the Democrats have a strong political base of support in places like New York, California, and Illinois . And Republicans can point to a base in places like Texas, Georgia, and Arizona. Libertarians at best can point to states that have a s-called “libertarian streak.” But other than being the winning margin between of one of the two main party candidates there is no real base to speak of. If the LP wants any shot at one day being an actual player at the national level, they have to start building a real base of support. Which means focusing more on winning at the state and local level rather than national.

  18. “Media indifference” is an optimistic spin. It is better described as passive contempt on the media’s part. Of libertarians were a threat to the progs than it would turn active and the hate would be scathing.

    1. It already is when you consider how the word Kock brothers has become synonomous among liberals as a “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-esque world conspiracy.

      1. Sorry: “phrase Koch brothers”.

        Damned iphone + public education

  19. Last time the indifference was here, Matt.

  20. I wonder what the media’s response to this article will be.

    (sorry, that was mean)

  21. The media goes where the eyeballs are.
    The problem is the voter indifference.

  22. Oh, everyone’s out this afternoon

  23. 52 years ago – when Goldwater got sacked by the GOP establishment – I decided my ONE vote didn’t count as much as my Party registration. I’ve been either an Independent or Libertarian ever since.
    Hey, I can still vote for anyone! But, what if there were 50,000,000 registered Libertarians . . . do you think that would affect the collective political mind?

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