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 familiar-sounding 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: