Libertarian Party

Could Disgruntled Republicans Take Over the Libertarian Party? Sure, if They Could Convince Around 500 of the Types of People Who Attend State L.P. Conventions and Get Sent as Delegates to the National Convention

So, that's not very likely.


As I discuss in my forthcoming print feature on the Libertarian Party (L.P.) presidential race in the July issue of Reason (subscribe now!), the L.P. controls one of the most high-value and, in some ways, low-cost prizes in political history: likely near-universal ballot access for presidency of the world's mightiest nation, and all you need to do to win is get (this year) likely around 500 or so people (since that will constitute around half plus one of the total delegation) gathered in one convention hotel over one weekend to pick you as their favorite.

No complicated six months or a year of national campaigning and spending and caucusing and primary elections needed. Every delegate at that convention for the L.P. can do whatever they want with their vote, not bound by any straw polls or mass popular vote or caucus result.

That fact, combined with the constant rumbling of rich and powerful Republicans unhappy with their party's apparent choice Donald Trump, have led to lots of talk of a "conservative third party" run, or independent run, or just picking up the already existing L.P.'s ballot apparatus for a nevertrump Republican.

As I detailed back when Michael Bloomberg was talking about it months ago, it's still not absolutely impossible for the independent presidential candidate part to work.

Because of state ballot access requirements, a lot of organizing and spending would need to start happening, like, right now. Still, 37 states don't have ballot access deadlines for independent presidential candidates until August or September.

We have no reason to believe anyone is actively trying from the disaffected Republican end, though.

So, what about that Libertarian Party? It stands up for liberty and the Constitution and the free market and low taxes and a bunch of things that "conservative Republicans" claim to stand for.

Its convention is a few weeks from now. Its delegates have been mostly selected and are in many cases trying to figure out how to afford to get themselves to Orlando and find lodging there. It has many people vying for the prize, though most agree the only seriously likely contenders at this point are incumbent candidate Gary Johnson (the former Republican governor of New Mexico who won the L.P. its highest ever raw vote total of 1.27 million in 2012), movement activist Austin Petersen, and notorious antivirus software pioneer John McAfee.

But if any outsider decided to join the L.P. and present himself as a candidate in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend, he or she could still win if he or she first gets just 30 delegates to place him or her in official nomination and then of course win that bare majority of delegate votes.

An interview with the national L.P's Chair Nicholas Sarwark at Slate today explains why that isn't very likely. Excerpts: 

A Mitt Romney, or a Rick Perry, or a Tom Coburn, or anybody could join the party, probably get on star power alone 30 people to nominate them, but then you have to get a majority of close to 1,000 Libertarians to decide that you're Libertarian enough for them. It's that retail side that really is our best protection against any sort of takeover.

To put a finer point on what Sarwark is saying, the type of dedicated Libertarian Party member who attends state conventions, wants to be sent as a delegate to national and convinces his fellow state members to send him, tends to be quite serious about their libertarianism, and will want a candidate who can convince them that said candidate believes in the libertarian message pretty strongly and can sell it purely.

That's not necessarily so across the board, but it's a good enough bet that half the delegates wouldn't want to hand over their prize to any old anti-Trump right-winger. Especially after the Bob Barr experience in 2008, when the former GOP congressman mostly let the L.P. down as their candidate.

But couldn't a serious national Republican type of appeal to conservatives possibly get the L.P. in the debates and in the real playing field of national politics? Sarwark:

That theory and that scenario would probably be attractive to some number of delegates. I don't think it would be attractive to a majority of delegates sufficient to get the nomination, precisely because if you go back to '08 we nominated Bob Barr, a former congressman, with exactly those thoughts … and it didn't work out that way. We actually got lower vote totals compared to other Libertarian candidates with less résumé. 

Sarwark says that whether or not it could work, these angry Republicans don't really seem to mean it:

The Never Trump people, while they're very serious as far as how they feel, they've never been serious in terms of getting anything done. We've been doing this for 45 years and we understand the logistics of how you get 50-state ballot access. And there was not a single move from a Kristol, or an [Erick] Erickson, or a Romney, or anybody to do any of the things that would be necessary….

If you're Never Trump and you're Never Hillary, the Libertarian Party is going to present you the only option for every American in this country. So you can pick it or you can not, but this idea that you're going to have some sort of quixotic bid from Romney or something as an independent, it's just—it's batshit basically…

The sweet irony is that it's the very Republicans that are currently gnashing their teeth who set up these horrible ballot access barriers to try to suppress the Libertarian Party in the first place. So I hope they're enjoying that.

The likes of a Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney, loudly anti-Trump, ever even endorsing the L.P. is quite unlikely, Sarwark thinks:

They have sunk cost in the existence of the Republican Party, which is a joke. I mean, any party that can encompass Donald Trump and Rand Paul is not a party that means anything. They'll never walk away. They'll never endorse somebody outside of the Republican Party. And if I had to bet, as much as I'd like Mr. Romney to endorse the Libertarian candidate once we have a nominee, I would bet he won't. I would bet he'd rather sit on his hands. Because he's dedicated to the party moreso than to the country. Same with Sasse. He's just trying to get a name for himself by going through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief in public, but he's not going to do anything. That's the take that I have right now and I'd be happy to be proven wrong. 

I strongly suspect Sarwark is correct on all that.

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  1. Kill Obamacare…..y-funding/

      1. /captainamericaigotthatreference.gif

  2. “No complicated six months or a year of national campaigning and spending and caucusing and primary elections needed.”

    Oh crap! Has anyone seen Bob Barr lately?

    1. I saw him in Vegas last year, I don’t think he’s interested in mounting a comeback.

  3. And if they did take it over, how hard,would it be to start a new one.

    1. It wouldn’t be hard to emulate the success of the LP either. 45 years into it and the top ranking elected official that didn’t come from an uncontested ballot is the president of a local water advisory board, right?

      So while there is an advantage of already being on ballots, it’s a lot like a woman trying to get Mickey Rooney to propose to her. Technically he had all the right equipment, but ain’t nobody wishing you a long and happy life with a 93 yr old who has been married 8 times.

  4. He’s just trying to get a name for himself by going through the K?bler-Ross stages of grief in public, but he’s not going to do anything.


    1. I don’t mince my words.

      1. That was a great insight there. Especially if it can lead to a different strategy for the LP going forward. LP can’t ‘win’ in the 50%+1 sense – and shouldn’t try. But it can emulate the Free Soil and Liberty Party strategies of way back. Kill off the existing D/R ability to win with their existing coalitions – and thus force them to reassemble different coalitions in order to win. And in so doing, the ideas of those third parties DO win. I see a lot of that constipated ‘public grieving about the party’ in BOTH the D and R this year – and its been building in both for a long long time because their coalitions are past expiration date

  5. The Republican Base should abandon the Jesus Freaks, the Racists, and move a little socially LEFT and join Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party.

    If they’d do that, I’d even consider voting republican. I’m still afraid of a RIGHT-wing supreme court though.

    1. Uh, Alice, honey, their base is those Socons, et als.

    2. “If only people with a different ideology than me would change all of their core beliefs and believe what I believe, I would consider voting for them”

      You saint.

    3. As a Libertarian, I would just like to say that intolerant people such as yourself are what give Libertarians a bad name.

  6. With apologies to Will:

    I don’t belong to any organized party. I’m a Democrat Libertarian.

  7. That Nicholas Sarwark guy sounds like a smart dude.

    You should probably interview him.

    1. Don’t expect a hat-tip, though.

    2. fat chance dude, like the chairman of the libertarian party has a phone or a computer.

      1. Well, technically his mom owns them, but he gets access when she isn’t chatting with her friends or skyping with her sister.

  8. This scenario might play out if Rand Paul was the suggested candidate. Otherwise, you might try bribing delegates – $3K each perhaps.

    The downside to the LP doing well in 2016 will probably be even more restrictive ballot access laws in the future.

    1. $3k? Why not just hire a bunch of $1k hookers and save yourself some money? Most of those delegates haven’t seen a girl naked, let alone get to touch one.

      1. $1K Hookers? Did the price go up while I was not paying attention?

  9. The sweet irony is that it’s the very Republicans that are currently gnashing their teeth who set up these horrible ballot access barriers to try to suppress the Libertarian Party in the first place. So I hope they’re enjoying that.

    Boom. Well said, Mr. Sarwark.

    1. It’s fun to watch people reap what they’ve sown.

  10. but then you have to get a majority of close to 1,000 Libertarians to decide that you’re Libertarian enough for them. It’s that retail side that really is our best protection against any sort of takeover.

    Lol. Their biggest strength is also their biggest weakness. Tulpa must have a lot of time on my hands.

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    1. You can’t fool me. There are no Libertarian Women!

  12. “The sweet irony is that it’s the very Republicans that are currently gnashing their teeth who set up these horrible ballot access barriers to try to suppress the Libertarian Party in the first place. So I hope they’re enjoying that.”

    That’s what I’ve been trying to say.

    Now Republicans get to find out how the inventor of the brazen bull felt.

    1. To be fair, the ballot access laws were enacted with bi-partisan support.

      1. Irrelevant. The Republicans helped build it, now they’re being cooked to death in it.

  13. That LP torch logo looks like Trump’s hair.

  14. Plus, there has got to be a fair amount of over lap between the Never Trump crowd and the former Never Ron Paul crowd. I know if I was there I’d cut off my own nose just to spite their fucking faces.

  15. This has been exactly my concern. They could end up doing to the libertarian party what they’ve done to the republican party. Maybe we could steal their brand and actually make the republican party about liberty instead of just the biblical branch of the democratic party.

  16. The libertarians must give up their open border stance before they can be taken seriously by grass roots libertarians like me. (I’ve voted libertarian since 1972 and this will be the FIRST year I won’t if Johnson or McAfee are on the line. A mass influx of anti-freedom voting people will destroy my rights and the rights of my descendants forever!!

    1. Come to convention and work to change the platform.

      Also, thank you for voting Libertarian!

  17. The Libertarian Party is not a refuge for dissatisfied Republicans. The Social Conservative wing of the Republican side is the most prone to be dissatisfied with the current allotment of panderers. And to submit that they should come and try their hands at Libertarianism is a failed idea. The Tea Party started as a movement towards smaller government, yet ended up another failed Christian Right debacle. Regan sold the soul of the Republican party to the Christian Right decades ago. We as Libertarians need to ensure that the statement

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    never comes with the caveat that the government gets to define our happiness. That until my pursuit of happiness infringes upon your enumerated Rights, you have no say in my life. That I get to love whomever I please, regardless of gender.

    1. The #NeverTrump conservatives are mostly sanctimonious gasbags. I’d be wary of them squatting in the LP too.

  18. And if I had to bet, as much as I’d like Mr. Romney to endorse the Libertarian candidate once we have a nominee, I would bet he won’t.

    And what would that net you? Ideologically, Romney is center-right, so the people his endorsement mean anything to are not exactly Libertarian material. Therefore, you either get a giant shrug from the country, followed by exactly the same voting results, or you get a bunch of centrist voting drones that are attracted to a political personality instead of a set of principles. If the LP wanted that they could just be Republicans instead.

    1. It’s called shutting up and taking their votes.

  19. If disgruntled Repubs chose Libertarian – they must have a reason. So would they take over the Libertarian Party or would the Libertarian Party be taking them over? . . . . Or would it split our party like the GOP?

  20. The author failed to note that many of the delegates have already been chosen — perhaps even a majority of them!

    1. Almost all of them. There’s a theoretical maximum of 1047, but a practical maximum in the mid to high 900s.

      The last list I saw of delegates and alternates was 1,144 names long.

      The die may not be cast, but the delegates are already picked.

  21. The nominee must be a member:
    1. Nominations of candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States may be made
    only at the Regular Convention immediately preceding a Presidential election.
    2. No candidate may be nominated for President or Vice-President who is ineligible under the
    United States Constitution, who has not expressed a willingness to accept the nomination of the
    Party, who served as a stand-in candidate during the current election cycle, or who is not a
    member of the Party…
    4. The National Committee shall respect the vote of the delegates at Nominating Conventions and
    provide full support for the Party’s nominee for President and nominee for Vice-President as long
    as their campaigns are conducted in accordance with the Platform of the Party.

    1. Members of the Party shall be those persons who have certified in writing that they oppose the
    initiation of force to achieve political or social goals…
    3. “Sustaining member” is any Party member who has given at least $25 to the Party in the prior
    twelve months, or who is a life member…
    6… Only sustaining members shall be eligible to hold National Party office or be a
    candidate for President or Vice-President.

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