Libertarian Party

Is the Libertarian Party Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Party activists reflect after both a disappointing midterm and an energizing Jeff Hewitt win


The twilight of Gary Johnson's career ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Last Friday, after a lengthy ballot count, Libertarian Jeff Hewitt was declared the winner of one of five officially nonpartisan seats on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, giving him one of the largest constituent bases of any elected Libertarian in the party's 47-year history. On Saturday in this space, we posted a far less upbeat assessment of the L.P.'s current electoral situation, which I wrote the day after the 2018 midterms.

So is the party zigging or zagging? As ever, it depends on who you ask, and the answer may well be "both."

In a teleconference with party activists before the Hewitt announcement last week, Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark laid out the numerical case for optimism.

"We ran 833 candidates for public office in 2018 in the November elections. We ended up with 52 [now 53] elected Libertarians….That's an increase from the last general election year 2016, where we only elected 34 people," said Sarwark, who finished in fourth and last place in November's Phoenix mayoral race, receiving 10.5 percent of the vote. "In 2016, the Libertarian Party ran 593 candidates around the country….2017's our last odd-numbered year; we ran 135 candidates for both state and local races, but of those, we ended up electing 48. So we do significantly better in these odd-year elections when the old parties aren't paying as much attention. And it gives us a chance to further hone those skills and strategies so that when we go into 2020, we're ready to have a record-setting number of candidates for a presidential year, and have more of them be more successful."

In a press release Friday, the party exulted over Hewitt's win, calling it "arguably the largest, most momentous win in Libertarian Party history." The release went on to list the other winners from November, including four municipal officials who won partisan races in Indiana.

Mark Rutherford, a longtime activist in the comparatively successful Indiana L.P., and former vice chair of the national party (2010-12), says there has a been a sea change in approach to nuts-and-bolts campaigning. "I've never seen canvassing taken so serious by Libertarians since I first started paying serious attention to the LP in 1994," Rutherford wrote in an email to me this week.

"More and more insider meetings and discussions center around running for office locally, especially smaller districts with 2000 or fewer voters," Rutherford continued. "In 1998 it was hard to get LP'ers to talk about anything other than Presidential candidates and Congressional candidates….Too many discussion[s] were akin to philosophical debates over whether Hayek, Nock, or Rand were the most holy."

Bottom line: "Right now, change is happening in the LP as I see it becoming a party that finds libertarians and gets them elected or appointed to office. I hope it continues."

But other Libertarians look at the same data and discern drastically different meaning.

The 1% ||| Arvin Vohra
Arvin Vohra

Arvin Vohra, the rhetorical bomb-thrower and former national vice chair (2012-16) who is running for the party's 2020 presidential nomination, wrote a withering assessment right after the election arguing that the disappointing results, especially of New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe, show that the L.P. can only go so far playing it safe.

"I get why many Libertarians like Larry, Nick Sarwark, and other nice Libertarians," Vohra wrote. "Many people used to like me for the same reason, back when I used to play nice. You can bring Larry or Nick home to meet your statist mom, or your statist friends. That's something I like about Larry and Nick—I can bring them home to my statist friends. I get why some big-L insiders don't like me. You can't bring me home to meet your statist mom. If you come home with me, you're getting disowned."

Vohra's solution? Fight directly and conspicuously for those who are net contributors to, instead of recipients from, government, and also to those whose power is diminished by the state.

"Winning will come from fighting for the reality we want, and emboldening those who will benefit from that Libertarian reality immediately. We have to fight for our people before we pander to our enemies," he concluded. "If you add the number of current homeschoolers, private schoolers, and Men's Rights Activists, it's far more than the 4 million [votes 2016 presidential candidate Gary Johnson] got. Add in those who pay more in taxes than they receive in services, and it's many, many times that. Even if I get 10 percent of the net losers from government, it will shatter Gary Johnson's record."

Vohra's approach did not translate into votes last month in Maryland, where he finished in a distant fourth place with just 1.0 percent of the vote running for U.S. Senate.

Vohra will be among what promises to be a crowded field vying for the party's prized plum: access to ballots in the 2020 presidential race. Those who have officially announced their intentions to compete include confrontational activist Adam Kokesh, political performance artist Vermin Supreme, and L.P. Radical Caucus Vice Chair Kim Ruff. Also openly laying the groundwork is controversial 2016 vice presidential candidate Bill Weld. founder and blockchain enthusiast Patrick Byrne has engaged in some discussions, though told me in October that he's "almost definitely" not going to run.

"And then there are a few more people who have contacted me privately to ask questions about what would one do and how do you do it," Sarwark said in his conference call. Party insiders have presumed that among such names to eventually go public will be current or recent elected officials from one of the two major parties, though such hopes have failed to materialize in the past.

How tantalizing is the L.P. ballot prize? "As far as how we came out of the 2018 election, ballot access-wise," Sarwark said, "we are on in 34 states for 2020 for a presidential candidate. That is the best situation we have ever been in after a non-presidential general election, and it's actually the best situation that any third party has been in in history." The party maintains its expectation to be on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, "which would be one of the first times, maybe the first time, that anyone's done that back to back as a non-Republican-or-Democratic party."

The biggest nut to crack—not just for Libertarians, but for Greens and independents as well—may well be how to navigate electoral politics when the winds of polarization are blowing so strong. Voters who perceive elections as life-or-death contests tend to shun the margins.

Still, as the L.P. celebrates its 47th anniversary this week, there are measurable signs of progress, if not quite the whole free-society-in-our-lifetimes thing, or even a member of Congress.

"The original Libertarian Party had only 70 members, but today exceeds 130,000," the L.P. noted yesterday in a birthday press release. "The membership of the Libertarian Party has increased by 92 percent during the past 10 years. The presidential ticket of Gov. Gary Johnson and Gov. William Weld in 2016 received a record number of votes for the Libertarian Party. Perhaps most importantly, the Libertarians are the only party on the political spectrum defending both economic responsibility and social acceptance."

Bonus video: Todd Krainin captures the final days of Gary Johnson's final campaign.

NEXT: Even Democrats Are Divided Over Medicare For All

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  1. True libertarians aren’t optimists.

    1. They can be long-term optimists and short-term pessimists.

    2. Optimists believe we live in the best of worlds. Pessimists fear that is true.

    3. Only the ones who do not understand logistics substitution curves and how spoiler votes change laws. Subsidized looter parties quietly hire folks who understand replacement. This is why the commentariat has filled up with doomcrying rats swimming away from the S.S. Covietika and the S.S. NSDAP. For Volunteers of America, it’s a New Dawn!

  2. The libertarian glass is half full with an IPA.

    1. Half empty with an IPA

      1. Neither! An IPA is a symbol of Mercantilist Imperialism. True(tm) Libertarians only drink Porters.

    2. Half full with horse piss it is, then.

    3. And the other half is stuffed with deep dish.

      Oh wait, it’s not a glass, it’s a trashcan.

  3. Neither. The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

    1. It has only fulfilled half of its potential.

    2. The glass is completely full, just because half of it is full of air, doesn’t mean it isn’t full. 🙂

      The average drinking glass is not sufficiently structurally sound to hold a vacuum.

      1. Even if it’s one of those little handheld car vacs? The “cigar lighter” powered kind, not the heavy ones with a battery.

        Side note: It’s sad that the standard power receptacle in cars is defined by an accessory that is no longer included in most, if any, new cars. I won’t even get into the safety aspect where a standard (95th percentile) finger easily fits inside to reach the hot lead while the opposite hand can be grounded elsewhere on the vehicle. Yeah, at least it’s only 12 volts which leads to the next question of why haven’t cars gone to a 48 volts? It’s I2R people!

        1. Ok, it’s I*I*R people. Stupid pseudo html that doesn’t recognize superscript tags and no edith button.

          1. Archy misses Edith

        2. The Seebeck and Peltier effects work fine on 12V DC

    3. We need common sense glass control.

    4. The glass has a capacity safety factor of 2.

  4. 130,000 members? I don’t recall ever seeing that statistic used. Registered Libertarians are about 500,000 in this country and I can’t imagine there are more than about 15,000 dues paying LPers.

    1. I haven’t been active in the LP since ’96, when I walked away from the party after the John Coon State Rep campaign, and I still get the LP newsletter after two moves, without paying for it. I suppose I’m one of those members.

      Haven’t paid dues in literally a couple decades.

  5. The LP will never win electoral races until such a time as it chooses to win electoral races.

    Having been in the party, attending conventions, and even an exec for a brief time, I can say without hesitation that there is a significant and sizable number of members who actively work against electoral victory. And in many cases, deliberately so.

    They would rather lose than see the imperfect win.

    The LP does not need enemies, the LP is its own enemy.

    1. There was this great Facebook mem going around before the election. It consisted of two side by side photos. The photo on the left was captioned “Libertarian Party What You Hope For” and was a picture of the famous cover from Atlas Shrugged of the painting of the perfectly toned man holding the globe. One the right was a screen shot from CSPAN of some fat, naked guy with a lot of tatoos on stage at the Libertarian Party convention.

      That might be the most truthful meme ever created.

    2. I agree with PJ O’Rourke’s assessment of libertarianism: It’s probably doomed to never hold any real power because it’s an essentially anti-political movement.

      1. Yes. And it being an anti political movement means that most Libertarians don’t care enough about politics to get involved leaving the field to the kooks who inhabit and run the LP.

        1. Those kooks are the only thing holding the LP together, man!

          1. It is all about the fat naked guy with the tattoos.

    3. Spoiler votes cast for LP candidates are the only thing that force the looters to repeal bad laws. We now have 328% more votes than in 2012, are on a steep, accelerating market-share substitution curve, and shift nearly 100 electoral votes by covering the gap. The libertarian voting population is suddenly as large as Virginia’s. That’s where Patrick Henry insisted on adding the Bill of Rights while spitting tobacco juice on the naysaying opposition! Every cowardly anonymous sockpuppet in the Socialist DEM and Nationalsocialist GOP must be urging us to Abandon All Hope today. Their parties are shrinking like punctured innertubes…

    4. Wrong. Coercion is the enemy, and it melts sobbing and wailing when splashed with a bucketful of LP spoiler votes.

  6. Oh. My. GOD.

    Are we still talking about the Libertarian Party? Give it up, already. It’s dead. Pick one of the two real political parties who already have ballot access and infiltrate and manipulate from within. That’s your only chance.

    1. It’s only sleeping. 🙂

      1. That or it just suffered a flesh wound. It will be fine.

        1. https://www. in-final-tally-libertarian-gay-couple- outperforms-top-republican-in-d-c-election/

    2. The shrieks of despair from the shrinking Republican, Democrat and Communist infiltrators desperate to “save” us from ourselves are the best proof that overall the LP is still the best and most efective way to repeal the most bad laws with the least spoiler votes. For leeches looking for a cushy job, I suggest the want ads.

  7. If LP really is focusing on that local nuts-and-bolts local stuff, then it’s the right track. Should be easy to set up deliverables for that too

  8. Libertarians should give it up, formally join the Democrat Party which they embrace, and make some attempt, however futile, to ameliorate the financial crazy. You get the ass sex, the hash, largely open borders and the hatred of Christianity.

    1. If Libertarians could make the Democratic Party into something other than the too stupid, crazy and evil to vote for under any circumstances party, they would be doing the country a great service.

      1. Indeed, hardcore Libertarians want to get rid of drivers’ licenses, which should play well with the dems. Also, get rid of marriage too and replace with contracts, and while they’re at it, they should push to get rid of birth certificates.

        1. The only reason Demcorats wanted to gay marriage was to stick it to their enemies. So, I doubt they would find getting rid of marriage very appealing.

          1. Exactly, marriage is too big a bat to beat people with so they’ll never get rid of it. Besides, it’s already a contract, a giant stinking, fetid mess of a contract. That’s why, in most states, it costs so much to get out of it. Compare that to some other countries where it’s A signs here, B signs there, official seal there, $25, a copy for each and next.

            1. Marriage as defined by state laws is not a contract. Contracts cannot be re-written by the legislature after they are signed.

    2. Name one libertarian who embraces the Democratic Party.

      1. I would list the staff of Reason, but they are not libertarians.

        1. Ooookaaaayyyy

        2. List te names then. Do not forget to quote statements by any of these people that are Unlibertarian.

          1. Shecky Dullmia and any/everyone on the Reason staff that approves the posting of any of the drivel she authors. As to statements, I’ll offer anything she’s ever written.

            1. And most of what comes out of Nicky.

        3. You are a very mean person.

          Are you single?

    3. Note to foreign readers: This sockpuppet has noted the NSDAP platform and Enabling act speech both pander to the 97% christian electorate who voted Hitler to power. It is in effect demanding that we love National Socialism, not the freedom it seeks to crush, just as the Liberal Party of America sought to free the nation from superstitious prohibitionists shooting citizens with service pistols in 1931.

  9. As a highly optimistic libertarian, I would call the glass 1/432nd full.

  10. It’s a trick question. Libertarians drink out of the toilet.

  11. Wait, what? There is a Libertarian Party??!

    1. Clearly my invitation got lost in the mail. I hope it’s a costume party as I prefer to remain anonymous.

  12. Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

    Maybe the glass is the wrong size.

  13. I’ve from the UK. We have glass half empty and glass completely empty. So take your pick.

  14. I thought it was a sippy cup.

  15. The Libertarian Party Glass Half empty or Half full?

    Let me fix that HL.

    The Libertarian Party Thimble Half empty or Half full?

  16. Maybe it’s completely full — but of the wrong stuff.

    The purpose of a political party is to protect its members from the depredations of other political parties. Winning elections is one way to do that — your guy occupies the place the other guys aspire to, and the other guys thereby are blocked from making a mess of your own life. But, winning elections is not the ONLY way to proceed or suffer success. As far as I know, the queers won no elections — but they got pretty much everything that they wanted. The LP should study that lesson carefully.

    1. There was already the article about the Ms. from Wyoming (search- Bethany Baldes) who was in earshot of a state house seat. As the article describes, it was a particularly vulnerable position, so it made good sense to devote resources towards it.

      That is probably the best model for advancing the party- devote resources towards easier victories than running full force against the political machinery of the major parties. Certainly run national candidates more as outreach and education, but apply resources commiserate with that end. Guerrilla-style politics if you will.

      Hail mary attempts haven’t really accomplished much. Also looking at national elections more as ambassadorial opportunities than chances to upend the political establishment should help curb the holier-than-thou tendencies within the party.

      1. Quisling here does not want you to realize that Libertarian Spoiler Votes defeat the more totalitarian candidates from BOTH looter parties. There is no better fire-and-forget mechanism to defeat Republican christianofascists and Democratic econazis. This is simple, scattershot, and sure-fire, so long as child molesters and hostile saboteurs are kept off of the platform committee.

    2. “The queers” lol how old are you 90?

  17. Neither. It’s just about empty.

    The opinions and policies supported by Libertarians in the past two years have driven me away from the party.
    Dershowitz and Rand still display integrity and intellect; if the party has a future it’s with them.

    1. Note to foreign readers: this GOP infiltrator thinks Republican looters are “the” Party. This is only true in the Orwellian sense.

      1. can we assume your comment was meant to address someone else?
        Unless by “this GOP infiltrator” you mean your own self.

  18. I was an activist in the LP from roughly 1978 through 1996. Helped found my college chapter of the party, volunteered and donated for multiple campaigns. Even ran for state Rep once, if only as a paper candidate.

    It was our understanding in the beginning that the LP would have to grow rapidly to major party status within a fairly short time, because once the major parties recognized that we were a threat, they would move against us, and they had the advantage of already controlling the government.

    Long story short, we didn’t grow fast enough, they woke to the threat, and they acted. The LP is now the biggest third party in a country where election laws are systematically designed to make sure third parties never succeed. So long as the major parties are capable of altering campaign finance and ballot access laws in response to anything libertarians do, success is beyond reach.

    They’re not free elections any more, haven’t been for several decades. The game is rigged, and it’s not even a fixed rigged game that you might beat, they adjust the laws every time the LP tries something new.

    Short of restoring free elections, it’s hopeless. that’s why I walked away.

    1. Translation: I failed math, do not understand how 1.4% spoiler votes of Prohibition Party enacted 18th Amendment, and view the Fisher-Pry logistical replacement curve with bovine incomprehension. Hence LP successes in repealing bad laws make me eager to rejoin the Republicans with Jobs For The Boys.

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  20. For libertarians, things are going pretty good.

    For the Libertarian Party, as with all of the left, things are getting bad.

    Which, happily, is good for libertarians.

    1. The LP wasn’t always on the left, and except for a growing faction in the party establishment, still isn’t. Wanting victimless crimes legalized doesn’t put you on the left, if you’re devoted to economic liberty, and the growing list of civil liberties the left has no more use for.

      You can see the tension between the party establishment’s leftward drift, and actual libertarians, here in Reason’s comment threads.

      I think it’s a combination of the serious people leaving the LP when they realized that it had become a lost cause due to campaign “reforms”, and the left’s march through the institutions overtaking the party once those people stopped defending it.

  21. point of being me is to not have to associate w/Party.

    1. In Soviet Union Party associate YOU!

  22. Vohra and Sharpe are exactly the kind of agents provocateurs that overran the LP in 1980, when unemployment among bomb-throwing anarchist communists and Soviet brainwashees was especially high. Much as these liars may figure, figures do not lie. Voters are giving real Libertarians 4% on average. These turkeys and the woman-bullying Antichoice infiltrators from the other end of the communo-fascist box in the Nolan chart are not fooling anyone. The LP needs to return to the pro-choice planks adopted by the Supreme Court in writing Roe v Wade or delete the straddle plank entirely. LP Canada, where women have inalienable rights, needs no such plank. The plank inviting suicide-vest berserkers to cross the border without showing ID was–by the lights of they who vote–another idiotic idea.

    1. Incomprehensible. Also Vohra and Sharpe differ on LP strategies.

  23. The only reasonable answer to the glass half full/empty question is to ask another question: “What was the water level 10 minutes ago?”

    The answer is undeniable. The LP glass is filling rapidly. The GOP is dead.

  24. Reason has gone adrift from the Mises Institute’s philosophy and the Austrian school of thought for economics, freedom and peace.
    If Libertarians were serious about the principles they wouldn’t put up a candidate who comes across as an uninformed stoner.

    Basically, being a Libertarian as of late has been reduced to no borders, leave your door open, and everyone let’s get high! Plus: Impeach Trump! Russia, Russia, Russia!

    That’s not a platform, that’s an empty glass death knoll

    1. Note to foreign readers: looters vote like groupies for a candidate. Libertarians read and vote for the platform–even if a yellow dog is standing on it. Our spoiler votes in every case trip up totalitarians from “both” socialist gangs.

  25. I believe the “libertarian glass” is pretty empty, with all due respect to Mr Hewitt’s election in. Riverside.

    The LP has not nominated a real libertarian for the US President since Michael Badnarik in 2004. Since then the LP has concentrated on nominating previously elected Republicans.

    Now we have a party chairman, who is on the editorial board of this media organization, which uses its presumed libertarian stance to promote LSD.

    Does anyone else see a conflict of interest here?

    1. The original LP platform, and all since, stand for repeal of prohibitions on LSD and more. Since when is reducing the initiation of force a conflict of interest?

  26. Vohra’s comments here seem very appealing.

  27. There is a glass?

  28. I joined the party in about 1974, attended the convention in 1976? I knew Dave Nolan & worked with him on other projects. Was a Ron Paul delegate to the 2008 Nevada state republican convention which lead me to write the 6000 word article orwells boot. A search on those 2 words will return my article as #1 on all engines almost all the time under the name factotu666.

    The article and its “success???” lead me to start work on a book, & in the process I came to conclude that the 3 basic tenants of libertarian thought wrong. I may be wrong, but I believe that those tenants are: humans are rational, are mostly autonomous, & the ideas of Adam Smith are mostly correct.

    But humans arn’t rational. If you think you are rational, check: research-ideas/culture-society/rationality-quiz/

    Very few people are autonomous. They are members of families, clans, etc. As one with aspergers, I am much more aware of autonomy and being alone (NOT LONELY) than most.

    Finally, John Nash pretty much falsified the core ideas of Smith with his game theory, for which he won a Nobel prize in Economics.

    So 0 for 3. Not half empty… Just empty. This does NOT mean the I favor larger government, or gov solutions over private ones. Also, has any libertarian EVER addressed the problems of the commons? I have not seen any but the simplest of answers. It is well known that every complex problem has an answer that is logical, clear, simple, and ABOVE ALL WRONG!!!

    1. Has sanity issues, repudiates reasoning, can’t spell “tenets” and is unaware of the non-aggression principle. Sadly, outlier organizations attract irrational folks, and one would be hard pressed to come up with a better example.

  29. So let’s say Vohra by some miracle wins. He will get precisely zero done. At best he could promote some bipartisan 2/3 votes in congress to overwhelm his veto. That’s it, that’s all that will happen. Someone like Johnson who is a little more moderate could actually reach a consensus on some items here and there and block some of the more stupid policies. So clearly he is a better choice.

  30. “Add in those who pay more in taxes than they receive in services, and it’s many, many times that. Even if I get 10 percent of the net losers from government, it will shatter Gary Johnson’s record.”

    How can you tell if you are a net loser?

    Certainly someone who pays millions, yes, but what if you’re upper-middle or middle-middle class?

    Is there any real way to calculate the value of “government benefits”?

  31. I would say 4/5 empty. The Libertarian Party is one that hasn’t learned a basic rule of politics, i.e., YOU HAVE TO GET ELECTED TO HAVE ANY SAY IN WHAT’S GOING ON! While the Libertarian Party stalwarts rage about Political Correctness, they are very strict about their own ideology and would rather be unelected than compromise on anything. To me, that’s the ultimate definition of Political Correctness.

  32. Weld is kind of a symbol that representational Libertarians haven’t done the kind of healthy soul searching appropriate for a period in which both mainstream parties are extremely weak…while little ground is gained against them.

    Neither Weld nor Johnson had the serious fire, I don’t think they fully understand what libertarianism means.

    At this moment in time public perception of libertarians is as ‘the wackos who mainly want everybody to have guns’.

    One candidate at the national level who had the fire to really the real story of how a truly libertarian society will function should be enough to make all the difference and make people take it seriously…the points are very messagable, but they need the color.

    Americans are generally libertarian (like the constitution) after you get through the initial avoidance reactions based on current public perception and brainwashing, so it’s pretty tragic that we persistently aren’t getting the messages through.

    Not sure who this is right now who can tell it.

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