Libertarians Have No Home in Either Dominant Political Party

Which leaves the U.S. without a major party even slightly inclined to leave people alone to manage their own affairs.


To go by the post-election commentary, we libertarians are a powerful group holding sway over American politics and policy. Yet Team Blue and Team Red still enthusiastically embrace authoritarianism and scorn our insistence on letting people run their own lives.

Despite growing recognition that libertarians matter, Democrats and Republicans show little sign of extending an olive branch to people who oppose efforts to make government more abusive and intrusive. They know we exist, but they keep us in opposition.

How long a shadow do we throw over American politics?

"According to the latest figures, the Libertarian candidate for president, Jo Jorgensen (pronounced Yo Your-gun-sin), has spoiled the election," huffed conservative writer Michael Warren Davis on his way to working himself into a frenzy in The Spectator. "The number of votes Yo-Yo received in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania exceeds Joe Biden's margin over Donald Trump in all those states. In other words, had the libertarians in each of those states voted for Mr Trump, he would have been reelected handily."

It wasn't just the presidential race, either.

"Hide the kids and liquor. Libertarians have been heard from again," the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorialized about Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington's 33.5 percent showing against Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). The piece acknowledged, with regret, that libertarian views on drugs and foreign policy have moved into the mainstream. "If the Libertarian stirred such a response with chewing gum and duct tape, it'd be fascinating to watch what he could do with some serious resources," the paper added.

A similar Indianapolis Star piece about Libertarian Donald Rainwater's 11.5 percent showing in the three-way Indiana governor's race described his party as "ascendant." It added, "to pass up Democrats in the next turn, Libertarians don't have to worry much about soul searching yet, they just need to figure out what they are building toward."

What they're building toward might be policy victories of the sort that troubled the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's editorial board.

Voters, "perhaps those with a libertarian streak, in red and purple states such as Arizona, South Dakota, Mississippi and Montana voted to relax their drug laws and reject the status quo," Zachary Siegel noted for NBC News.

Libertarians "got almost everything they wanted," Liz Mair wrote in The New York Times in a piece that anticipates Republicans holding the Senate. "On the one hand, Joe Biden has a friendlier record on trade and immigration, and on the other, they avoided the burst of spending that inevitably comes with unified control of the federal government."

Libertarians are apparently winning bigly, as certain political types might say. So why are we still treated as untouchable by both of the major political parties? The answer lies, almost certainly, in the two parties' disinterest in courting those who want to live and let live for fear they'll alienate other constituents.

President-Elect Joe Biden's Democrats, for their part, are divided between pseudo-technocrats who want to "follow the science"so long as the science says that government officials should be in charge of everything—and the party's more left-leaning wings. 

"We can no longer leave this to the private sector," insists Biden's website in a section about pandemic response. "The Supply Commander should work with every governor to determine their needs, and then coordinate production and delivery of those needs in a timely and efficient manner."

Meanwhile, the party's progressivesincreasingly open about their socialismfeud with the "centrists" about just how much bigger, more intrusive, and generous with other people's money government should get under their control.

It's difficult to reconcile a Democratic Party torn between two brands of control freakery with any effort to reach out to libertariansand woe betide anybody who tries.

"It was the libertarians that she most inspired during her presidential campaign," The Washington Times observes of exiting Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who unsuccessfully vied for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Breaking from her party endeared Ms. Gabbard with a new sect of the electorate, but it hurt her prospects with her party and her constituents back home."

The same could be said of the Trump-era Republican Party, which drove also exiting Rep. Justin Amash (L-MI) to flee the GOP for the Libertarian Party. Rep. Thomas Massie, Amash's ideological ally, has weathered the stormbut not because the party leadership made him welcome.

"Massie, a libertarian-leaning conservative who has often clashed with his party's leadership, said he has no plans to leave the Republican Party, despite Trump calling for him to be thrown out of the GOP," Politico reported in March.

The populist-nationalist GOP of recent years has little room in it for advocates of personal freedom and small government.

"Today, many leaders of the Republican Party have coalesced around a desire to purge libertarians, with our pesky commitments to economic liberty and international trade, from their midst," Reason's Stephanie Slade pointed out in an August The New York Times column. She cited party figures rejecting not just figures like Amash and Massie, but libertarian ideas about free markets and limited government.

With the Democrats victorious in the presidential contest, while Republicans (probably) retain the Senate, gain seats in the House, and thrive at the state level, there's little sign that the big political parties will feel a need to appeal to a libertarian faction that drives them to distraction but is entirely incompatible with their competing brands of authoritarianism.

More than ever, that leaves libertarians without a home in either of the major political parties. It also, incidentally, leaves the United States without a major political party even slightly inclined to leave people alone to manage their own affairs. Those of us who value liberty, then, are left in permanent opposition to the meddlesome major political parties, and to the government they dominate.