The exit of Ted Cruz from the Presidential race has caused some excitement in the Libertarian Party. And it should – certainly many of Cruz’s supporters would feel more at home here anyway. In fact, one of the likely outcomes of 2016 will be the recognition that a subset of voters within both parties would identify more strongly with the Libertarian option if they saw it as viable.
That’s the good news. It is natural and human to become so absorbed in good news that we diminish or even neglect an examination of the bad news that comes with it. Natural, but not at all advantageous. And while this news may be good news for those that only seek a louder voice, those of us focused on the win still see many obstacles. One of them is simple math.
There has already been much speculation over the number of disaffected Republicans that could wash up on Libertarian shores as a result of this. Cruz had a base of support, a lot of people don’t like Trump at all, and there are some Republicans that would make natural Libertarians. But everything we know points to the final number being lower than some seem to be anticipating.
Donald Trump will be inheriting a fractured party – he should know because he helped fracture it. Having a wounded party will hurt his chances, likely fatally. He is not a stupid man, and after receiving the nomination will of course address this aggressively. He will apply the same energy we have seen in his campaign towards healing the party behind him and solidifying his base of support. And everything that has happened so far indicates that he will have some success.
Helping him along will be the likely nomination of Hillary Clinton. Much like the Libertarian Party, the Democratic Party is now in the process of choosing between a campaign and a revolution. However, where the Republican Party entered this year with heavy damage from internal strife that left the establishment there vulnerable to someone like Trump, the Democratic Party establishment was better prepared to meet the challenge of “an outsider.”
Amusingly, the nomination of Clinton is probably the biggest favor anyone could do for Trump, and his sure-to-come efforts to heal his party. If anyone can bring these people back together it is that woman standing on the other side of the aisle. And while we may hear a lot of strong opinions and pledges of allegiance from our new refugee allies, we cannot ignore the fact that many do not mean it. A lot will end up going back, if for no other reason than to stop Clinton.
Some will stay because they really do identify. The Libertarian Party – right now – has a wide selection of candidates that would appeal to people that supported Ted Cruz. It is important to be welcoming, but it is also important not to pander. While it doesn’t seem likely that the “wave” will be large enough for the LP to lose it’s identity in it, caution is still advised. Some will try to bring their party ideology in the door with them.
There will also be a similar “wave” should Bernie Sanders not win the nomination. This would be reduced if he was named as the VP pick, but that does not seem likely right now. Many of these people don’t have strong opinions about economics. It will be up to the Libertarian Party to teach them why it works better when government stays out of the way. On social issues, however, many will be in near complete alignment. So a good number of them will also make natural allies.
The problem is that when you add the likely totals together it is not nearly enough to win. It may be enough to poll a spot in the debates, provided the goal posts aren’t moved again to block this. That is still not enough, because the debates will only sway voters, or people interested in the process. The low hanging fruit among these is shaking off in these waves, so it stands to reason that the remaining base is considerably more hardcore. They will not be swayed by debates.
Taken all together, the only winning formula is the same one that existed before. If the Libertarian Party wins this year, it can only be a result of creating new voters. People that have never voted, for myriad reasons, must be convinced to go through the process. For what good is it to change someone’s mind if they don’t get out of bed on Election Day? Around 60% of eligible Americans do not, and the Libertarian Party needs a good number of them to show up for the win.
If we see the same 40% – 45% voter turnout again this year, the hard facts are that there are not enough mutable people to win over. Most of them we’ll get up front when their candidate of choice is knocked out, as we are seeing with Cruz and anticipating with Sanders. All available data, combined with some reasonable extrapolations, suggests that it would not even be enough to force the vote into the House.
Only a movement, a revolution, can succeed at creating new voters and motivating them sufficiently. And in our Kardashian age a successful revolution must be culturally driven rather than politically presented. Trump has demonstrated this better than anyone, and Cruz’s rolling head is the proof.
“Hearts and minds” is a phrase bandied around a lot in politics, but few commentators seem to actually grasp the meaning. A political campaign only targets 40% of the population, and the rest are written off as lazy, stupid or some other such invective. As a result, these people have remained out of reach to both major parties, and third parties, in every modern election.
That is the true Libertarian base, and to reach it we will have to do many things very differently. For there is a conundrum that the Party has wrestled with and suffered under since its birth. It is simple: the kind of person that is anti-authoritarian and thinks people should be left alone are also much less likely to have an interest in politics, government or campaigns. We need to reach them in other ways.
It is by all means appropriate to enjoy and exploit as much as possible the heightened attention Libertarians have been receiving in the last 48 hours. But let us not lose sight of what we are faced with, and what we must have if we want to win.
The Democrats are on the verge of choosing poorly. Hopefully the Libertarian Party will choose wisely.