By Marc Montoni
Most of the many thousands of Libertarians who have run for office since 1972 (estimated to be in excess of 25,000) have faced the inevitable question from reporters (and voters as well, but especially reporters), “do you think you can win?”
The question itself reveals the intellectually lazy view of politics as a horse race. There’s no room in that religion for ideology, belief, passion, or anything else of any substance. There’s nothing in a horse race that really means anything. Well, except winning.
Essentially, reporters asking it have reduced politics to a simple race of nothing vs. nothing.
How to get around it?
How do you lead someone with such a short attention span back to real issues?
Libertarians have come up with many ways to steer the reporter back to their reason for running. We share them with you below so you will have them ready in your verbal arsenal.
Here is how a candidate who was professionally coached answered the question: Ed Clark, when asked if he would win, and how many votes he would get, had probably the best answer I’ve heard:
“I’m trying as hard as I can to win. We have a serious message, we
want to address serious problems…”
Clark’s answer avoided both self-marginalization on the one hand, and overblown expectations that any moron, much less a reporter, could see right through on the other.
The essay I quote below appeared on “libernet” in the early nineties, but I did not record who wrote it:
In 1982, Ed Clark put together an audio tape of fifty questions and answers, and on this particular matter, the conversation went like this:
Question: Do you really expect to win?”
Answer: “I’m trying just as hard as I can to win. Libertarians have the right solutions for today’s problems, they have the ethics of individual liberty–the only correct ethics for politics–and we have been gaining strength and we are going to get a lot of votes this time”.
Question: “How many votes are you going to get?”
Answer: “We are going to get a lot of votes in 1982. More than we have had before and enough to show the public that Libertarians are a very strong alternative in American politics”.
Mr. Clark then went on to say:
“If you note the way I have answered the last two questions, these are perhaps the only two in the whole set of questions where you do not give a direct answer, because if you ever answer a question “Do you really expect to win” with a “yes”, in many cases people will discard you as somebody who is obviously not realistic in your answer. If you answer that question with a “no” you eliminate one of the principal reasons that people are going to follow your candidacy and there is the possibility that you might win. So these questions call for strong affirmative answers, but not to answer the question precisely”.
You are, of course, never under any obligation to give a direct answer to any question, and indeed few politicians do, often preferring to give an answer that they think will put them in the best possible light, whether it relates to the subject at hand or not.
There are sound reasons for reconsidering your answers. You do not know for sure that you are not going to win, even if you think you might not.
Let me take a little more of your time by relating an event which occurred here in British Columbia within the last three months. The term of our governing Social Credit (conservative) Party was drawing to a close following a five year term which had been plagued by scandal and corruption, including the resignation of the Premier under allegations of conflict of interest.
They and the New Democratic (socialist) Party both ran a full slate of candidates. The provincial Liberal (wishy-washy) Party had been pretty well defunct for the last twenty years until recent times when a very energetic fellow started making really strenuous efforts to revive it ready for this last election. The net result of his efforts was that he persuaded enough people to run as candidates so as to give them a full slate. This then gave him sufficient leverage to persuade the powers that be to include him in a Party Leader’s debate on local television. This proved to be the turning point from which they never looked back.
The final result was New Democrats 51 seats, Liberals 17 seats, and the once ruling Social Credit 6 seats.
Knowledgeable commentators forecast that at best the Liberals might take a handful of seats. Instead, they are now the official opposition.
Here are some additional sound bite-ish answers:
“If I wanted chaos, I could sit on my couch and vote for Democrats and Republicans.”
“I want liberty. I want freedom. I can’t get either of those things voting for Democrats or Republicans.
“I want government to protect my rights, and get out of my wallet and my bedroom. The other guys will give me the opposite.”
“I am running because I want liberty. Voting for Democrats and Republicans is a lost cause; because both of them work to expand government and restrict liberty.”
“Doing the same thing over and over – in this case, voting for Democrats and Republicans – and each time, expecting the results to be different, is insanity. These guys refuse to protect individual rights, they are taxing the middle class into bankruptcy; they’ve saddled us with hundreds of thousands of laws no single person can be expected to know; they take our homes and give them over to developers; they’ve lied us into ‘100 years of war’, and have made our money just about worthless. Why give them a pat on the back and return them to office yet again? I’m running because I refuse to give them that pat on the back.”
For Libertarians in my home state of Virginia, you can also make it a point to say that you’re also running because Virginia doesn’t have registration by party, and this is the only way we have to discover new Libertarians so we have a larger support base for the next election. Along these lines, you might say:
“I’ll count my race as a ‘win’ if I can find new libertarians and get them ready to support our candidates next year. We Libertarians believe we’re in a marathon, not a one-year sprint.”
It is important for every Libertarian to remember the following: You’re not going to get fiscal conservatives to vote for you; at least not en masse.
You’re not going to get a mass number of liberals, either.
For that matter, winning is out of the question without a campaign war chest equal to the sum of both of your opponents. Your campaign should pursue the swing voters who aren’t married to either camp; and it should specifically target those who are already libertarian.
Below I provide you with several more brief articles on how to address “The Question”. Enjoy! And above all, good luck and have fun with your race!
Donny Ferguson says:
I would respond with:
1) There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of elected Libertarian officials.
2) There have always been independent and third party members of Congress, and they all beat Republicans and Democrats to get there. Right now we have two independ-ent U.S. Senators.
3) Any candidate can win as long as you vote for him.
James R. Stevenson says:
Start off by saying that right now you have a 33% chance of winning. If you can get your message out and people realize they are in agreement, then you can certainly win.
I would avoid using the word ‘conservative’ in any incarnation. Say you are trying to appeal to those people who believe in personal liberty and fiscal responsibility. This way you can appeal to any disaffected constituent, Democrat, Republican, or independent. If you use the word ‘conservative’ you automatically lose all Democratic tribalists. Similarly, if you use the word ‘liberal’, you automatically lose the Republican tribalists.
It is unfortunate that Bob Barr is already campaigning as a ‘true conservative’. He has already marginalized his campaign, just as Ron Paul did. Quite stoopid if not downright idiotic.
Probably the most important thing you can say is “If the media responsibly reports on your positions, then you have a great chance to win. If the media censors your candidacy, you will have little chance of winning”.
Steve Damerell says:
One of the best answers is to say “I’m running to win, be-cause people don’t run in elections to lose.” Then immediately delve into WHY you’re running.
That lead-in sentence is neither defeatist nor delusional, and from there, you can bring the question back around to the issues, your strong point.
Rick Sincere says:
The classic response in this genre was, of course, William F. Buckley, Jr., running as a Conservative Party candidate for Mayor of New York in 1965. Asked, “what’s the first thing you’ll do if you’re elected?,” Buckley replied: “Demand a recount.”
I’m not saying you should copy Buckley, but you should be prepared with something similarly pithy and funny — something quotable that will get you noticed.
Marc Montoni serves as the President of the Libertarian Practical Politics Association as well as the Chief of the Annoyance Caucus of the Libertarian Party. A long-time resident of Virginia, primariy Richmond and Harrisonburg, Montoni has served as the Membership Chairman for the Libertarian Party of Virginia as well as many other posts over four decades of service. He now resides in Colorado with his family.
See his blog at: