David French at National Review is perturbed about Donald Trump apparently securing the Republican presidential nomination. French wrote in a Wednesday article that he would “gladly support” a third-party presidential run this year by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. French also has another suggestion for dealing with Trump on the Republican ticket. “Now is an ideal time for the Libertarian Party to get its act together and nominate a truly serious candidate — a person who may not meet the party’s typical purity tests but who can at least make a serious argument and advance a range of policies that unite both conservatives and libertarians,” writes French.
Of course, there is not much of a “range of policies” shared in common between libertarians and Romney-style conservatives. Concerning liberty at home and intervention abroad, the chasm between Romneyesque policies and libertarian policies is very large. On economic issues the rhetoric gap can be narrow at times. But, when you move beyond platitudes about cutting taxes and eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse,” the Romney-style conservatives are not about shrinking government significantly.
Just as Ron Paul Institute Chairman and Founder Ron Paul refused to endorse Mitt Romney in 2012, you can count on many libertarians to turn a cold shoulder to the option of supporting Romney or someone like him in 2016 — no matter with what party label such a candidate is identified.
Some libertarians would practically chose to vote for such a candidate on a ballot full of non-libertarian options. Other libertarians would weigh the available options and make a different selection. Others would write in a name. Plenty would just sit out the election.
What is hard to imagine is why someone who wants to advance libertarian ideas through the Libertarian Party would intentionally break the connection between the party and the libertarianism for which the party is named by supporting the nomination of a candidate who, as French so delicately phrases it, “may not meet the party’s typical purity tests.” French writes that, by following his advice, the party would be getting “its act together.” Many delegates at the Libertarian National Convention would counter that such action would instead betray the party’s founding principles and make a joke of the party’s name.
French, by the way, has an odd way of cozying up to Libertarian Party supporters. As Ludwig von Mises Institute President Jeff Deist succinctly noted on Twitter, the wording of French’s suggestion is quite insulting. “’Serious’ is another version of the ‘adults in the room’ slur used endlessly by Beltway types,” comments Deist.
Many supporters of the Libertarian Party, as well as many supporters of some other third parties, judge the seriousness of their party’s candidates in terms of how strongly the candidates believe and articulate a political philosophy associated with the party. Indeed, right up top on the homepage of the national party’s website, the Libertarian Party is labeled “The Party of Principle.” Third party supporters also tend to see Republican and Democrat nominees as often being Tweedledee and Tweedledum who offer only the illusion of a real choice while ensuring that the status quo stays largely intact, to the benefit of entrenched special interests.
There is always the potential for a third party to drift from its political philosophy. And the Libertarian Party is not immune to this potentiality. Paul, who was the party’s 1988 presidential nominee, expressed concern about such drifting in regard to the party and foreign policy in an April interview at Fox Business. After stating that he would consider voting for a Libertarian Party presidential candidate in 2016, Paul cautioned about a drift toward warmongering in the party. Paul said:
I am a little bit annoyed because they are getting to be a little bit more warmongering than I like. I like nonintervention. I like minding our own business and bringing our troops home. And they’re not there anymore.A drift toward warmongering is not evident in all Libertarian Party candidates. Yet, the drift is reason for concern among individuals who want to employ the party to stand against expansive government actions both in America and overseas.
The Libertarian Party has a jewel that French and other non-libertarians covet — 50- or near-50-state ballot access. Restrictive ballot access laws have made it difficult for third-party and independent presidential candidates to compete. By securing the Libertarian Party presidential nomination for a Romney-style conservative, French and his allies could bypass much of the state-by-state ballot access barriers and focus on the presidential contest itself.
Delegates already are largely determined for the Libertarian Party National Convention, scheduled for May 27-30. There the presidential nomination will be decided. So maybe it is too late for Romney-style conservatives to stack the delegates or otherwise push to victory some new candidate such as Romney or former Marine Corps General and current General Dynamics Board Member James Mattis.
Instead, might Romney-Republican types try to influence Libertarian National Convention proceedings to favor the selection of their preferred candidate among the people already running? French followed up on his Wednesday article with a Thursday article suggesting former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who was the 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee and who is seeking the nomination again at the convention later this month, may be “serious” and “conservative” enough.
On foreign policy, French expresses some mixed feelings regarding Johnson, stating:
Regarding national defense, he’s not as extreme as some libertarians — some go so far as to view the rise of jihad as fundamentally America’s fault — but he does believe that American military interventions have made the terrorist problem “worse.” I’ve often wondered how a self-defense oriented libertarian would alter American policy once they received a full and complete national-security briefing. Libertarian purists would likely be surprised at the military aggression of a libertarian president. If Johnson were ever elected, we’d get to find out.French counts it as a strike against Johnson that Johnson believes that United States military actions can lead to blowback. But, French weighs as a positive French’s assessment that Johnson is not as “extreme” as other libertarians on national defense and may be sufficiently willing to pursue “military aggression.”
Romney-style conservatives may gain confidence in Johnson’s war-making proclivity by reviewing quotes of Johnson in an April 9, 2012, Daily Caller article from when Johnson was seeking the 2012 Libertarian presidential nomination. Therein Johnson is quoted regarding tasking the US military to wipe out Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, stopping the Afghanistan War but keeping US military bases in the country, continuing drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and waging war in so-called humanitarian interventions.
Regarding foreign policy, Romney-style conservatives may like another Libertarian presidential contender even more — Austin Petersen, who dedicated a July of 2014 episode of his podcast to smearing Paul’s promotion of a noninterventionist foreign policy.
Of course, there are likely also candidates running for the Libertarian presidential nomination who are more in line with the party’s “typical purity tests” that French disparages. But, such candidates do not always win nomination. As in any election, a number of factors come into play.
Will anti-Trump Republicans hijack the Libertarian presidential nomination later this month? Will the delegates on their own nominate someone who would satisfy French and others similarly perturbed about Trump’s apparent GOP victory? We should learn the answers to these question when delegates convene in Orlando, Florida on May 27-30. One thing is for sure: The Libertarian Party is at risk of further drifting from its claimed position as “The Party of Principle,” with or without a push from outsiders like French.
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