I’ve joined Clubhouse app, a new form of social media that I’ve described as live interactive podcasts that are not recorded for the public. The libertarian contingent on the app is still quite small. While having a conversation with some libertarians a few days ago, a participant suggested the Libertarian Party should stop running presidential candidates. I assume the individual’s intention was for the effort from presidential races could be utilized for campaigns with a better outcome for victory or elsewhere in the broader libertarian movement. This was not the first time I have encountered this suggestion.
Happy President’s Day. President’s Day is the federally designated birthday celebration for George Washington, who would be 289 next Monday.
The Libertarian Party is turning 50 this year and has not outright elected a federal candidate to date. The POTUS candidates of the past have held diverse backgrounds from party insiders to congressmen including Ron Paul and Bob Barr. Roger MacBride (1976) and Andre Marrou (1992) held experience as state level legislators prior to running for POTUS. With a candidate in each race since 1972, the party has broken one million votes in its last three races.
The departure of Donald Trump from the White House has recently initiated conversations on creating new political parties, but an anti-Trump conservative party has little appeal to members of the GOP. While the Libertarian Party failed to win a presidential race in 13 attempts, only 5 of those races appeared on the ballot of each voter (1980, 1992, 1996, 2016, 2020). Libertarian Party activists are familiar with what seems to be a tradition of celebrating improved election results to be met with state legislatures increasing the threshold to appear on the ballot for future cycles. Donald Rainwater was the Indiana LP candidate for governor in 2020 and received 11% of the vote, the second highest percentage ever for an LP gubernatorial candidate. Within two months of the election, the Indiana legislature considered a bill to increase the signature requirement for future races from 500 signatures to 4,500. It has not moved forward, but this is an example of the perpetual series of obstacles the LP has faced.
There are considerable financial and human resources expended on presidential races. Governor Gary Johnson’s near 4.5 million votes in 2016 came with nearly 12 million dollars raised and a few million more spent by PACs. Dr. Jo Jorgensen’s nearly 2 million votes were supported by 3 million dollars raised. Could these dollars be funneled into funding ballot initiatives? Sure, but I’m skeptical the same individuals would contribute. Presidential cycles carry a spirit of optimism and a rare ability to highlight every policy at a national scale. The next time there’s an opportunity to be in a room (or Zoom) with a group of libertarians, I challenge you to ask each how they first discovered libertarianism. I’ve been doing this myself for over a decade and the majority of my sample surveys have resulted in people inspired to action because of an LP candidate.
The magnitude of 4.5 million votes in 2016 is often under appreciated. When has the libertarian movement engaged this many people in a few months timespan? Moving people to action is difficult. The Libertarian Party has provided every American voter with a choice in the last two presidential cycles. The time it takes to fill in a dot or push a screen is the only action needed to participate in the Libertarian Party’s attempt to peacefully give power back to the people. George Washington saw a good share of blood to achieve similar results while he was the commander in chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
What if the LP decided to sit out on one POTUS cycle? This would be detrimental to the state parties that rely on presidential results to place their state level candidates on the ballot. Ballot access at the state level is a significant hurdle.
When I share I am a libertarian with new acquaintances, I’m generally met with a response botching Ron Paul or Gary Johnson’s name. While people may not be able to recall a candidates’ name accurately, their mind associates the ideology with a spokesperson in the form of a candidate.
My experience in seeing the impact from POTUS campaigns is first hand. I worked on the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Seeing thousands of supporters or curious voters attend Governor Johnson’s rallies and hundreds of Dr. Jorgensen’s supporters amid a pandemic was a very unique experience. Dr. Jorgensen campaigned in three cities in Alaska this year making her the only POTUS candidate to stop in the 49th state. She was the front page news in each of the Alaskan cities. “Thank you for coming to (insert city)” was a common phrase I heard in the 40 states I traveled to with Dr. Jorgensen in 2020. The campaign reached 48 states in total, significantly covering more ground than Trump or Biden and I can guarantee that Dr. Jorgensen and Spike Cohen engaged in hundreds more conversations with voters than their opponents.
Producing a campaign rally was a skill I mastered in 2016 and taught in 2020. Bringing a presidential candidate to a city provides the state campaign team with the training on how to prepare and execute a campaign event. Every detail from the quality of sound to making sure rally signs are ordered and show up on time take hundreds of hours behind the scenes. Getting press releases to the media and supporters to an event is an artform and I enjoyed playing the role of teacher to future Picassos. The spotlight that comes from a presidential candidate stop gives state and local candidates an opportunity to speak directly to the media and voters. The Jorgensen campaign stops featured down-ballot candidates while benefiting from a presidential campaign produced event.
Presidential campaigns cultivate and identify talent. My colleagues from Dr. Jorgensen’s campaign are currently planning to run for office or manage races. When Libertarian Party candidates run at the local level, we see a significant increase in the conversion rate for wins. Approximately 50% of the candidates that ran in 2019 won, some being the only candidate on the ballot. A very recent win came from Chris Powell, the 2018 Oklahoma LP candidate for governor. You likely know one of his primary opponents, Joseph Maldondo or Joe Exotic from Tiger King. Chris received 3.44% of the vote while running for governor and followed up with a win on February 9, 2021 with 76% of the vote for Bethany city council in Oklahoma. Congratulations to Chris!
Former Congressman Justin Amash has given his word to continue to help the Libertarian Party after discontinuing his three week bid for the LP POTUS race in 2020. While there are no indicators that have been shared with me as to his plans to run in 2024, Justin’s help in building the party has the potential to be a game changer in the party’s trajectory. I’ve asked Jason Pye of FreedomWorks to re-join the party on many occasions and I was delighted to hear that Justin Amash’s commitment to build the LP finally brought Jason back into the party’s membership rolls. There is time before 2024 for the party to take advantage of Justin’s offer. Fundraising for the 2024 ballot access fund is a prime opportunity for any contender for the 2024 race. The cost to achieve 50 state + DC ballot access for 2024 will be more clear after the 2022 results, but the figures will likely be well above $500,000. Bringing more Jason Pye’s back to the LP with direct asks for support should be a priority as well as recruiting candidates. If California’s Governor Gavin Newsom is recalled, who could Justin help to recruit for the party to take advantage of the opportunity?
On President’s Day, I am reminded of George Washington’s farewell address warning Americans of the division that could ensue from political parties. Given the two party system has ruled in America since 1852, my solution to this pollution is dilution in the form of more options on the ballot.