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Our own James of England wrote an excellent article — and, I can only imagine, the first of many — for NRO. In it, he details why voting for Gary Johnson would be a mistake and he lists a variety of sins Johnson committed while governor of New Mexico. In increasing severity, James’s list included Johnson using state money to hobnob with celebrities, the state’s budget explosion under his watch, and the debacle that is Johnson’s stated position on forced cake baking.
To put it mildly, this is not a libertarian record or evidence of libertarian positions. The only one I might try to defend is for spending increases, since someone had to send him those bills. But either way, I’m not really here to defend Johnson. These are obvious sins and argue strongly against him. But at the end of the day, they don’t hold a candle to the anti-liberty positions of the two major party candidates. This brings me to what I believe is the biggest motivation behind James’s piece: The potential for Libertarian Party to do well enough this year to earn public financing in future elections.
Not only does Johnson’s faction seek the anti-libertarian objective of public campaign funding, but it tilts elections to Democrats. The potential negative impact of the Libertarian party can be clearly seen in the election for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota in 2008. Al Franken beat Norm Coleman by 215 votes, with the Libertarian party netting 13,916 votes for a candidate focused on economic issues, particularly drilling. A little more than a year later, Obamacare passed with 60 votes, Franken providing the 60th. With public funds and a professional ground game diverting votes, who knows what Congress might pass?
James is right that seeking public financing is un-libertarian and that Johnson has apparently admitted this as a goal. But when you really get down to it, there’s something un-libertarian about seeking office in the first place, and purity tests can be the enemy of the good, especially when there’s a chance of major positive consequences. We now have the chance to put a relatively strong — albeit, flawed — voice for liberty on the stage next to two criminally statist celebrities. And while a strong, well-financed Libertarian party could shave-off enough votes to cause Democratic wins in otherwise Republican-leaning races, the potential upside could make the risk worthwhile.
Additionally, the Libertarian party candidate is the best alternative for those who are in both the #NeverClinton and #NeverTrump camps. Whichever of the major-party disasters wins will likely go into office with an abysmally low portion of the vote, robbing them of a reasonable claim to a mandate. Often, the best kind of president is a neutered (or spayed?) president.
And yet, it’s still not certain who the Libertarian candidate will be. While Johnson is the favorite, there are those who could be more palatable to Conservatives, such as Austin Petersen:
Whoever wins in November will have a myriad of flaws, but flawless people cannot win the presidency. We don’t know what the future holds, but the possibility that a more liberty-focused candidate could catch fire and give the two-party monolith a run for their money is just too juicy to pass up. It might be too soon — as a matter of history — for Libertarians to exploit a strong showing, but this is the best opportunity in a generation to throw a wrench into the status quo.
I, for one, am excited to root (and vote) for this.