Libertarians and Republicans: There is an interesting exchange between Ryan Sager and Ramesh Ponnuru about the role of libertarians in the Republican coalition (Instapundit has the links here). This is a complicated subject about which I would have a good deal to say if I had the time to compose a careful post. But I do want to make one point.

In hindsight, I think that the creation of the Libertarian Party has been very detrimental to the political influence of libertarians. Some voters (not many lately) and, more importantly, those libertarians who are interested in engaging in political activism (which does not include me) have been drained from both political parties, rendering both parties less libertarian at the margin.

Put another way, in proportional voting parliamentary systems, there are many political parties and governments are often formed by organizing a coalition in which they must cater to smaller parties, especially when holding a only slim paliamentary majority. In a winner-take-all first-past-the-post electoral system--like we have in elections for both Congress and the presidency--the major parties are each themselves coalitions of political interests. To win an election, they need to gather a coalition of voters to get over 50% of the vote, so the marginal voters become important to them. Of course, they cannot make efforts to reach marginal voters that completely alienate their "base" (which is one the problems facing Democrats at the moment).

While some libertarian political activists are certainly Republicans and Democrats, the existence of the Libertarian Party ensures that there are fewer activists and fewer voters in each major party coalition than would otherwise exist. Therefore, each party's coalition becomes less libertarian. I do not mean to exaggerate the extent of this effect. But even a handful of political activists in local and state party organizations can make a big difference. Whatever one thinks of the initial creation of the Libertarian Party, its continued existence seems to be a mistake for libertarians.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Parties Are Not Sports Teams--Parties are the Playoffs:
  2. Libertarians and Republicans:
Parties Are Not Sports Teams--Parties are the Playoffs: There has been much blogospheric reaction to my post yesterday on the Libertarian Party (click trackbacks to read it). And I have received much thoughtful, cordial and sympathetic email--too much to respond to while on the road here in Alabama. I found the post that best defends the position I was suggesting was by Neo-Libertarian. Before adding some additional thoughts of my own, here is just a bit of a very long and well-reasoned post with some comments by me inserted (read it all, as they say):
Now, he's a libertarian in the GOP [This is wrong; I am not in the GOP--REB] and has argued this for at least a few years if not longer. [However, this is correct.--REB] That might put him in a suspect position to die-hard Libertarians. I, however, have been a member of the Missouri LP, registered Libertarian in Virginia, and have signed onto the Free State Project. Perhaps this inoculates me against some of the potential criticisms when I say I agree at least in part that splitting libertarians into two or three or four different parties is silly.
While it might be ideal to focus attention on one party the way the Free State Project hopes to focus attention on one state, I think that this is unrealistic. To take a single example, given the degree to which some libertarians are antiwar, it is too much to expect libertarians to support the party that today more strongly considers us in a literal war against islamo-fascism. My original point is that BOTH parties would be more libertarian at the margins if more libertarians were activists within them.
The most active and energetic libertarians tend to split and join the LP. This means that literally hundreds and thousands of activists, as well as over a million votes (combined for the House races the LP contests) are siphoned off from the GOP.
The key I think is the activists. Some people want to advance liberty by writing books and public speaking. Others want to get into the trenches and organize politically. Some of the most energetic libertarian in this latter group have been drained from both parties, leaving the fields there more open for activists with different agendas.
As it stands, a great deal of people are alienated from the idea of even calling themselves libertarian because the GOP and LP are separate. There are a lot of people with libertarian sympathies who would be much more willing to follow our ideas if we were in their party.
This is an important insight that goes beyond my original post. Americans view political parties as they do their sports teams. Even Independents tend to root for one party over the other. Libertarians have defined themselves as a different team that looses pitifully--and Americans do not like losers. And when you say "libertarian" to them, they think you are referring to the Libertarian team. I think this is why many libertarian-inclined citizens deny they libertarians. That is not their team.
As it stands, a million dollars dunked on a Senate race would probably end up with a Libertarian struggling to break 15% at the polls. But $500,000 in a Senate primary could tip a libertarian-friendly legislator to victory over a more moderate or social-conservative opponent.

This is how Club For Growth has been successful. They pour their money into primaries and try to influence the GOP outcome. This is an important party of the electoral process, and one in which libertarians could be very effective.

Joining the GOP means we bring to the table a lot of things. On Election Day, our current numbers might appear quite small. But on the primaries, we have greater power - a group of active, interested, educated people who will go out and vote. We could have a lot to say about which candidate is nominated. . . .

I know the LP won't dissolve, but I think it ought to consider reforming as an interest group. It already has a website, contacts and affiliates in every state. There is a lot to be done and the LP has a lot going for it. We just need to refocus. . . .
This is VERY important. Incumbents are very conscious of potential primary challenges. If the Libertarian Party chooses to continue--as it will--it can save the effort of registering itself as an official party in the states, and can run libertarian candidates in the primaries. Even the treat of this is likely to get a response from an incumbent. (Another idea I have pushed in recent years that is somewhat inconsistent with the thrust of what I am suggesting here is to run major party candidates in general election against unopposed incumbents. So libertarians would run a Democrats against unopposed Republicans and vice versa. This would assure their candidates of more press coverage and a much larger share of the votes.) He concludes:
Personally, I haven't decided to call myself a Republican yet (I'm far too uncomfortable with the South, for instance) but I'm definitely considering working with libertarian candidates in the GOP. I'd also like to help my favored Republican to win the 2004 nomination. So while I'm not a Republican, I think it's time for libertarians to consider pooling together as much of our resources as possible into the best bet for liberty: two-party politics.

A lot of libertarians and third-partiers LIKE losing because it reinforces their view that the center is corrupt and that they themselves are purists on the fringe. So be it. I'd rather see progressively greater and greater support for liberty from the center of political debate, and I think something like the Republican Liberty Caucus might be the way to do just that.
Bruce Bartlett wrote to remind me that he has been urging a Libertarian Caucus approach for many years.

FINAL THOUGHTS: In our political system, you have to be a member of a political coalition to influence its direction. This means working and compromising with people with whom you share some goals and disagree about others. This is the insight behind Groiver Norquist's vision of the "leave us alone" coalition in the GOP that advances the disparate interests of its members, while marginalizing those who want to advance their agenda by interfering in the lives of others.

Like other Americans, however, many libertarians think of political parties like sports teams. They want their own team to root for and cannot root for the other teams. Voting Libertarian gives them psychological satisfaction, while in the aggregate diminishing their political impact.

Libertarians should stop thinking of parties as teams and think of them instead as the playoffs. In NFL football terms, The Democrats are the AFC and the Republicans he NFC. To get into the Superbowl, you have to survive the season and the playoffs in your respective conference. In effect, Libertarians want to form their own league which no one but themselves is interested in watching. And they assure themselves of never making the playoffs much less the Superbowl.

OK, enough of the sports metaphor. It does not work completely anyhow. Perhaps it is better simply to say that libertarian political activists (and voters) do not have to buy into all of what either party stands for today to realize that they may more effectively advance their ideals by fighting to move the major parties in a libertarian direction. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that this has not been accomplished by libertarians absenting themselves from the major parties and investing their time and votes in the Libertarian Party.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Parties Are Not Sports Teams--Parties are the Playoffs:
  2. Libertarians and Republicans: