An Open Letter to the Libertarian Party

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There are some topics that every libertarian loves to argue about — Austrian economics, minarchy vs. anarchy, Rand vs. Rothbard, why that libertarian person is right and every other libertarian is wrong. A similar topic is why the Libertarian Party can't win elections. I will address that topic here.

Why can't the Libertarian Party win elections? The answer is, obviously, that the two major parties get all the power, incumbents, media coverage, and donor money, as well as activists from among the liberals and conservatives, who make up the vast majority of all political activists. It really is a simple answer that is not hard to understand and is a necessary and sufficient explanation. The real question is: what can we do about it?

These are some answers to that second, tougher question.

1. Learn some lessons from the software industry.

It is textbook best practices in Silicon Valley to sell software using the "freemium" model: give the software away for free, then charge users a (hefty) fee to unlock the best features. Membership in the LP should be free (right now it costs $25). You would then get more people — especially poor young college students who are the voters of tomorrow — into the LP, and the ones who love it can then be charged $200 to join the Pantheon of Libertarian Heroes (call it whatever you want, the premium level of membership).

Why can't the Libertarian Party win elections? The answer is, obviously, that the two major parties get all the power, incumbents, media coverage, and donor money.

Why can't the Libertarian Party win elections? The answer is, obviously, that the two major parties get all the money, power, incumbents, media coverage, and dono

In this way, the LP would get more members and more money, net. If this strategy didn't maximize profits, then Google and Facebook would sure as hell not be using it. The last time I checked, Facebook was free, and made a ton of money.

Also, get rid of that obnoxious loyalty oath you have to swear to join the LP. Every real libertarian already agrees with it, and the young people who are just discovering liberty for the first time find it really weird.

2. Make the platform conform to the candidates; let each candidate tailor it to maximize his or her chances of winning.

I know LP members who point to the platform as if it were Gospel when it supports their own positions, then scream bloody murder on issues where the platform differs from their ideas. Why even have a platform, if it does more harm than good?

As I see it, there are two types of candidates who could win elections — the ones who will poach Republican votes, and the ones who will poach moderate and center votes. The former should run to the right of the Republicans on every issue from gun control to immigration to tax cuts, and steal GOP votes by embracing those GOP values more effectively than the GOP candidates do themselves. The latter should run to the right of the GOP on the economy and to the left of the Democrats on social issues such as drug legalization and (if candidates feel this way) on immigration and sex and gender issues. The former should say they will kick all illegal immigrants out and deny government funding for abortions and pass laws denying any special treatment to LGBTs under the laws. The latter should say they will give all illegal immigrants amnesty and legalize all recreational drugs and pass laws giving women the right to abortions (so long as they aren’t paid for by the state) and enforce laws to protect LGBT people from violence. They should both be saying they will end the Fed and eliminate the income tax.

If this strategy didn't maximize profits, then Google and Facebook would sure as hell not be using it.

I am not talking about a GOP candidate and an LP candidate. I am talking about two LP candidates, each of whom could win in the right electorate, for example, if the former runs against a moderate in Montana, or if the latter runs against a really creepy corrupt idiot in New Jersey.

Each LP candidate should have the freedom to choose the issues he or she cares strongly about and then run on those to the max. Having one party platform is like a straitjacket that traps candidates and prevents them from being who they really are.

To extend my example, there are many ways to interpret core libertarian beliefs. Of course, an LGBT person should be treated with equality, hence no worse (or better) than a hetero citizen. The police should protect LGBT people from violence, just as they should protect everyone else from violence. A woman should be free to decide how she feels about abortion, but the taxpayers should not be the ones funding abortions. Thus, the former and latter candidate in my example above are both principled libertarians, but they could appeal to voters in a way that could poach either red or blue votes. To win, of course, a candidate must get all core LP votes, the "real libertarian" voters, while at the same time poaching a big chunk of red or blue or center-moderate votes. That is the only way the electoral math enables an LP candidate to win.

3. Choose candidates with charisma and a strong social media presence.

I extremely dislike Donald Trump as a person, but, say what you will about him, he was the GOP's most electable candidate, and I think it boils down to his having (A) the gift of gab, an incredible ability to speak clearly and strongly, (B) a strong social media presence online, and (C) an eccentric, larger-than-life personality. It has been said that Ron Paul was America's "crazy uncle," but if we could find a candidate who was in the LP and who had real charisma, as he did, and was good on Facebook and Twitter, I think that person would be electable against a weak incumbent opponent. And many Republicans and Democrats are weak, watery, timid, corrupt, unsympathetic cowards. Hillary was not the only one, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Many Republicans and Democrats are weak, watery, timid, corrupt, unsympathetic cowards.

There are objective ways to measure charisma, such as one’s number of online followers, the number of shares of one’s social media posts, public speaking experience, and awards won for it. Such indications of charisma should be a factor in LP primaries. Instead, the LP seems to have gone in the opposite direction, nominating weak, watery, timid candidates who try to seem like "serious, legitimate" politicians. We will never be better than the establishment at being the establishment. We are the outsider, and we can be the best outsider.

4. Generate PR.

The great thing about media coverage is that it's free. But the media cover news stories that generate eyeballs, because, for them, eyeballs mean more advertisers, and more advertisers mean more profit for them. There's nothing wrong with this, but we must understand and exploit it. Shock value attracts attention.

Say that you will legalize heroin and prostitution. Say that you will end the Fed. Say that you will cut property taxes down to zero, then privatize the schools that then have no tax base to pay for them. You can go door to door campaigning and post a video of a particularly saucy back and forth with someone about freedom vs. regulation and what it means for real people and their kids. You can notify the local media, then dress up like Uncle Sam and start throwing wads of real, actual dollar bills in the air for people to grab, with a huge sign as a backdrop pointing out the national debt and the dollar amounts of government waste in various programs.

We must understand and exploit media coverage. Shock value attracts attention.

Anything to get on TV. That is how successful candidates beat an incumbent.

This is my advice to the Libertarian Party and its members. Dear LP, please take this advice and use it as you see fit.

Thanks,
Russ




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Comments

Jack Decker

Why not publish my follow-up comment? And if you're rejecting it, why not send me an email with an explanation why?

LibertyUnbound

Dear Mr. Decker:

Your comment, as you can see, has been pushed through; it was not a matter of content but rather the result of a series of events culminating in a catastrophic hard drive failure, delaying my process comment approval till other aspects of the magazine and professional life could be shored up. My apologies for the delay.

—drew

--
Andrew Ferguson
Managing Editor, Liberty

Jack Decker

And look ... not a single reply from the national LP or anyone in its leadership to this opinion piece or its replies. Just another example of an incompetent national LP HQ. After all, this isn't some non-political rag. In fact, it is a well-known in libertarian circles blog (which was once a publication) DEVOTED to libertarianism and it is now more than a month since this opinion piece's publication and not ONE reply from the national LP or its leaders ... not even one from Richard Fields, its Press Secretary. How can you be a press secretary and NOT keep on top of what the press is saying about your organization and then replying to such? Russell, have they reached out to you? They haven't reached out to me in response to my reply to your piece ... or any other time but the first time I contacted them about my YouTube channel. Incompetent. Simply and totally incompetent.

Jack Decker

Russell,

I feel your pain. I have felt that same pain for over three decades in my dealings with the national LP. And I was even the Director of Public Relations & Advertising for the Libertarian Party of Dane County (Wisconsin) and even ran on the LP ticket for the Wisconsin State Assembly (and even got 20% of the vote). [At that time, my name was Scott Jensen. I've since legally changed it to Jack Decker.] But, I'm sorry, the national LP has proven to be pretty much deaf to all ideas proposed by outsiders. And by "outsiders" I mean anyone not working at the national LP HQ.

For example, last year, I started a YouTube channel that focused on libertarianism and largely on the LP. [Do a YouTube search on "Jack Decker libertarian" and you'll find me.] I reached out to the national LP for help. Did I get any? I got a single email that thanked me for my interest and that was it. I then go no replies to any further emails I sent them. THINK ABOUT THAT! Here I was telling them that I was trying to promote libertarianism and even specifically the LP and they did NOTHING to help me DURING an election year. Not even a simple email sent out to their membership telling them in non-endorsement terms about my channel to help me get subscribers and thus possibly succeed. Not even giving my channel a nod by being one of the "Related Channels" on their LP's YouTube channel homepage. Nothing. How can any political party hope to succeed if it won't even help those who are promoting it?

Now you might say, "But, Jack, you're too small for them to waste their time on." Really? So what are they spending their time on? What I can tell you is what they're not spending time on and that is cultivating libertarian YouTubers. Some of those YouTubers now have more subscribers than the national LP has members! Many of those libertarian YouTubers are even hostile to the LP for one reason or another. And what has the national LP done to persuade them not to be? Nothing.

What could it do? LOTS!

1) First and foremost, tell their members of all the libertarian YouTube channels that are out there. At the very least, send out an email with a list of them all, links to their YouTube homepages, and encourage their members to subscribe to all of them. [This is something I think "Liberty" here should also do!] And have a page at their website that lists all libertarian YouTube channels. Then when a new one comes into existence, send out an email promoting it to its members. And what would this cost the LP? Just a little bit of time by one staffer. That's it. They don't even have to buy a single postage stamp.

2) Regularly promote libertarian YouTubers. If a YouTuber did a good video on the LP or some issue it is working on, send out an email with a link to that video. The more traffic and subscribers that the national LP can send to libertarian YouTubers for them doing videos about the LP and its issues, the more libertarian YouTubers do videos about the LP and thus possibly get their subscribers to become LP members. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

3) Offer to professionally edit their videos. If they were to offer to do that for libertarian YouTubers, the YouTubers could then spend more time filming and releasing more videos. And the better those videos look, the better the chances that YouTuber will succeed. And some potential YouTubers might become YouTubers if they don't have to do the editing of their videos. Yes, the national LP might need to pick which YouTubers to do this for but at least they would be helping some and not their current none.

4) Hold workshops for libertarian YouTubers and those who want to be libertarian YouTubers. Hold an annual one in Washington DC and then every two months in one of the six US regions. The more voices, the better. Already existing libertarian YouTubers will also use these workshops to do collaboration videos with each other and that is one of the PROVEN ways to grow a YouTube channel.

5) Provide a YouTube incubator center in Washington DC. Buy a large house or a small apartment building in the Washington DC area, set up one room/apartment as a YouTube studio, and offer it free to libertarian YouTubers. They get to stay there free and get enough money to live on while they work to make their YouTube channels succeed. Once their channel succeeds, they move out and into their own place in Washington DC to make room for another new libertarian YouTuber to move into the incubator. Washington DC is THE place to be for anyone that covers politics. If the national LP were to offer such an incubator, it could start cranking out successful libertarian YouTubers one after another.

6) Encourage ALL of the LP candidates for any office (national, state, or local) to start up their own YouTube channel. One of the biggest problems for the LP is getting their candidates covered by the mass media. YouTube enables such candidates to bypass the gatekeepers and then use their subscriber numbers to prove their popularity and that will then get them coverage by the mass media!

And the above is just what the national LP can do as far as YouTube is concerned. While libertarian YouTubers is a really good and CHEAP place to start, there are naturally other things they can and should do. Such as:

A) Build a grassroots organization across the nation. Every county, university, and US House congressional district should have an active LP chapter. No exceptions! Each state LP chapter should have a full-time staffer paid for by the national LP and their job is to develop all of their state's county, university, and US House district chapters. This is the needed foundation that all political parties must have. Top-down political parties NEVER succeed. Look at the Democrats and Republicans. It isn't by accident they've done just this. Why? They know it is required to succeed. Period.

B) Jettison the communications department and hire one of the big PR firms. The only person that the national LP needs hire is a marketer to ride herd on the PR firm. Why you pay so much to PR firms is because of the connections they have in the mass media. That is why PR firms hire journalists from major newspapers and network news. Those ex-journalists can get their foot in the door and thus their clients in those papers and on those news shows. It is why PR firms hire the talent scouts from nationally syndicated talk shows so they can get their foot in the door and get their clients on those talk shows.

C) Recruit celebrities as LP candidates. Celebrities already have name recognition and can easily get media attention. Honestly, this is really the ONLY way we'll ever get someone elected to the US House or the US Senate.

D) Focus on ONE or TWO US House seats and try to win them. The LP has yet to put a single LPer into Congress. It should focus on the easiest US House district it can win (the highest percentage of registered LP members and the largest percentage of self-described small-L libertarians) and then do #C for it. Once the LP has finally broken through the congressional glass ceiling, it can FINALLY be taken seriously by the public and go after the harder US Senate seats and then maybe down the line make a real run for the White House. BUT it has to first WIN a US House seat!

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All the above said, I think the main problem with the national LP is simply that its head isn't a marketer but some activist that has ZERO understanding of marketing. If you don't know how to sell people, how can you expect them to vote for you? What? Because you really really REALLY are a good little libertarian? Because your heart is in the right place? Because you know how to politic at the national convention? Nope, nope, and nope. You got to know how to sell people and marketers know how to do that. We need a marketer at the head of the national LP for the FIRST time in the LP's history!

Now on my YouTube channel, I have other videos on what I think the national LP should do but this comment is already long enough. Check out my channel for other other idea and subscribe. And if you are part of the national LP, reach out to me. Let's talk. If you have a connection at the national LP, send them a link to this comment and ask them to get in touch with me.

Thomas L. Knapp

"It is textbook best practices in Silicon Valley to sell software using the 'freemium' model: give the software away for free, then charge users a (hefty) fee to unlock the best features. Membership in the LP should be free (right now it costs $25)."

No, right now (and for as long as I've been familiar with the LP, which is more than two decades), it's free.

Anyone who signs the membership certification pledge is a member.

People who want premium features like receiving a dead tree version of the newsletter pay $25.

Luther Jett

"I extremely dislike Donald Trump as a person, but, say what you will about him, he was the GOP's most electable candidate, and I think it boils down to his having (A) the gift of gab, an incredible ability to speak clearly and strongly,"

I get the "strongly" part. Sort of.

Please cite one or more examples wherein That Man has spoken with anything remotely approaching clarity. Talk about your crazy uncle ....

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