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.