Opportunity Lost

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Libertarian businessman Peter Schiff recently suffered a dismal loss in the Republican primary for senator in Connecticut, after a heroic run in which he gathered enough petition signatures to get his name on the ballot. Schiff had a chance at winning, and his mistakes should serve as a blueprint for what not to do when libertarians run as Republicans.

Schiff’s followers probably believe that the winner, Linda McMahon, did not play fair because she spent $16 million of her own money, whereas Schiff was only able to raise about $3 million. Schiff’s first mistake was constantly complaining about McMahon’s buying the election. It makes no sense for a libertarian to complain about the wealth of the rich when it is imperative to our success to get campaign contributions from them, and I think that Schiff sent the wrong message when he complained.

Schiff’s second mistake was running a campaign in which he focused solely on economic issues such as lower taxes and deregulation. Regarding such social issues as abortion and gay marriage he said only that the federal government should not regulate them. States’ rights is a nice philosophy, but it is a copout for a candidate not to take a stand on an issue as important as abortion. On purely political grounds, a libertarian running in the deep South needs to be pro-life, but Connecticut is a liberal state and in order to claim independent votes the Republican candidate should be pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. (Please note that I am advocating appealing to moderates and independents, not liberals.) Most libertarians are liberal on social issues and that could have been a huge asset for Schiff, but he failed to take advantage of it.

Schiff made his third and biggest mistake in the final two weeks of the campaign. McMahon had failed to put the race away, and if Schiff had spent all his remaining funds on a brilliant ad campaign he could have made a serious bid to win. What did he do? In a race where he was an almost total unknown, he ran a negative ad on McMahon featuring the slogan “Liberal Linda” with the claim that McMahon supported the bailouts, superimposed on the image of a pro wrestler kicking a man in the crotch, instead of doing what he should have done and running a positive campaign to introduce himself to voters as a libertarian. Voters are looking for something new, and an ad based on the slogan “libertarian” with an explanation of what that word means would have differentiated Schiff from McMahon.

McMahon countered with an ad saying that Schiff’s ad was “politics as usual,” and she was right: the claim that McMahon supported bailouts wasn’t true. When libertarian Republicans run for office they will probably be underdogs, and the traditional campaign strategies will not work. A bold new alternative for a libertarian candidate would be to spend all of his or her resources introducing libertarian principles to the electorate, especially if libertarianism is the most important thing about that candidate.

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