NOTHSTINE: Will Libertarians gain from unpopular nominees?

Can the Libertarian Party capitalize on the millions of Americans who are angered by the prospect of a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency?Throughout its relatively short history as a political party, Libertarians have been considered minor and fringe. But despite a history of self-sabotaging tendencies, such as last weekend when one candidate for national chair of the party stripped down on stage to his jock strap for the entire world to see, the party is optimistic for a national breakthrough. With the nomination of Gary Johnson and William Weld, both former two-term Republican governors, one could argue that the former chief executives are by far the most experienced candidates in the field. Even among Democrats and Republicans, it’s rare to feature a pair of successful two-term governors on a single ticket. Weld, Johnson’s running mate, is a newly minted Libertarian. While in office, the former Massachusetts governor was a socially liberal Republican who was a supporter of gun control, a non-starter for many Libertarians. Weld even endorsed President Obama in 2008, a decision he now says he regrets. However, Johnson campaigned hard for including Weld on the ticket. The party, not the candidate, picks the vice presidential nominee and they barely acquiesced at their convention. Johnson vigorously argued Weld gives the party the best opportunity to make inroads with the voters and possibly win. While winning is unlikely, Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and former CEO of a cannabis company, is trying to be included in the national debates. Currently polling at 11 percent in one poll, he needs to reach 15. One of the main arguments put forth by Libertarians is that Trump and Clinton have millions within their party who do not support the presumptive nominees. There are still many Republicans who vow not to support Trump, and while it seems like Sanders is a long-shot for the nomination, a win for his campaign in California on Tuesday could provide another damaging blow to Clinton. Another part of the Libertarian Party argument is a simple one: they believe most Americans agree with them, meaning they desire a much smaller government, free markets, and to be left alone on social issues. With the right exposure, and a little more of a level playing field, they believe their ideas point to a winning formula. One glaring problem for Libertarians, however, and many in the so-called liberty movement, is the argument that free markets are popular among the electorate. While this is true among many Americans, it’s troubling that the nominees of both the Republican and Democrats are not free-market friendly and Sanders is downright hostile. Republicans too rejected libertarian-leaning Rand Paul in their own primary. Paul was once heralded as a front-runner for the party’s nomination. Trump of course strays from free-market orthodoxy on a host of issues, especially in his support for protectionism and raising taxes on wealthier Americans. Yet Trump has received more votes than any other Republican candidate in history. Many libertarians (but not all) support open borders, another issue thoroughly rejected by voters — at least among Republicans. Furthermore Sanders, a self-described socialist, is wildly popular among young urban Americans. Clinton, when she can be found on the campaign trail, continues to mimic his anti-market rants. The continued growth and corruption of government, especially at the federal level, should help to propel the Libertarian Party to greater relevancy. But there are only 145 Libertarians holding elected offices nationwide. The vast majority of those are for highly localized positions like town or city councils. T.J. Rohr, The mayor pro tem of Lenoir in North Carolina’s Caldwell County, is a Libertarian. In the past, the movement and party has been a valuable resource for helping to draw attention to new political ideas and reform. Many Libertarians and those sympathetic to its ideas have invested huge sums of money to help popularize individual liberty and free-market principles. Even Ronald Reagan once described his political philosophy as “more libertarian.” While the two party system is powerfully ingrained in the minds of Americans, it’s hard to imagine that two former popular governors won’t be able to command some influence over the public in a chaotic political year. That could add value to what promises to be a highly negative and unusual political campaign. As a political movement, libertarianism has had little impact, but some of its best ideas on economic liberty are sorely needed.