One of the things I’ve encountered occasionally while behind the Libertarian Party booth at the County Fairs the last two weeks is “I think Libertarians should just run as Republicans and Democrats and change the party from within.” Here are a list of reasons why this is a bad idea and ultimately doesn’t work:
-Libertarians are not Republicans and Democrats. This is the most obvious reason. I could simply end this blog here, but I won’t. Time and time again, the two major parties has constantly rejected actual free market ideals, even if Libertarian-leaning Republicans win their respective seat. Libertarian-leaning people in Congress and Senate are either out-voted by the establishment majority of their party, or even (like Rand Paul), outright support the establishment majority shortly after criticizing it. Elder Republicans come from the Reagan-era drug war days and others are salivating over another excuse to bomb (aka “liberate”) another country. And now, more Republicans than not have sided with Trump’s tarriffs, starting a trade war with China, and the white nationalists have embedded themselves too far inside to EVER accept the “open borders” or “Ellis Island” concept most small-l libertarians endorse. Democrats abhor the term “free market” like the plague and, despite any criticism toward Republicans over their foreign policy, still endorse military interventionism, they just want a different approach. If you are concerned with the military-industrial complex’s hold on America’s wargames, it won’t end with a Democrat in office.
-Running as part of the two-party system does not shine a light on the core problems and policies that created the two-party system in the first place. Example: The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association has a rule stating that any candidate to participate in their televised debates must have over $250,000 raised in their coffers to be considered. Not just to be in the debates, but just to be considered in their debates. This also applies to Senate candidates - which made this all too ironic when, in 2016, Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson wanted to debate Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Russ Feingold - you know, the guy who co-authored the McCain/Feingold act, supposedly to “get money out of politics?” Strangely we didn’t hear a peep from the Feingold camp about this requirement. Can’t imagine why - the two-party system doesn’t want to give voters a choice. This is why some people call the two parties a “one party system.” Just like how big corporations will regulate smaller competitors out of business to line their pockets, so do Republicans and Democrats - all the while claiming they are looking out for your interests.
Some states like Ohio require signatures equal to 1 percent of the last presidential or gubernatorial vote - which equaled to about 56,000 votes in the 2012 general election - to win party recognition on the ballot. In Tennessee for example, independents only require 25 signatures for Governor, but third parties actually require over 33,000 signatures to be recognized. Republicans and Democrats, though? Far, far lower requirements for signatures - or maybe even none at all, depending on your state. Just about anyone running for office will tell you that collecting signatures is the hardest part of the campaign.
Running as a third party candidate will expose these problems so we may start putting either market pressure on media outlets, or petition the government to lower signature requirements - or perhaps increase the signature requirements for the two parties to even the playing field.
-If a small-l libertarian runs as a Republican and loses (like Austin Petersen in Missouri’s Senate primary), that candidate will not be on the ballot. That means less choice for you, the voter, unwittingly putting you further in a situation to possibly hold your nose and vote the lesser-of-two-evils, all over again - and then ironically complain about how bad our election system is.
People want choice. A very simple question I ask people in person at County Fairs is, “Do you feel the two party system is working for you?” And I get the immediate reply of “No.” I have encountered people who don’t vote because they feel their views are not properly represented by the candidates shown, and are brow-beat by the two major parties to think any effort to make a change by their single vote will mean nothing. As it’s been said, the strongest voices in America aren’t the ones who voted for the winning candidate - it is the ones who didn’t vote. The Silent Majority. We can curse them and say “You don’t have any right to complain then,” but that’s not going to solve the issue. What’s going to solve the issue is giving people opportunity to have their voice heard on the ballot. This means making it easier for third parties to have ballot access, this means putting pressure on media outlets to pay more attention to third parties, this also means abandoning the two-party system and being a part of something that accurately reflects your views better.
Looking at small-l libertarian Republicans who win a race here and there, and declaring that they are changing the two-party system from within, is much like spotting a plant that found its way through a crack in a cement parking lot and saying "See? We can still have a garden, it just takes time." Instead, we should crack the cement open, and plant our own seeds. If you’re a small-l libertarian but vote Republican or Democrat - the revolution starts with you. Come join us at the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, say goodbye to a system that has done such a toxic disservice to your county time and time again. We need you now!
Brian Defferding is on the Winnebago County Board for District 6 in Wisconsin. He serves on the Planning and Zoning Committee.