The state of the US Libertarian Party the last few election cycles has been a mixed bag. The Johnson/Weld presidential campaign garnered the most votes of any libertarian ticket (3.28%) but fell short of the 5% needed to secure federal funding from the Federal Elections Commission, and the pair did not gain a spot on the presidential debate stage.
Similarly, 2018 saw some strides but also had as many disappointments. All three elected officials who had switched to the Libertarian party lost their reelections, Larry Sharpe’s enthusiastic and seemingly high profile gubernatorial race, which at one point had 100 Republican activists trying to draft him for their nomination, ended in over 1% of the vote, and Chairman Nicholas Sarwark’s hard work for the Mayor of Phoenix ended in defeat.
Personally, I think it’s time to consider other methods of getting candidates elected; the typical method of running a race being a slim option for libertarians. Libertarians need to start thinking outside the box and finding new ways to get the public’s attention and stirring the non-voters to make their voices heard.
In early 2018, Michigan Libertarian Brian Ellison launched a campaign to “Arm The Homeless” for his senatorial race where he intended to raise $10,000 to supply 20 pump action shotguns to citizens living on the streets. This news got national attention and Ellison was featured on Vice, The Guardian, NewsWeek, and Fox 2 Detroit, and with that media following he discussed how the homeless populations were among the most “disenfranchised and victimized and exploited” and how it was a “shame when the state makes it a crime to ask for a handout or makes it illegal to occupy an unoccupied ‘public space.'”
The candidate used a radical idea and used it talk about an issue that could connect emotionally with voters, while also expounding libertarian principles. Though this type of connection with voters is important since, sometimes, just being a candidate that is extreme in a platform can also have some success.
Former Libertarian candidate for Sheriff of Livingston County in Michigan James Weeks received nearly 16% (13,846) of the vote in a two-way race despite the LP of that county containing about 10 active members. His platform had three planks: free all the prisoners, arrest all the cops and burn down the jail while also making campaign promises to crash the county’s MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) tank into the jail on his election day.
He had similar success in 2018 running for the Livingston County Board Of Commissioners receiving nearly 20% of the vote running a campaign of bringing strip clubs to the County. In his candidate questionnaire for the Livingston Daily, he bluntly answered the questions with multiple mentions on strip clubs, but then expanded this into other issues.
When asked about funding for roads he turned the single issue platform into an outlet for discussing libertarian views on taxation:
“They need to lead to strip clubs that are located in the county. I support no taxes as taxation is theft. The state should not invest money they have taken through taxation and should return all funds to those it extracted the funds from, as Friedrich Nietzsche said, ‘everything the state says is a lie, and everything it has is stolen.’ This will free up more money for the citizens of Livingston County to be spent at the brand new strip clubs.”
The response caused one Livingston journalist to call Weeks a “wacko,” but this did not seem to matter much to voters of which over 2,000 felt he deserved the position. Though he never won a race, the amount of people Weeks reached through his outside-the-box campaigns has been significant.
And for the most outrageous campaign, that of satirist and perennial candidate Vermin Supreme, who in 2016 finished fourth in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary with that total being nearly double what Republican candidate Jim Gilmore received. Supreme used his constant media attention to berate the other candidates and hosted constant campaign events to take advantage of it.
While some may claim these candidates are crazy and make the liberty movement look bad, they demonstrate that there’s effectiveness that comes from being abnormal. With the media already ignoring most 3rd party candidates, a libertarian needs to be more than just another person in a suit: they have to seize the attention of the media, and the use that opportunity to talk about personal political issues.
Libertarians have to start being the political innovators in a time where people don’t feel represented by the major parties, and when most feel it’s time for a third option. Having speaking engagements, money bomb fundraisers, and producing the typical “walk along the countryside while talking about how much you care” tv commercial just isn’t going to cut it.
A libertarian campaign should be taken as an entrepreneurial endeavor, and create its own rules for a successful campaign. Perhaps a candidate could have a parade of dogs to combat animal licensing fees, or maybe have a Super Soaker rally to protest gun free zones; the point being that it’s time to get a little kooky and stop pretending to be the lesser evil in a three cheese pizza.
You can read more from Luke Henderson on Think Liberty here.