What went right and wrong in 2020, the L.P.’s internal divisions, and the party’s strategy for the future.
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The 2020 presidential election gave libertarian voters few good options: A serially dishonest and incompetent leader who bungled the COVID-19 pandemic and imposed trade and immigration restrictions versus someone who promised $11 trillion in new spending, who played a role in many of the greatest policy failures of the last 30 years, such as the Iraq War, the PATRIOT Act, and the expansion of the drug war.
And then there was the Libertarian Party (L.P.). After nominating a pair of popular former governors to run in 2016 who pulled just over 3 percent of the popular vote, the party backed Jo Jorgensen, a Clemson University psychology lecturer who was featured on the L.P. ticket in the 1990s but remains largely unknown outside of libertarian circles. She drew just over 1 percent.
So is the party still a worthwhile project?
Reason spoke to several party insiders about what they think went right and wrong in 2020, the L.P.'s internal divisions, and the party's strategy for the future.
"You had something in the Jorgensen-Cohen ticket that appealed to anybody, no matter where you were in the party," says Alex Merced, the L.P.'s former vice chair.
He thinks that even though Jorgensen fell short of 2016 L.P. presidential candidate Gary Johnson's vote share, the unifying effect it had among libertarians was positive for the movement.
"I think that when you try to water down your messaging to appeal to everyone, you sort of appeal to no one," says Angela McArdle, who is chair of the Los Angeles Libertarian Party and who plans to run for chair of the national party in 2022.
She's affiliated with the Mises Caucus, which believes libertarians have been far too willing to compromise their principles and water down their rhetoric to make alliances with the political left or right. They reject the "need to make Faustian bargains" in the interest of gaining mainstream acceptance.
The L.P. does currently hold more than 200 elected seats, mostly local positions like treasurer, city council member, school board member, or small-town mayor, according to its website. The most powerful members of the party holding office are Jeff Hewitt, Riverside County supervisor, who ran in a nonpartisan race, and Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.), who wasn't elected as a Libertarian but switched party affiliations. But Amash opted not to run for reelection in 2020.
Current L.P. Chair Joe Bishop-Henchman agrees with McArdle that electoral success begins at the local level.
"Just imagine how different the national political discussion would be if there was a caucus of…eight or 10 or 12 Libertarian senators who could really be significantly changing what's happening in Washington, D.C.," says Bishop-Henchman. "So how do you get to that? Well, we've got to elect more Libertarian House members…build up a deep bench of elected officials at the state and local level."
He says that while Jorgensen did worse than Johnson in 2016, the party has grown its registration roll significantly, which is now at a record 650,000 members.
"It's time that we get out of startup mode, and that we prove that we can do it," says Bishop-Henchman.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller.
Photo credits: K.C. Alfred/TNS/Newscom; Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/Sipa/Newscom.
Music credits: Muted.