For decades, millions of Americans have complained that their Presidential choices consist of someone more evil against someone slightly less evil. Since we don’t have compulsory voting, those people have taken the option to skip voting altogether, with Presidential election turnout in 2012 estimated at 57.5%. Put another way, “none of the above” trounced both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as they each only picked up around 29% of the registered voters.
But the fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to be completely pleased with their presumptive nominees has brought out those who believe the Libertarian Party is best poised to make a little bit of inroads among the voting population. This seems to happen every cycle, but by the time the votes are cast the Libertarians are usually stuck with between 1/2 and 1 percent of the vote, By comparison, independent efforts from Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 garnered a vastly larger percentage of the vote, and those of us who are a certain age recall liberal Republican John Anderson and his 1980 Presidential bid, which got 6.6% of the vote against incumbent Jimmy Carter and eventual winner Ronald Reagan. (Perot received 18.9% in 1992 and 8.4% in 1996, both times denying Bill Clinton a majority of the vote.)
Of course, with the unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who both have significant shares of voters on the principled edges of their respective parties declaring their intentions to not vote for the nominee, there is the luster of an independent run by a conservative like Ted Cruz or a socialist like Bernie Sanders. The idea falls apart, though, thanks to early ballot access deadlines in several states and “sore loser” laws preventing defeated Democrats or Republicans from going back on the ballot a second time in a particular cycle for the same office.
So here in Maryland there are only four party lines: Republican, Democrat, Green Party, or Libertarian. Each has a place on the ballot, and since I’m nowhere near caring who runs for the Green Party my focus for this is on the Libertarian ticket, where their nominating convention will be held in Orlando this weekend. Their field of 18 recognized candidates actually exceeds the original GOP field, but for all intents and purposes the balloting is going to come down to three: Gary Johnson, John McAfee, or Austin Petersen.
Johnson has the highest profile, but I suspect the purists of the LP are a little leery of him because he ran and governed as a member of the Republican Party. He originally sought the GOP nomination in 2012, but left early on to pursue and secure the Libertarian nod, getting the LP past the million-vote barrier in a Presidential election for the first time. He’s already selected former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate, making it a ticket of two former governors.
John McAfee is the guy whose name is synonymous with computer software, and in some respects is the Trump of the Libertarian field. He seems quite brash to me and of the three I would give him the least chance of winning. But it’s a convention and anything can happen.
There are a number of conservatives openly rooting for Petersen to win (Erick Erickson is the latest) for various reasons, not the least of which is a platform which is rather tolerable to those Republicans disgruntled with Trump. (One example: “Encourage a culture of life, and adoption, and educate Americans about the ‘consistent pro-life ethic,’ which also means abolishing the death penalty.”) I could get behind the pro-life portion, although I differ with Petersen on the death penalty believing there are circumstances where one forfeits his right to life by committing heinous deeds. Another more in a mainstream libertarian vein (that I can agree with): “Allow young people to opt out of Social Security.” I give Petersen the outside chance of winning, but I suspect there’s just enough support for Johnson/Weld to give them the nod.
Regardless of who wins, though, the pattern will probably work this way: over the summer the LP will poll in the high single-digits and may crack 10% nationally in some polls. But sometime around October these campaigns reach a point where voters decide they really want to back the winner, not some guy polling 10 percent. They’ll forswear their allegiance to the LP for the chance to say, yes, I backed Trump or Clinton in the election. Or in a lot of cases they’ll just say, “screw it, I’m staying home because my guy has zero chance.” Given that the support for the LP seems to be coming more from the Republican side right now, that attitude could lose the Senate for the GOP.
So on Tuesday we will know just who the LP nominee is, and the #NeverTrump group will have to decide if he (or, the slight possibility of she) is worth losing party privilege over.