The following was written by Nathan Norman (Concerned Libertarian Citizen) and originally published on Independent Political Report, June 8, 2013. The Saturnalian does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in this commentary.
Functional Fillmore Frugal
Our Movement Starts Now….
During a walk in the park, I encountered a hobo named Bob. Bob appeared to be in his mid to late-50s and wore an unkempt grey beard. He slept on the park bench, where I often ate lunch; so I approached him and asked why he was there.
He explained that he was in town for some important business, but now he was stuck. Though he lived in a trailer on the other side of the river, he could not afford the bus fare back. The government had stolen his wallet, and he was too distraught to even think of going back. His clothes were filthy, and he smelled as though he hadn’t showered in weeks.
I asked why the government had targeted him. He reasoned that they felt threatened. In his mind, he was an Independent candidate for President, with a chance to win the election. The government also knew he could win, and so they stole his wallet to hurt his campaign.
I asked if he ever had a job or position that qualified him for the presidency. He said that he had always been unemployed and earned money off disability checks from the government.
This man puzzled me. Here he sat with no job and no ambition to even return home, and yet he sought the nation’s highest and most ambitious office, and actually believed he could win it. Here he accused the government of stealing his wallet, and yet the government gave him all the money he had.
As I left, I realized that Bob was nothing more than a stereotype. Of course, there have been many great Independent candidates, but unfortunately, when American voters think of Independent and Third Party candidates, they often think of people not much different than Bob.
There is a problem when someone very much like Bob or Ted, with very little business experience and no governmental experience, can win 25 percent at the Libertarian National Convention against a former Governor. An attitude exists in many third parties that it is better to be ideologically pure than to have the experience to be functional. This attitude stalls the implementation of better policies.
If a party nominates a candidate who is not functional, that party will not spread its message. The media will not report on the candidate, and the voters will have only minimal information about him. No movement will result, and so there will be no policy implications for the run. It will simply be a wasted effort, though it may stroke a few egos.
That is the path the Libertarian Party took in 2004. Despite ballot access in 48 states plus DC, the party nominated a computer programmer named Michael Badnarik. It didn’t matter what he said. He was not functional, and so was not a credible candidate for voters. As a result, he won only 0.32 percent of the vote in an environment ideal for Libertarians.
On the other hand, in 2008, despite the excitement over Senator Barack Obama, Congressman Bob Barr, a functional candidate, won 0.40 percent of the total, even though he appeared on only 45 state ballots. Another functional candidate, Governor Gary Johnson, did even better four years later, receiving 0.99 percent of the vote.
Though both Barr and Johnson were functional candidates who did relatively well, as will be discussed further in Part IV, neither was able to inspire a movement to affect policy to get this nation back on track. Barr suffered a significant blow when Ron Paul refused to support his candidacy. Johnson could not meet his potential because the Republicans nominated a candidate who shared many of the same views on the budget, spending, and scope of government.
Nevertheless, third party successes from functional candidates can impact and have impacted national policy at least twice in recent memory.
First, in 1992, businessman Ross Perot, an exceptionally functional Independent candidate, was on path to win the presidential election with the clear and simple message: Balance the Budget. Unfortunately, the campaign was sabotaged when operatives threatened to disrupt his daughter’s wedding, forcing Perot to withdraw. Though he re-entered, he could not reach his potential, but delivered with the largest third party showing in 80 years.
Perot’s impressive popular vote percentage of 18.91 led to actual policy changes in Washington. His campaign infomercials and debate performances spawned a movement, which forced Republicans to change their message. The result was Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America , promising a balanced budget. It swept Republicans into Congress in 1994, and eventually, President Bill Clinton came together with Gingrich, and achieved Perot’s goal of a balanced budget.
Next, in 2007, a functional candidate who represented the Libertarian Party in 1988, Congressman Ron Paul, brought forth a message of liberty that inspired millions. His performances during the GOP debates and presence of his supporters online turned Paul into one of the most admired men in the nation. He raised millions of dollars, and changed many hearts and minds.
During the 2008 general election, supporters placed Paul on ballots in Montana and Louisiana. He did respectable in both, most notably garnering 2.17 percent in Montana, the most a third party candidate received in any single state that election. His run spawned the TEA Party movement, which made significant gains for Republicans in the 2010 mid-term election. This allowed Republicans to block much of President Obama’s anti-liberty agenda.
Unfortunately, there is still much more to accomplish, as will be discussed further in Parts II and III. Spending remains out of control and the budget has not been balanced in thirteen years. President Obama did great damage in his two years of free reign; most disgustingly, imposing Obamacare on the American people.
In a perfect world, both the Libertarian and Constitution Parties would have endorsed Governor Mitt Romney for president in 2012. Had they focused on building him up, rather than tearing him down, better policies would have resulted. Spending would be cut, taxes would not rise, and Obamacare would be history.
We can only be optimistic that in 2016, the Libertarian Party will nominate a functional candidate that will spawn a movement to change these policies.
The obvious functional choice for Libertarians in 2016 is Senator Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul. He may be the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, and would likely accept the Libertarian Party’s cross-nomination. Paul will lead the movement his father started and promote policies favorable to Libertarians, including: limited Constitutional government, a balanced budget, reversal of Obamacare, audit of the Federal Reserve, end to the war on drugs, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
If the Republican Party selects someone else, Paul will likely not run against them, keeping 2020 in mind. For such a scenario, there are functional alternatives.
Supposing Republicans nominate an establishment candidate like Governor Chris Christie, Libertarians will have a great opportunity to make a difference at the polls if they nominate a functional candidate. Christie is a “big” government Republican and political animal, who shares many views with President Barack Obama and presumptive 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. A Christie presidency, though an upgrade from Obama, will not be much different than a Hillary presidency.
In such a situation, the Libertarian Party could again nominate the functional Governor Gary Johnson. He would likely improve on his 2012 performance. But there’s something missing in Johnson. He lacks the fire of a Perot or Paul that inspires people and spawns movements. He is not an exceptional speaker, and so, even if he participates in the national debates like Perot, he is unlikely to make the same impression necessary to change the direction of the nation.
Personally, I prefer former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the most functional option available. There were hints in 2012 that he would not oppose a move to a third party, and, according to the functional 2008 Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr, Gingrich was the best candidate for Libertarians in 2012 . That is even truer in 2016.
Like many Libertarians, Gingrich supports: gun rights, low taxes, deregulation, term limits, social security opt-out, school choice, and free trade. He opposes bailouts, Obamacare, McCain-Feingold, the UN, and military interventions in Libya and Syria. Like Perot, Gingrich has credibility on national budget issues. In fact, Gingrich can speak to it better since he’s actually balanced the national budget before (four times in fact).
Gingrich can run with this issue like no other, and use it to get into the debates. He is one of the greatest debaters around today (see video below) and would destroy both Hillary and Christie on the issues. He would then either win election as president or win a substantial amount of the vote, forcing President Hillary to be fiscally responsible like her husband.
However, if Libertarians do not accept Gingrich, there are other functional options that may be able to replicate the potential success of Gingrich. My second personal choice is billionaire Ross Perot, Jr., a great speaker and businessman (see video below), who has the money and credibility to mount a campaign resembling his father’s ’92 run.
Other potential choices include: the 2008 running mate of Ron Paul in Louisiana, former Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr.; Congressman Jimmy Duncan of the Liberty Caucus; and former Congressman Tom Tancredo, also of the Liberty Caucus.
If Bob or Ted is nominated instead, and no functional candidate campaigns for limited government, we will continue on our current path, and lose both freedom and prosperity.