How Libertarians Could Hand Control of Congress to Democrats

With control of the U.S. Congress to be decided in less than five months, many factors could affect the outcome. Will voters in California flip five congressional seats from GOP to Democrat? Will the “blue wave” wash across America, emanating from the coasts and inundating flyover country? Will Trump’s gambles on trade and foreign affairs turn out to be triumphs or setbacks? With America’s future hanging in the balance, one perennial (and growing) threat to GOP control does not receive nearly enough attention: Libertarian candidates.

America has a two-party system. That’s reality. When a third-party candidate runs an effective campaign, with rare exceptions, he siphons votes away from one major party’s candidate. In 1968, George Wallace took votes away from Richard Nixon, who won anyway. In 2000 Ralph Nader took votes away from Al Gore, who otherwise would have won. In 2016, pothead Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received 4.5 million votes, and nearly handed victory to Hillary Clinton.

There are currently 30 races across the country for U.S. congressional seats that are considered toss-ups by three reputable national political analyst: the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections. It is important to note that if you widen the search to “competitive races” instead of neck-and-neck toss-ups, that number grows from 30 to around 100. And of just those 30 toss-up congressional races, at least 10 of them have Libertarian candidates taking a significant share of the vote.

Examining the record of some of these candidates reveals just how capable they are of destroying Republican chances for victory. In Colorado’s District 6, Libertarian candidate Norm Olson is running again, after attracting 5 percent of the vote in 2016. In Michigan’s District 11, Libertarian candidate Jonathan Osment is also running again, after getting 2.5 percent of the vote in 2016. In North Carolina’s District 9, Libertarian candidate Jeffrey Scott is running a savvy campaign, having earned 5.3 percent of the vote in 2017 when running for city council in Charlotte, North Carolina. The list goes on.

The battle for U.S. Senate, where the GOP is in dire need of moving beyond their current wafer-thin majority, is also likely to feel the impact of Libertarian candidates. Five of the toss-up races for U.S. Senate have strong Libertarian candidates competing for votes. In Indiana, Libertarian Lucy Brenton got 5 percent of the vote in 2016 when she ran for Indiana’s other U.S. Senate seat. In West Virginia, a poll conducted last month had Libertarian Rusty Hollen drawing 4 percent of likely voters. In Arizona, Libertarian candidate Doug Marks is running, and the last time a Libertarian ran for U.S. Senate in Arizona, he received 4.6 percent of the vote.

Nevada’s competitive U.S. Senate race features Libertarian candidate Tim Hagan, who has the distinction of handing majority control of the Nevada state legislature to Democrats in 2016, when he attracted 5.1 percent of the vote in District 5, where the GOP challenger lost that race by less than 1 percent.

Libertarians are smart enough to know how third parties impact close elections, but many delude themselves into thinking their candidates are as likely to draw votes from Democrats as from disaffected Republicans. They base this preposterous wishful thinking on the fact that many Libertarians consider progressives to be their allies. After all, Libertarians are in favor of open borders, just like progressives. And Libertarians believe that anything goes when it comes to drugs and sex, just like progressives. So it’s tempting for Libertarians to think progressives might be their natural allies. They’re not.

The reality is quite different. Progressives do not support Libertarian candidates. Progressives hate Libertarian candidates. Progressives hate Libertarians because Libertarians tend to be Social Darwinists who want to eliminate welfare spending, privatize Social Security and Medicare, and dismantle public education. Libertarians don’t even want the government to pay for new roads and bridges. They want to kick poor people into the gutter and reduce the government to courts and cops.

Does that sound harsh, Libertarians? It’s paraphrasing your words, not mine. Give it up. Progressives don’t like you. They don’t vote for you. They never will.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, welcome Libertarian perspectives, even if they don’t accept all of them. That’s OK. Libertarians aren’t unified, either. Libertarian candidate Ryan Martinez, running in the toss-up U.S. Congressional District 11 in New Jersey, wants to legalize drugs. Libertarian candidate Japheth Campbell, running in the toss-up U.S. Senate election in Missouri, on the other hand, is a self-described “moral conservative.” Why not bring this diversity back into the Republican Party?

What unifies Republicans and Libertarians is a belief in limited government. Maybe some Republicans are hypocrites, but it is better to work with people who lack the courage of their convictions than to work with people whose convictions are diametrically opposed to your own. When you work with the timid, they may eventually step up. When you work with implacable enemies, they will eventually destroy you. Libertarians need to stop running candidates and start participating in the refinement of the Republican platform.

This November, Democrats only need to convert 23 Republican seats to take control of the House of Representatives. There are over 100 competitive seats, with Libertarian candidates running in more than 23 of them. These candidates need to withdraw from these races, for the sake of the principles they cherish. Perfect is the enemy, the mortal enemy, of good enough.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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