Will Libertarian Candidates Again Deny GOP the U.S. Senate?

The political reality in America today is that of a two-party system. Embracing this reality means if you want to change the political direction of the nation, you have to transform one of the two major parties. Denying this reality, by running as a third-party candidate, can also transform the political direction of the nation. But it’s unlikely to change in the direction the third-party candidate wants to go. Third-party candidates rarely win elections, but they’re very good at splitting the vote.

This is the only context in which the national Libertarian Party, “The Party of Principle™,” is relevant in America today. This party, with its principled candidates, above all else, believes in limited government. Which is to say they oppose socialism. And voilà, when you split the anti-socialist vote, the socialist wins.

It shouldn’t be necessary to defend Republicans versus Democrats. Right now, the fact that Republicans are not Democrats should be enough. Even if many Republicans are just RINOs, they generally vote with their party on the major issues and, in any case, when Republicans control the Senate or the House, they have control over the budget, the court appointees, and the investigations. Overall, Republicans tend to approve less damaging legislation than Democrats.

This is reality. This is politics in America. Consider the Republican leaders with national stature today, then compare them to Democratic Party leaders with comparable visibility and influence. Maybe some of these Republicans are rough around the edges, or don’t agree with you or with each other on every issue. So what? Which gang do you want running the country? If you’re a populist conservative, or even if you’re a libertarian, the choice should be easy. 

The ability of Libertarian candidates to get Democrats elected is vast. From who occupies the White House all the way down to control of state legislatures, the deeper you dig, the more you find. The last two presidential elections both offer compelling evidence of Libertarian impact.

In the 2016 election, the Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, attracted just over 4.5 million votes. The leftist equivalent, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, received only 1.5 million votes. Despite being a deeply flawed candidate, Gary Johnson moved the national popular vote from a toss-up to a clear Clinton edge. In the Electoral College, Johnson’s influence was even greater.

At the state level in 2016, Gary Johnson very nearly handed crucial states to Clinton. In Pennsylvania, where Trump’s margin was just 1.3 percentage points, Johnson got 2.4 percent of the vote. In Wisconsin, where Trump won by 0.6 percentage points, Johnson got 3.7 percent. In Michigan, where Trump won by a razor thin 0.3 percentage points, Johnson got 3.6 percent.

Not only did Johnson very nearly leave the “Blue Wall” intact for Democrats in 2016, he also took states out of play that might have been toss-ups. In Colorado, for example, Trump lost by 3.6 percentage points, but Gary Johnson got 4.7 percent. In Nevada, Trump lost by 2.7 percentage points and Johnson got 3.1 percent.

In the 2020 election, it is possible that Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate, threw the election to Biden. In the six states where Trump was reported to have lost by the thinnest of margins, the impact of the Libertarian candidate either flipped the election to Biden or very nearly did. 

Notably, the Green Party candidate was not present on the ballot in any of these states except for Michigan, where he only won 0.2 percent of the vote. If the voters who’d opted for Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson had chosen Trump instead, Trump would have won Georgia with 50.5 percent of the vote, Arizona with 50.6 percent, and Wisconsin with 50.1 percent, and he would have been reelected.

You don’t have to be a MAGA zealot, or an “election denier,” to remain unconvinced that a Biden Administration is better for the average American than a reelected Trump.

Libertarians frequently argue that they also take votes away from Democrats, or they attract votes from people who would not have otherwise participated. It’s also possible the 2020 election was influenced more by other factors—Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million comes to mind, as does the mass censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story, to name only two—and so perhaps we should lay off Libertarians. 

Or maybe not. In close races, it remains that Libertarian candidates get Democrats elected.

Denying Senate Control

Which brings us to how Libertarians affect which party controls the U.S. Senate. In Georgia, in November 2020, the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel threw the battle between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff into a runoff. It might be true that Perdue could have won his runoff if various external events hadn’t affected turnout on January 5, or of course, if he’d been a better candidate. But that’s beside the point. If Hazel hadn’t been a spoiler in November, there would have been no runoff for Perdue to lose.

Perdue only needed an additional 0.3 percentage points to win in 2020. If Hazel had not been on the ballot, only 1-in-7 of Hazel’s voters would have had to decide instead to vote for Perdue in order for Perdue to win. Read Hazel’s 2020 candidate survey on Ballotpedia, or watch his podcast. He did not take votes away from Democrats.

The battle for the U.S. Senate in 2022, according to the Cook Political Report, includes eight races that are currently listed as “toss-ups.” Of those eight, there are six states with Libertarian candidates also in the race. They are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Only one of those states, Pennsylvania, has a Green Party candidate also running.

The race in Arizona, currently rated a toss-up by Cook, bears a closer look. The Libertarian candidate, Marc Victor, raised over $60,000 in individual contributions. These are through June 2022 and don’t reflect contributions since then, which may be substantial. The next report to the Federal Election Commission isn’t due until September 30. But $60,000 is just enough money to hire a campaign attorney and campaign treasurer, gain the endorsement of the Libertarian Party, and end up on the Arizona state ballot as a spoiler.

Most interesting is who has supported Victor in his Senate campaign. Through June, he has only attracted 21 donations—every one of them from California. Of those 21 donations, 16 came from donors with the same surname, presumably from the same family. The patriarch of this family is Ron Conway, Sr., a venture capitalist who lists his address in Belvedere, one of the wealthiest cities in America.

Why would wealthy and politically savvy individuals offer financial support to an obscure candidate in another state, someone who has zero chance of winning? Only one reason makes sense: To take votes away from the Republican candidate, and keep the U.S. Senate in the hands of Democrats. 

When the November 2022 election is over, it will be interesting, and telling, to see how much money poured into the hands of Libertarian candidates for U.S. Senate and House seats. For Democrat and NeverTrump megadonors, it will have been money well spent.

Libertarian candidates have various motives. Some are running on principle, some to acquire celebrity status, and some are just so disillusioned with the Republican Party that they’re running as spoilers to hasten its destruction. Republican candidates could be doing more to help themselves. Offering a compelling and coherent vision of America’s future, instead of merely identifying the spectacular failures of the Democrats, would be a good start.

But the disunity, imperfections, and failures of Republicans don’t justify their collective destruction. Overall, the ideological bias of Republican candidates and voters leans in the same direction as Libertarians. The more powerful the Libertarian Party becomes, the more certain it is that they will turn America over to Democrats—rendering the majority sentiments of Americans politically irrelevant. That’s life in a two party system.

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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).

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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