The Libertarian Moment That Never Comes – The New Republic

Posted: November 7, 2020 at 9:00 pm

Johnsons relatively strong showing in 2016 bespoke significant right-leaning dissatisfaction with Trump. The defeated ranks of the Never Trump crowd might easily have defected to the Libertarian Party in 2017, carrying a significant portfolio of media and donor assets out of the Republican tent along with them. Indeed, most of that cohort fit a socially liberal, fiscally conservative profile that would have required little ideological accommodation on either side. Instead, this faction gravitated toward novel enterprises like the Lincoln Project and formed a de facto armistice with Democrats in an effort to deny Trump reelection.

Rather than consolidating a newly aggrieved legion of supporters, movement libertarianism has spent the last few years in a state of reflective evolution. Prominent commentators like economist Tyler Cowen have observed the birth of a state capacity libertarianism, embodied in new groups like the Niskanen Center, that is more agnostic about the scope of government than traditional organizations like the Cato Institute. Meanwhile, activists and commentators have cast about for new identifying labels, some discarding libertarian for the more nebulous concept of classical liberalism.

Above all else, the chief obstacle to a growing Libertarian Partyone that actually wins office from time to time, or at least regularly claims a vote share in the high single digitsis simply the architecture of the American electoral system, which tends to sideline minor parties. Independent and third-party bids have, at times, broken through, as with Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, George Wallace in 1968, and Ross Perot in 1992. But those men were nationally known figures, each offering a true ideological alternative to what the Democrats and Republicans were serving up.

There might have been such a man for the moment this year: Justin Amash. The Michigan Republican, who won national headlines for breaking with his party and voting to impeach Donald Trump, explored the possibility of running for the Libertarian Party nomination about six weeks into the coronavirus lockdown, a notion that seemed to cause much more anxiety among establishment Democrats than the Trump camp. Amash, however, withdrew his short-lived campaign for the Libertarian Party nomination later in the spring. It seems quite likely in retrospect that he might have been blazing a brighter electoral path than Jorgensen is at the moment, but well never know. Its difficult, and perhaps impossible, to bring capable, ambitious leaders to moribund parties.

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The Libertarian Moment That Never Comes - The New Republic

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