I will write about the ideological problems with supporting Gary Johnson’s run with the Libertarian Party elsewhere. Here, I concern myself with an easy question: does supporting Johnson’s LP run make strategic sense even on the basic level of partisan politics?
If you think Johnson has a serious chance of becoming president on the LP ticket, you are simply delusional. Any rational person can convince himself that is the case merely by answering the following questions.
1. How many current members of Congress won on the LP ticket?
2. How many members of Congress has the LP elected, ever?
3. How many governors has the LP elected, ever?
4. How many Libertarians currently serve in any state legislature?
5. How many LP presidential candidates have won more than one percent of the popular vote?
6. How many electoral votes has an LP presidential candidate received, ever?
Here are the answers:
5. One. In 1980, Ed Clark won 1.1 percent of the popular vote.
6. One. In 1972 John Hospers got a single electoral vote.
Ah, but some readers are thinking, Gary Johnson actually was a real politician; he served for eight years as governor of New Mexico. I agree that raises the possibility of him earning more votes as an LP candidate than previous candidates have earned. But he could earn many times the previous totals and still lose very badly.
I was active in the Colorado LP for several years. I served on the state LP board. I attended national LP conventions. I even ran as a candidate once. My experience suggests there are two types of LP candidates for mid- to high-level positions. Realistic ones whose reasons for running do not include winning, and delusional ones who think that this time, by golly, they’re going to take it all the way. A couple candidates I knew spent ridiculous amounts of their own money running. And guess what. They still got blown out of the water come election day. You have a far better chance earning your first million through Amway than you do winning a major election as a Libertarian candidate.
Ah, but others are thinking, even if Johnson doesn’t win, voting for him will lodge a protest. As I will argue elsewhere, lodging a protest vote that promotes the LP is incredibly counterproductive from the standpoint of advancing a rights-protecting government. But let’s table that matter for the moment and just talk electoral tactics.
If you want to register a protest vote, an undervote is nearly as effective as a third-party vote. I simply did not vote in the last presidential election, and I may do the same in 2012, depending on the GOP nominee. (I absolutely will not vote for Paul, Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann.) If a vote for the LP candidate were merely a protest vote (which, I emphasize, is not the case), then the strategic advantage of voting LP versus voting for nobody (or a write-in) would be negligible.
And actually spending any time or money promoting Johnson’s campaign, given all the alternate ways one could spend time and money, would be at best practically worthless.
But of course one’s broader political strategies must account for ideology. It’s not like anybody who might support Johnson might instead support an overt Communist as a “protest vote.” Clearly promoting the right ideas is the paramount strategic concern. I grant that, if you think that supporting Johnson as an LP candidate would advance the right ideas, then supporting him might offer some minuscule strategic advantage. At this point, I encourage readers merely to contemplate the possibility that supporting Johnson as a Libertarian would instead promote very bad ideas, a case I intend to make elsewhere.
Update: See the next post in the series, “Paul-Johnson 2012: The Libertarians’ Best-Case Scenario.”