I think there’s a strong case to be made for a certain subset of Republicans turning Libertarian.
Let me preface this with some vital statistics. I am 28, female, and as of this election, a registered Democrat. I am a social liberal and a fiscal conservative in what I consider the truest sense of the term. I prefer social programs that reduce overall costs to the government: for example, I support homeless shelters that allow drinking, because overall they cost the government less money than ambulances and ER visits.
A Student of History
I see the echoes of history in the 2016 Presidential Candidates. Not just Hitler. Godwin’s law notwithstanding, and Trump’s clear Nazi influences aside, other people have made that case better than I.
No, I’m thinking of Andrew Jackson, who lashed out at what he considered corrupt political elites making deals and stealing elections. Both he and Trump have called themselves the “voice of the common people.” Jackson’s most ardent supporters were hard-working Scots-Irishmen along our western frontier. Trump is speaking for the rust-belt whites with protestant work-ethics and genuine fear for their future.
It was President Jackson who famously outraged the political elite by having a huge house party at his inauguration, though stories of it have been exaggerated over the years. The “common man” became a mob that Washington sniffed and shook its head at. He’s also responsible for the Indian Removal Act, but as horrifying as its comparisons are to Trump’s suggestion that we “get rid of” all the Muslims in our country… this post isn’t actually about Trump and Andrew Jackson. It’s about Republicans turning Libertarian.
What’s to become of the Republican Party?
When I was in school, I was taught that Republicans were fiscally responsible whereas Democrats believed in social programs. I was also taught that CDs have better interest rates than savings accounts. I’ve since learned that these facts are not truisms. It’s been a long time since Republicans were fiscally responsible; they just spent money on different things.
Then I went to college and met my first Libertarian.
Now, again — I’m pretty liberal (though prone to voting Republican in the Gubernatorial races, because Maryland politics has its quirks). I’m a school teacher. Most Libertarians I’ve met freak me out when they start spouting off about Ayn Rand and the importance of living lone-wolf alpha he-man style. I believe in infrastructure, I’m not bothered by bureaucracy, and I think that if we don’t make people adhere to Green energy policies, we’ll lose major cities in the next 100 years — which the accompanying loss of life and economic power.
That said, even living in urban Maryland I know a lot of people who lean right, politically. I see a lot of Republican politicians who are deeply uncomfortable with what has become of the GOP. I don’t just mean because of Trump, either. He’s certainly the impetus behind many Republicans turning Libertarian, but he’s not the root cause.
How Did This Happen?
L. E. Modesitt once made an excellent point about the fact that modern Republican (and Democrat, but bear with me here) lawmakers are so rigidly against compromise because they’re bound to their constituents and the electorate is increasingly polarized. I imagine the media — and the availability of information about what’s happening on the national stage in a media-heavy era — has something to do with this, as well. When you get down to it, though, the media only sells us what we’re eager to hear.
Look at Paul Ryan. After taking over as Speaker of the House from John Boehner, he’s facing challenges in his own district for being too willing to compromise. Too willing to compromise! Heading a House that has taken obstruction to historic levels, has all but grid-locked political progress, as part of a party that is leaning farther and farther right every year? Really?
I’m not a fan of the man — at all — but it horrifies me to my bones that the electorate has become this unwilling to understand the basic realities of not just politics, but of living in a world with other people in it.
The Tea Party
Back when the Tea Party first became a thing in Congress, and I saw the Tea Party letter to the House Leadership, I shook my head and said, “Republicans are letting the tail wag the dog, and they’re going to regret it in the long term.” At the time, the GOP didn’t have a majority in the House without the Tea Party, so 87 brand new representatives got to dictate the course of our nation.
If the Tea Party represents the percentage of Republicans who identify with the hard right, then Libertarians have an awful lot in common with the subset of Republicans who are fiscally conservative, but believe in legal marijuana, legal abortions, and less government spying. I mean, sure, the Tea Party was originally all about the debt ceiling, but it wasn’t just their political inexperience that cost them — it was also scandals about racism.
If the Tea Party is anti-establishment, then Libertarians stand poised to attract more members who, like Gary Johnson, are experienced politicians who are frustrated with the more problematic aspects of the GOP.
Though the Libertarians certainly have a lot of ideological similarities with the Tea Party — a party that captured the imaginations and fire of a significant portion of the voting electorate, enough to capture control of the House, and then Senate — they differ in perhaps the most important way: Libertarians are willing to compromise.
Just look at how willing the Libertarian Vice Presidential Candidate is to appoint left-leaning Supreme Court Justices. How they’ve failed to indict President Obama and risk alienating the left… how they’ve made deals to endorse Republicans and supported laws against the “religious freedom” exemption to discrimination.
Right now, the Libertarians are working hard to seem safe, and sane, in an election that is riddled with unlikable candidates. Whether or not you think Donald Trump and/or Hilary Clinton is unfit to be president, it’s worth considering that the Republican party has been a chaotic cesspit of conflicting views, with unclear leadership and deeply divisive politics.
It’s also worth considering what you can do about it.