The Primary Base of an LP Campaign
By Donald Meinshausen
An important lesson that we have learned in decades of elections is most of the public, as well as most of the media don’t pay attention to third parties. They only pay attention to Republican and Democratic, not Libertarian Party campaigns. The reasons for this have little do with libertarian theory or the competence of the LP. However the LP’s fortune can change with the emergence of the new media and the coming collapse of the economy, the schools, the wars overseas and the rise of other problems.
But for now we all can learn something from the Ron Paul’s great GOP race for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. In terms of libertarian political efforts this race stands out as the most successful in libertarian ideas presented as an election campaign of a presidential candidate. Much of the public and even skeptical media reacted well and in record volume. One reason for this is because he was admitted to the GOP debates and a very large audience. There he got acceptance and publicity with his principles, practicality and presentation. This resulted in more vetting which meant more votes and volunteers and volume of money than all previous LP presidential efforts combined. This also includes Ron Paul’s 1988 bid as the LP presidential candidate.
This is not to detract from other heroic efforts. We have done better in LP races in terms of percentages in state and local campaigns. We have even elected good candidates for local office and should continue to do so. We as libertarians should engage in LP runs for president with a Ron Paul gold standard of purity.
Far from discounting LP results, Ron Paul built up a lot of support from liberty-minded individuals who were recruited in previous LP campaigns for his primary effort. Many are now also involved in the Campaign for Liberty, the newly emergent the tax revolt and other causes. All of this activism has reinforced our role in the drug legalization movement, the anti-war movement, gun rights groups, the truther movement and other outreach opportunities. What I’m talking about here is repeating Ron Paul’s success all over again, state-by-state, in 2010 and further elections, to help the LP. This is what I call our Primary Strategy.
There are now several campaigns all over the country to nominate and elect Ron Paul type Republicans all over the country. The most known is Rand Paul, who is a son of Ron Paul, and is running for US Senate in Kentucky in the primaries as a Republican. He is a doctor like his father, a visionary physician and an ophthalmologist. He is head of a state taxpayer group where he has made several media appearances attacking government waste before running for office.
This is his first run for office. Rand already has raised over a million dollars tying his primary opponent’ money raising efforts. He has done this through a tactic from his father’s campaign of having on-line money-bombs, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in one day. He is publicly shaming his opponent by calling on him to refuse money from senators who supported the bailouts. In on-line polls he is now beating his GOP opponents handily. He is doing especially well among conservative activists.
He is now leading in the official opinion polls. He has just broken into the lead by 3% over his main rival, Trey Grayson, a former Clinton delegate, who is now the GOP Secretary of State. They are competing for a soon to be vacated seat that will be left by the retirement of Jim Bunning. Senator Bunning is by most accounts a decent conservative who opposed the Bush bailouts. He is unlike and not liked by senior senator, Mitch McConnell, who supported the Bush bailouts and controls the state GOP. This establishment supports Grayson over Paul.
The LP is wisely publicly not endorsing Rand. But many astute LPers are encouraging their friends to register Republican so as to vote for him in the primary. Several are also going to campaign stops, county fairs and GOP events and such to pass out material and do outreach for him. This way we learn how a large grass roots campaign is run. Since Rand has a real chance of winning we don’t have to deal with the “wasted vote” argument. Now we can present our libertarian ideas to a new audience from a position of strength. This makes his campaign a great opportunity to spread our ideas and experiment with our newly acquired strength. This is a first in our history.
There are also similar possibilities here with investment guru Peter Schiff who is running for the GOP nod in the Senate race against Senator Dodd in Connecticut. Debra Medina’s run as a Ron Paul Republican against Governor Perry for the nod in the Texas GOP primary for governor is another example. And there are other races such as Adam Kokesh in a House race in New Mexico and the AJ Harris race for Congress. More of these may surface soon as the races heat up and the economy tanks. I’m not saying that all those listing themselves as Ron Paul type Republicans will be worthy of support. But getting involved now, especially with our own candidates, promises to be an exciting opportunity to popularize or elect people who speak our language of liberty.
At the very least it’s a way to educate the public about how to diagnose and cure the statist ills brought about by the Democrats and Republicans. Here we can say this in a debate among equals to their face with the public watching. Many libertarians and even Republican conservatives would pay good money to see a big spending Republican or a Democrat get a good tongue-lashing and their comeuppance in such a campaign.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that previous electoral experience; name recognition and party support are no longer so necessary to get a GOP or a Dem nomination. Against a candidate old and tired, cold and mired in scandal and sold and wired to horrible voting records there is much voter resentment. This anger can be a motor to change things. A primary battle where we just get 20%-40% looks a lot better than an election where an LP candidate gets less than 2%. And we can get much more than 40% and even win in many primaries
This process of a one-two punch against powerful incumbents can invoke some real political power. For a hard primary campaign can greatly weaken an incumbent. The attacks on our enemies can hurt their image in their potential base. These attacks will be seen as coming from within his party rather from outside marginalized forces and therefore be seen as much more damaging. It also drains money, respect and other resources that could be spent on the election itself.
A club to aid in batting against Bush league sellouts is the Club for Growth. This free market group is admired for its fund raising ability. It is also known for contributing to campaigns of challengers against big spenders in the GOP. There are other groups that have organized to unseat those Republican congress critters that voted for Cap and Trade and other defective defectors. We should pick interesting winnable races.
We can expect and hope to be “blamed” or credited if these bad Republican candidates loses because of our efforts. There is a need to compile a list of these RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) who were defeated by us in elections where the LP candidate was the margin of difference. These should be displayed as scalps or trophies to be waved in front of those who try to suppress us. The list should contain a sum of all the monies spent by the RINOs in their losing elections. This is then given to strategists, the large donors and fundraisers for the GOP and to the media as well so that they will no longer ignore us. I know of several US senate seats that were lost because of Libertarian Party efforts that drained GOP votes. This alone means the totals are in the tens of millions of dollars. Some LP candidates put a deliberatively conservative tone to their campaign to attract conservatives and to defeat Republicans.
In areas that are socially liberal such as the northeastern and northwestern US we can recruit this voting bloc that still votes GOP. In Maine we can unite with social conservatives to defeat RINOs such as Republican Senator Olympia Snowe who is bad on economics as well as civil liberties. A libertarian Republican could defeat her. The conservatives will thank and help us for doing so. These remaining liberal Rockefeller Republicans need to be defeated in order for us to assert our power.
This process will help define the complementary roles of the Campaign for Liberty, which raises issues in the public; Liberty Caucus of the Republican Party, which runs candidates and raises issues in the GOP and the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party which run campaigns as a third party. All these groups work with a lot of single issue and other educational or other sympathetic groups. Many will belong to some or all of these groups and can explain these roles so as to reduce confusion and possible friction. We do not need to publicly acknowledge these roles but we should understand them. Rather than competition there can be a co-operation in punishing bad incumbents or candidates as well as gathering support in helping good candidates and causes.
There are good people who will now not vote Republican because of the Bushes and other RINOs and there are good people who will only vote Republican because they can see no one winning without GOP support. These primary processes can help these types to work together and helps to resolve that argument. The arguments here may or may not be openly acknowledged.
Another tool that we can refer to is the referendum. Placing an initiative on the ballot allows us to define the issues of the campaign. This will require and also mobilize an activist base that will force our positions into the media discussions whether the politicians like it or not. Therefore our issues can become the campaign itself.
What we want is well written ballot questions that will hold up in court challenges and yet be easily understood by voters. They should be on issues that are hot topic, winnable and pro-liberty, as we understand it. There are groups that write and fund these and help put them on the ballot that are not part of the GOP or LP process and work with libertarians, conservatives and others. Recall is a similar effective strategy that also can be employed in states that allow it.
These strategies will also strengthen the libertarian role in gaining Democratic and independent support in elections. We all know of people who are independents or on the anti-war left and drug law reformers who have had kind words for us in the media. Some even supported Ron Paul or even LP candidates. The media in covering the Ron Paul campaign of 2008 has noted this. Many of these people could be recruited to support Rand Paul’s campaign in Kentucky, as well as in other races as a way to show dissatisfaction with the Dems support for the war, continued civil liberties violations and the bankster bailouts. This has happened before in history as the Democrats have routinely sold out their most ideological supporters. Getting Rand Paul nominated or elected would also be seen as a slap in the face of the Republicans who would amBUSH our liberty as well as to the Democrats.
Since we as libertarians are much better in reaching these voters and media that gives us a source of power in the GOP that others involved in primary battles cannot touch. This new option for the Left would at the same time strengthen their hand within the Democratic Party as well. For this option would give them another reason to support us, in primaries especially and even in elections. The Left would then see other alternatives than being captive handmaidens of the Democratic Party or empowering socially intolerant war making Republicans through Naderite campaigns. This new option exercised by the left Democrats could end up wiping out the right /left spectrum once and for all.
And there is yet another reason for this strategy. Let’s say our candidate loses in the primary and that victor is seen as much worse than the Democrat challenger. We can then hit our target once more with an LP or independent campaign. Sometimes the RINO will negotiate with us for support. This could be a good deal or a moral dilemma. But at this point I’m not counting on any concessions. There is the possibility of getting our defeated candidate in the primary to endorse our LP or independent candidate in the general election. But even if that person demurs we could still get our primary candidate’s lists of good media contacts, volunteers and donors. If the target or incumbent has waged a dirty, false or insulting campaign many of the primary voters will support us so as to punish that person. This makes the LP candidate look more attractive to voters even if our contender in the primary does not endorse us. .
Don’t expect many people to come over the first time we try this. It took the GOP thirty years to change voting patterns in the South. We have less resources and powerful enemies. This, like all successful changes, is a grassroots process. But it needs to started now and measured for effectiveness
Moderate Republicanism or moderate Democratism has been greatly discredited and has so for a long time. These are not grass roots or principled movement. But there are still many congresscritters and state legislators who identify themselves by these labels. Since they are despised by both left and right as well as by us these moderates could also be targets.
Avoiding any label and any philosophy elects many more disgusting candidates. Some get elected on just charisma, family, money and the luck of being less hated. The worst are re-elected by something called “experience” which is based on the bidding of bureaucratic beltway banditry and those who benefit by it.
What we are trying to do is to make as many elections as possible issue oriented on our issues. What is more is that these issues and the solutions we agree on are the ones to be the deciding factor in decision making. Now in this current wave of nationalizations we must frame the label of “No” attached to the GOP by the Dems to mean less government and toward more liberty and therefore a positive. We can’t expect the current GOP to carry this message. So we have to go inside and outside the Republican Party and the conservative movement to get our message out.
We can do this also in the Democratic Party as well. I have worked in successful Democratic campaigns such as the city of Hoboken, NJ mayoral campaign in 1985. I ran the opposition research and coordinated volunteers where we won on the issues of fighting corruption and high taxes. This can happen again even in overwhelmingly Democratic urban areas where voters are repulsed by the economy, the war, violation of civil liberties and corrupt incumbents.
Both parties are losing their moorings and therefore losing identification and support among their traditional supporters. Respect toward politicians is declining overall as the new media allow people learn more. People are now voting more and paying more attention to politics, war and the economy.
The amount of voters calling themselves and listening to independents is growing into a chorus. They are looking for good conduct and a conductor who knows how to co-ordinate talented players who know the score. Those who participate in such a concerted effort must know and play with all styles as well as the new technology. By making the theme of an election an anti-authoritarian one we can make contending candidates dance to our tune. We can now write this music but need to know how to make it popular. To weed out bad, incompetent productions and performers we need to get our record out. In the new media we expose the bad and promote the good. For we must make hits of our own or suffer the hits of others. If we don’t compose ourselves to play together we will not be heard. If you have any recommendations, let’s hear them.